When I saw that oddsmakers had made the Packers 2.5-point favorites for Super Bowl XLV, my immediate reaction was: “Pittsburgh’s an underdog? Ha! Give me the Steelers…you’re welcome.”
Why wouldn’t you take the Steelers on Sunday? They’ve played in two Super Bowls the past six years and won them both. They have a more experienced head coach who oversees a more experienced quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is 2-0 in the “big one” and thanks to Dick LeBeau’s guidance, Pittsburgh’s defense often resembles an immovable force.
But then I got to thinking: Tom Brady lost in the Super Bowl, as did Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. Bill Belichick has lost in the championship, as has Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher and even Tom Landry.
Experience flies out the window once that ball has been kicked off the tee at the start of the game. What football essentially comes down to is execution, avoiding mistakes and beating the guy across from you.
Both of these teams can execute. Both of these teams can limit mistakes and both of these teams have the players on each side of the ball that can win individual battles. Which team will accomplish those three feats on Sunday is anyone’s guess, and that’s the great thing about this particular matchup – it’s so even.
But when you get down to the brass tacks, the Steelers have a big problem along their offensive line. Losing Maurkice Pouncey hurts, but having two offensive tackles that are below average pass-blockers is a bigger problem when you consider the Packers finished second in the league in sacks. Granted, Pittsburgh finished first in that category but I have more faith in Green Bay’s O-line protecting Aaron Rodgers than I do the Steelers’ front five protecting Big Ben.
The Steelers can be had through the air, too. The Packers will have their hands full with LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, but Rodgers is skilled at recognizing where the pressure is coming from and getting the ball out of his hand quickly. He can pick a defense apart whether he has time or not, which is something Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez can’t do.
If the Packers can get the Steelers’ base defense off the field by spreading them out with four-or-five receiver sets, then Green Bay will have an advantage. Trying to run the ball against Pittsburgh is often a losing proposition. But attacking guys like Bryant McFadden and William Gay isn’t, especially when a team like Green Bay employs receivers as skilled as Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones.
Granted, for Green Bay to win it must stop Rashard Mendenhall. The Packers have had trouble with power running games this year and the Steelers are 6-1 when Mendenhall rushes for over 80 yards. They can’t allow Pittsburgh to control the tempo of the game and leave the Packers’ offense on the sidelines. Limiting Mendenhall’s production will be key.
But with all of that in mind, strengths on strengths I like the Packers and their weaknesses scare me much less than Pittsburgh’s. I like B.J. Raji over Doug Legursky. I like Clay Matthews over Jonathan Scott and/or Flozell Adams. I like Mike McCarthy over Mike Tom…ok no, I don’t like McCarthy over Tomlin. Quite frankly, McCarthy scares me. But the man has put together some fantastic game plans over the past couple of weeks so as long as we don’t see Mr. Conservative on Sunday, then I like the Pack.
Packers 24, Steelers 20.