NFL Week 1 Upset Alert: Steelers to Spoil Brock Purdy’s Return 

profile image of scottkacsmar

NFL Pick: Steelers ML (+115) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)

Bovada logo
Steelers ML (+115)
Visit Site

The San Francisco 49ers open the 2023 season as a 2-point road favorite against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have not played at home in Week 1 since 2014. The game could mark the only meeting between quarterbacks Kenny Pickett and Brock Purdy, who were the first and last quarterbacks drafted in 2022. It also marks our first NFL upset alert of the season.

But somehow Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant, is the budding star from the 2022 draft after his stunning success in leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers were 8-0 in the games that Purdy threw at least 20 passes, only losing with him against the Eagles after he injured his elbow on the opening drive. He had surgery and recovered in the offseason.  

Expectations are higher for the loaded 2023 San Francisco 49ers than they are for the 2023 Steelers, a wild card hopeful who is looking for a 20th-straight non-losing season. But are Mike Tomlin’s Steelers in prime position for another upset win in Week 1?

Let’s break down the NFL odds for this matchup.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday, September 10, 2023 – 01:00 PM EDT at Acrisure Stadium 

Not Mike Tomlin’s First Rodeo 

Based on what happened in Week 1 last year, this would not even be a real upset or shocking result for either team: 

  • As a 6-point favorite, the 49ers lost 19-10 in Chicago (a team that finished 3-14) in a game played in a monsoon. 
  • The Steelers were a 7-point underdog in Cincinnati (a team that finished 12-4) and they won 23-20 in overtime after the Bengals missed a couple of short kicks due to an emergency long-snapper situation. 

Defensive Help

But Pittsburgh also won that upset with defense as T.J. Watt led an attack that forced Joe Burrow into 5 turnovers (4 interceptions) and 7 sacks. If the Steelers could do that to Burrow coming off a Super Bowl season, they can make life hard on the inexperienced Purdy too. 

This is not Mike Tomlin’s first rodeo. In the 2021 season opener, he shook off a 10-0 deficit at halftime in Buffalo as a 6.5-point underdog and came back to win that game 23-16.  

The Steelers will welcome getting a chance to start a season at home, and it is hard to say the 2023 49ers are any tougher of an opponent than the Bills or Bengals were the last 2 seasons.

Watt Is Back

A new season means a fresh slate of health for T.J. Watt, the most indispensable defender in the NFL. Since 2017, the Steelers are 2-12-1 in 15 games where Watt did not play at least 50% of the snaps, including a 1-10 record in games he missed entirely. 

Last year, Watt was injured during that upset win over the Bengals, then the Steelers were 1-6 without him. He returned after the bye and the Steelers finished 7-2. There were several factors beyond Watt that led to that turnaround, but it is hard to imagine it would happen if he never came back. 


His injury also helped Alex Highsmith improve with 14.5 sacks. Now the Steelers can start a season with both together playing at a high level. 

The Steelers did not allow more than 17 points in the final 7 games of 2022, the team’s longest streak since 2001. It was the longest streak by any team to end a season since the 2006 Ravens. Pittsburgh was shaping into playoff form, but the 2-6 start was too big of a hole to climb out of. 

Pickett’s Improvement

The Steelers were demolished by elite teams last season in losses to the Bills (38-3) and Eagles (35-13). But after their bye week, Watt returned to help the defense, the schedule lightened up, and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett got his turnovers under control while the running game improved. 

Pickett did not make huge strides as a passer in the 2nd half of the season, but his game management was much better. Pittsburgh’s offense converted 54.3% of the time on 3rd down in the final 9 games, the best mark in the league and one of the best for any team since 1991. 

Count On Pickett

Pickett also led 4 game-winning drives after the bye after failing in that situation against the Dolphins. He led long, game-winning touchdown drives to beat the Raiders and Ravens in back-to-back weeks. 

But the Steelers are not going to go far with scores like 13-10 and 16-13 in 2023. They need an offense that can score much more if they are going to deal with elite teams. The 49ers were routinely scoring 33-plus points after Purdy took over last year. Pittsburgh has the longest active streak in the league of 25 games without scoring more than 30 points.

Pickett’s Perfect Preseason

Pittsburgh’s decision to keep offensive coordinator Matt Canada could come back to haunt them, but so far in 2023, things look fine. Pittsburgh had a perfect preseason with the starting offense scoring a touchdown on all 5 drives it had. Pickett was basically perfect on those drives, and George Pickens was his biggest threat as the 2nd-year wideout is looking to explode this season. 

But the Steelers must overcome Canada, who has gone all 35 games of his career in this role without having a 400-yard game on offense. The Steelers had a league-low 2 touchdowns that came from outside the red zone last year. 

They scored multiple touchdowns in the preseason which would have been their longest score of 2022. Diontae Johnson infamously set NFL records for the most targets and catches without a touchdown catch last year. 

The 49ers had the No. 1 defense last year led by Nick Bosa, the Defensive Player of the Year. They are working in a new defensive coordinator after losing DeMeco Ryans to Houston, but they still have great talent on that side of the ball. It likely will not be a high-scoring game for Pittsburgh but keeping it close and tight is a good strategy for an upset anyway.

Unfamiliar Opponents

These teams have not met since 2019, which was a Super Bowl year for the 49ers, and a lost year for the Steelers (8-8) after Ben Roethlisberger had season-ending elbow surgery after Week 2. 

But Tomlin’s first game without Ben was a week later in San Francisco. Even though the 49ers had a way better team (6-point home favorite too), and the Steelers had Mason Rudolph at quarterback, Pittsburgh had leads of 6-0, 13-10, and it took a 20-17 lead in the 4th quarter. 

However, the 49ers won 24-20 on a touchdown with just 1:15 left. 

That was still an impressive effort by Tomlin with a lesser team than he has this week. It remains to be seen if these 49ers can be as strong as the Super Bowl team was that year.  

What’s the Deal With Brock?

There are legitimate question marks about Purdy being the real deal given his physical attributes that led to his Mr. Irrelevant draft status, and some of the questionable throws he made and got away with last year. When he faced a legitimate defense like the Cowboys, he was held to 19 points in the playoffs. 

How he returns from elbow surgery is also worth watching as he did not have the strongest arm to begin with.

The Pick

Elite passers give the Steelers fits, but it is way too early to put Purdy in that class. Also, let’s not forget the 49ers lost to the Falcons (7-10), Broncos (5-12), and Bears (3-14) early last season, the 2nd year in a row they started 3-4 before going on a run to the NFC title game. 

While the Steelers have been known to play down to the competition in Tomlin’s tenure, they also play up to it. This spot is money for Tomlin as the Steelers are 15-4-3 ATS (79.0%) since 2007 as a home underdog, easily the best record in the league. Pittsburgh’s 13-9 SU (59.1%) record is also the best winning percentage in the NFL (4-2 SU since 2021). 

If the Steelers score 10 points in this game, then we’ll know the preseason is still a lie, and we can get back to the previously scheduled “Fire Matt Canada” posts. But trust Tomlin and company at home to take some shine off the Purdy bandwagon as the Steelers pull off this upset for your NFL picks.  

NFL Pick: Steelers ML (+115) at Bovada

Bovada logo
Steelers ML (+115)
Visit Site

*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.