Not many NFL teams were as disappointing in 2014 than the San Francisco 49ers. After becoming a perennial NFC powerhouse and representing the conference in Super Bowl 47, the team fell off the mark last season by not only playing sub-par football, but their first postseason miss under Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh's gone, and new head coach Jim Tomsula is preparing for his 2015 season which will see his 49ers traveling across country to face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
San Francisco 49ers
2014: 8-8 (3rd in NFC West), 2-4 within NFC West, 7-5 within the NFC
2014 vs. the Steelers: Did not play
Potential Free Agents: LB Desmond Bishop, CB Chris Cook, CB Perrish Cox, WR Michael Crabtree, CB Chris Culliver, QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Frank Gore, G Mike Iupati, QB Josh Johnson, WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Kassim Osgood, LB Dan Skuta, RB Alfonso Smith, RB Phillip Tanner, S Bubba Ventrone, TE Garrett Celek (RFA), LS Kyle Nelson (RFA)
2015 NFL Draft: 15th selection
Jim Harbaugh, the man who returned the 49ers to prominence in the NFL, is now the head coach at the University of Michigan and Jim Tomsula takes the reigns of the 49ers' wagon in hopes of turning the team around after a mediocre 8-8 season which did not end in a playoff berth.
There are plenty of questions swirling around the 49ers organization, and some key positions with unrestricted free agents would be one place to look. RB Frank Gore and WR Michael Crabtree highlight a group of free agents who might be jettisoning from the Bay Area for greener pastures when free agency begins March 10th. However, the 49ers still have a strong core of talent to help get them back to the postseason in 2015.
QB Colin Kaepernick, WR Anquan Boldin, LB Ahmad Brooks and LB Patrick Willis are just a handful of players who will lead this team into 2015 with a sense of optimism surrounding them. How this team will handle the rare trip to Pittsburgh might be a different story.
The 49ers, along with all other West-coast teams, are used to travelling across country, but statistics don't lie when it comes to the success rate of the team having to travel such a distance for a game. This game certainly could be a prime time game with two of the more legendary franchises in NFL history doing battle. Nonetheless, for the Steelers, this game will come down to containing Kaepernick.
Kaepernick did more than throw for over three thousand yards in 2014, he was also the second leading rusher on the team with 639 yards from scrimmage. That mobility is a frightening proposition to a Steelers defense who struggles to set the edge and was burned on the ground on more than one occasion by the likes of Alex Smith and Andy Dalton, both of which do not have the mobility of Kaepernick, in 2014.
The 49ers also possess a pass rush which would make any offensive line shudder. Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and Brooks put more than normal heat on opposing quarterbacks, and as was discovered in 2014, the Steelers tend to sway the way of Ben Roethlisberger. Keep Roethlisberger upright, the Steelers typically win. If the Steelers struggle in protection, the team usually follows suit.
This contest should be a very even game and could see a point spread of less than 1 when the game rolls around. Just like many games on the Steelers' 2015 schedule, this has prime time written all over it.