Remember the 1990s? It was the decade of brightly-colored, oddly-styled sitcoms, goofy hair and car phones. It was also the last time the 49ers were consistently good and still considered a model NFL franchise.
This year’s team will look to begin a season 3-0 for the first time since 1998 when it opens its home schedule Sunday at Levi’s Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was one of the most popular songs of that year, which is fitting because it could be the feeling 49ers fans have about their team if the season keeps going this well.
The good news for San Francisco: the team’s first two victories came in vastly different styles. Week 1 was about playing to the defense, working conservatively on offense and letting Jameis Winston throw Tampa Bay out of the game. Last week was all about San Francisco’s multi-pronged offense, starting with a long Jimmy Garoppolo touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin and out rushing the Bengals by 234 yards (seriously).
Let’s dive into this week’s fantasy and betting advice so you get rich and party like it’s, ahem, 1998.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: The Steelers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 75 percent of their passes during their 0-2 start. That’s 29th in the NFL. They’re allowing 320 yards through the air per game, which is also 29th. Garoppolo is coming off one of the most productive games of his career last week in Cincinnati when he tossed three touchdown passes for the first time since coming to San Francisco. And none of them went to George Kittle, which is a good sign for the team’s unestablished skill position players. Goodwin, rookie Deebo Samuel and backup running back Raheem Mostert all had touchdown receptions, while Kyle Shanahan helped target eight different pass catchers on the day. The 49ers might not have star power surrounding Garoppolo, but there appears to be enough balance throughout the roster to allow Garoppolo to have another productive day.
RB Raheem Mostert: Is 151 all-purpose yards and a touchdown something you might be interested in? That was Mostert’s line from Sunday’s game as he averaged nearly nine yards per touch (he also had a touchdown called back via penalty). Not bad for the team’s projected fourth-string running back and special teams ace. With Tevin Coleman out and the 49ers always looking to keep Matt Breida fresh, Mostert’s touches should continue to rise. He’s certainly worth keeping tabs on in a deeper league where many other backup running backs are already snatched up.
WR Deebo Samuel: It’s not easy to earn playing time as a rookie in Shanahan’s offense. But Samuel is adjusting to life well in the NFL. He’s endeared his teammates with his physical style and nasty attitude with the ball in his hands (similar to Kittle, just a whole lot faster). He’s Garoppolo’s most targeted wideout to date, he’s caught 80 percent of balls thrown his way, and his route tree will only get more expansive. The 49ers offense is going to be productive, and Samuel might become Garoppolo’s second favorite target behind Kittle. Did we mention the Steelers passing defense has struggled?
WR Dante Pettis: The artist formerly known as the 49ers’ No. 1 receiver saw his playing time jump from two snaps to 35 last week. The problem? He wasn’t targeted once and has one catch in two games. Pettis will have a breakout performance, but don’t play him with money on the line until that breakout game comes, which seems more likely to happen later in the season than this week.
49ers defense: Yes, San Francisco’s defense has been really good during the first two games. And yes, Mason Rudolph is not Ben Roethlisberger. All the signs would point to another strong showing from the 49ers defense in their home opener. This advice is strictly about the law of averages. San Francisco’s defensive starters have allowed just two offensive touchdowns all season. Something has to give, right? The Steelers have a good enough coaching staff to use the advantage of Rudolph’s inexperience against the home team by trying all sorts of stuff they haven’t put on film yet. We’re going to side with human nature here and suggest the 49ers defense has a bit of a let down performance after playing so well the first two weeks.
The 49ers are seven-point favorites and minus-280 on the money line. They’re 2-0 against the spread so far this season after going 5-11 ATS in 2018. They haven’t been favored by seven since the first regular season game played in Levi’s Stadium in 2014 before the team melted down in Jim Harbaugh’s final season.
Yes, all the logic says the 49ers should roll the Steelers on Sunday, including the fact Pittsburgh is 19-39 straight up in the Pacific time zone (they even lost to the Raiders in Oakland last December).
Which is why I’m going the other way. I’m taking San Francisco to win but Pittsburgh to cover the seven points.
The Steelers will do all they can to try salvaging the season after dropping their first two games. They have nothing to lose with Roethlisberger done for the year. They’ll play like it, forcing the upstart 49ers to humble themselves just a touch. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a losing season since 2003. It’s a proud organization that won’t be bullied by a team feeling itself after beating the Buccaneers and Bengals.
I took the 49ers in Cincy last week, so this week we’re going to start a winning streak by grabbing the Steelers to cover. Though my confidence level is pretty low here. Maybe I’m giving Rudolph and Mike Tomlin’s coaching staff too much credit. Or maybe I’m over valuing the NFL’s unpredictable nature.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Steelers 23
Record this year (against the spread): 1-1