The San Francisco 49ers are favored by three points against the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight according to OddsShark, and that seems about right. The 49ers are playing at home, and the Steelers have injuries to four of their best players. The Steelers are also missing James Harrison, who turned himself into a human projectile last Thursday and was suspended this weekend.
So, instead of giving the cliched "Keys to Victory" (a trademark Phil Simms owns, right?) for the favorite, I decided to list what it would take for the Steelers to go into San Francisco and somehow pull a victory out:
- Ben Roethlisberger has to play. As of now, he's a "true game-time decision", but I wouldn't doubt that Ben musters up enough courage (i.e. painkillers) and waddles out to his position come 8:30 Eastern tonight. Ben generally plays well in games he's been injured, because well, he's generally injured most of the time. If Pittsburgh has any chance to win tonight, it will be because of Ben playing. A 60 percent Ben Roethlisberger is better than a 150 percent Charlie Batch.
- Doug Legursky needs to play somewhat competently. Without All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers will need the gloveless wonder to play well against the 49ers top-ranked rush defense. The 49ers only allow 70.5 rushing yards a game, almost 20 yards better than anyone else, an incredible statistic.
- Troy Polamalu can't have his hamstring act up. Listed as "probable" for today's game, Polamalu is so due to his nagging hamstring injury. As a general rule of thumb, the Steelers do better when he is playing, so it's nice to have him as some kind of magic insurance.
- James Worilds needs to play well. Filling in for the suspended Harrison, Worilds will be playing an unfamiliar left side. Worilds has three sacks in the past three games, and is making his fifth start of the season. He has played well so far, and with Woodley returning into the lineup, the Steelers usually formidable linebacking core shouldn't miss too much of a beat.
- Rashard Mendenhall can't say anything stupid about Kim Jong-Il before the game. We all know what happened last time when he opened his mouth about horrible people.
That's it. There's the five keys. Seems easy, but as is the case with most keys, the doors they open can sometimes lead to more intricate labyrinths. I'm not sure if that made sense, but it sounded nice. I would like the Steelers to win, as that means a first-round bye and home-field advantage, but I have my doubts. A lot of nagging injuries and a tough opponent could lead to a disappointing night.
Well, good luck!