Week 15 Monday Night NFL Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Francisco 49ers Odds and Predictions – Free NFL Picks 12/19/11

Monday Night NFL Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Francisco 49ers Monday Night NFL Week 15 Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions on ESPN 12/19/11: After a couple of lackluster Monday night matchups, two of the top teams in the league will meet this week. The NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers (10-3) will host the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3), and both teams have a lot on the line. San Francisco needs to win to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs, while Pittsburgh needs to win to keep its AFC North title hopes alive. There should be a playoff-type atmosphere for this one, and the 49ers are three-point favorites playing at home.

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Offensively, the two teams are polar opposites. San Francisco is a power running team, ranking seventh in the NFL. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh likes to stretch the field with a spread passing attack that ranks ninth in the league. While each side clearly prefers one style of offense, the edge in balance goes to the Steelers. Although Pittsburgh is a mediocre running team at best, the 49ers rank 29th when it comes to passing the ball. If either side can force the other to become one dimensional, Pittsburgh has a slight edge.

While both teams differ in their offensive philosophy, they share a common ground on defense. The Steelers’ unit ranks first against the pass and sixth against the run, and the 49ers rank first against the run. In fact, the 49ers have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown this season. The difference is that San Francisco is just mediocre against the pass, which could haunt them against Pittsburgh and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Even though he is dealing with an ankle injury, Roethlisberger is still a threat throwing the ball. San Francisco will likely blitz to try to exploit Roethlisberger’s lack of mobility, but that strategy could provide the Steelers with some big play opportunities.

For San Francisco, establishing running back Frank Gore will be crucial. The 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith has been solid managing games, but he hasn’t been asked to go out and throw for 300-plus yards per game. The Steelers have an excellent all-around defense, and that includes shutting down the run. If San Francisco is forced to abandon the run and rely heavily on Smith and the passing game, Pittsburgh’s defense could turn a tight game into a blowout thanks to sacks and turnovers.

The X-factor in the game will likely be the Steelers’ speedy receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. With San Francisco likely to render running back Rashard Mendenhall irrelevant and Roethlisberger hobbled by his ankle, Pittsburgh will have to score in the passing game. Wallace and Brown have both made a habit of scoring long touchdowns, and the 49ers secondary can be vulnerable. Either player is capable of making a game-changing play on offense in a game that could be low scoring and hard hitting.

Momentum can’t be overlooked in this matchup. The Steelers have won four straight and eight of their last nine entering Monday’s contest. On the flip side, San Francisco has lost two of its last three games. Opponents have been able to take away Gore and the 49ers’ ground game, which has led to the team struggling on offense. Pittsburgh will almost certainly adopt the same strategy, and the Steelers have more than enough weapons on defense to hold Gore and company in check. Granted, San Francisco’s stout defense should keep the 49ers in the game, but Roethlisberger and company should be able to score enough points to pick up a big road win.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers (+3) Cover the Spread

Free NFL Football Picks and Predictions: Pittsburgh +3

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Week 15 NFL Football: Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Francisco 49ers
Date: 12/19/011
Time: 8:35 PM EST on ESPN
Vegas Odds Favorite: San Francisco -3 Total: Over/Under 38

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