Who will play and who won't?
That is always a key heading into any game. And for the Steelers and 49ers, it's critical.
Being here in Pittsburgh, we all know about the question marks for the Steelers.
Obviously, James Harrison is out, suspended by the NFL for this game. But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu and center Maurkice Pouncey are huge question marks for the Steelers as well.
For San Francisco, running back Frank Gore, linebacker Patrick Willis and left tackle Joe Staley are hurting.
That's a lot of star power.
Polamalu, Gore and Willis, in my opinion, are the three biggest factors there.
We all know the Steelers' struggles over the past few seasons without Polamalu. They are a Super Bowl team with him, a sub-.500 team without.
On the other hand, they proved last season they could win without Roethlisberger in the lineup – at least in the short term. And Doug Legursky is a capable replacement for Pouncey, even if he's not the Pro Bowl player Pouncey is.
Gore is San Francisco's entire offense. He's dealt with ankle and knee injuries over the past six weeks and without his running, the 49ers' offense relies solely on Alex Smith. That could be difficult without Staley at left tackle.
Gore should play, but he managed just 10 carries last week in a loss at Arizona.
And Willis is the heart and soul of San Francisco's defense. While Ray Lewis may get the publicity, it's Willis who is the best inside linebacker in football.
He's a big reason why the 49ers are allowing 3.2 yards per carry and haven't given up a rushing touchdown this season.
Regardless of who plays and who doesn't, the Steelers are the better team.
Take Pittsburgh, 17-16
© Update: Polamalu practiced today and is probable to play.
Roethlisberger was again limited and will be a game-time decision.
Pouncey is out.