By Will Robinson
Ok, we’re in the home stretch! After this bad boy, one more! And, as always, here are the past previews:
By Will Robinson
So. That happened. We may not have watched the greatest or the most entertaining Super Bowl, but the game was pretty damn good; the game also became the highest rated TV show in American history. The Super Bowl broke the record for the last three, maybe even four Super Bowls. The NFL is as hot as ever, and if a collective bargaining agreement is not figured out, then it will be one of the worst business decisions OF ALL TIME! Enron status, people. I’ll save all of this depressing, billionaire mumbo-jumbo for later when we are closer to the deadline. Until then, let’s talk about the big game.
Ultimately, the Packers obviously won and played very well the whole game. They were a trendy pick to represent the NFC, but one blog writer picked them to win the whole thing before the season started(THIS GUY! Yes, I will be Harkes/Uruguay-ing this – aka plugging this as much as possible). There were many great plays in the game, including this great interception for touchdown by Packer safety Nick Collins, but there was a far more crucial turnover in this game that completely turned the tides of the game.
At the tail end of the third quarter, Pittsburgh was trailing 21-17. Green Bay punter and fellow brother of the ginger clan Tim Masthay punted the ball a mediocre 32 yards, so the Steelers began their drive on the Packer 41. The Steelers were dominant throughout the whole quarter, and were on an offensive and defensive roll. The first play of the drive was a solid eight yard rush to the right by Rashard Mendenhall, who was pushed out of bounds by Desmond Bishop. The very next play, after a very entertaining commercial featuring the Fonz, the Steelers line up with an offset I formation to the left, and Mike Wallace to the right. Ben Roethlisberger took the handoff, and gave it to Mendenhall. Beastly linebacker Clay Matthews made first contact on the right side of the line, while defensive tackle Ryan Pickett sandwiched Mendenhall on the left. Matthews tackled exactly where Mendenhall held the ball, and sure enough, it popped loose. The ball popped out back and to the right, as two dumbfounded Pittsburgh linemen had their backs to the ball. Bishop flew to the ball and stumbled down to the Green Bay 45 following the third Steeler turnover of the game; the Packers reclaimed the game.
Eight drop backs later, quarterback Aaron Rodgers found stud receiver Greg Jennings in the right corner of the endzone for Rodgers’ third touchdown through the air of the night and Jennings’ second touchdown catch. Jennings lined up in the slot, a position he is known to be in when running a seam, but cut right and confused defensive player of the year Troy Polamalu. The Packers relentlessly capitalized on Pittsburgh’s wrongdoings, scoring a touchdown directly following all three of the Burgh’s turnovers.
The fumble was the momentum changer of the game. The Collins interception occurred early, and while it visibly loomed on the Pittsburgh offense throughout most of the game, the Packers were reeling for most of the third quarter. Pittsburgh moved the ball at will and was given great field position by dumb Green Bay penalties and poor punts. I had full confidence in Pittsburgh to score a touchdown on their drive – and then the fumble happened. I even believed that Green Bay left too much time at the end of the game, and Roethlisberger could steal a close one as the time ticked to 00:00. Alas, that was not the case, and as many pundits have already stated, the Lombardi trophy has come home.
As I alluded to earlier, this game was not THE best of the last few years; but that is at no fault of this game. We have been lucky enough to see a bunch of great Super Bowls over the last four years. I would like to quickly rank the last ten Super Bowls based on a few factors: the importance of the game in history, overall excitement of the game, closeness, and storylines.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, 2006
· This is a bit of an upset, as there is another game that wasn’t nearly as close. This game was one of the most BORING games I have ever seen. It wasn’t 3-2 game, but it will be marred in history by the HORRENDOUS officiating against Seattle. This did spark Pittsburgh on winning another Super Bowl, and making another. The only compelling thing about this game was that it was Jerome Bettis’ last game, and he finished his career on top in his home town.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Oakland Raiders, 48-21, 2003
· The only blowout of the last ten big games didn’t fall in the last spot for a few reasons: the storylines. Jon Gruden got to stick it to his former boss and team in Al Davis and the Raiders. The Bucs finally ended their pain as one of the worst franchises in the NFL, but there was another spectacular storyline: Barret Robbins. I don’t want to insult or talk about Robbins’ problems in a poor light, but in case you don’t know what happened, long story short, he forgot to take his depression medication and ended up in Tijuana. By the time he was found, Raider Coach Bill Callahan could not play him. I doubt a Pro Bowl center could make up 27, the Robbins’ story was fascinating. Nothing can go wrong with a ton of big defensive plays, too!
· This game was terrible. The highlight of this game was Prince playing “Purple Rain” at halftime. That’s not true, as Devin Hester returned the opening kick for a touchdown, but the rest of the game wasn’t spectacular. Peyton Manning won the MVP with a 247 yard, one touchdown one pick performance. Not his best game, but he was gonna win no matter what.
7. New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21, 2005
· This matchup was surprising because so many people HAD expected it in the pre-season. Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb led the Eagles offense, and New England was trying to establish a dynasty. It was a three point win, but it was the only championship where New England did not Vinatieri as time expired. Owens gave an inspiring performance, as he played on a bum leg, with nine catches and 122 yards. In the end, it was all about the three rings in four years for the Pats.
6. New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers, 32-29, 2004
· As far as Super Bowls go, this wasn’t a particularly compelling game, but it was an exciting one. Tom Brady was trying for his second Super Bowl win in three years, and the Panthers rolled through the NFC playoffs. It came down to some more Vinatieri magic at the end, which added to the explosive fourth quarter.
5. New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, 2010
· This game was similar to the Bucs game, in the sense that it removed the tag of “losing franchise” from the Saints. The game was very good, and the score doesn’t represent how close this game was, mainly because of Tracy Porter’s perfect interception touchdown. Drew Brees had a great game, but this was all about the city of New Orleans having something to cheer about and come together with after Hurricane Katrina. The win uplifted the whole region.
4. Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, 2011
3. New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams, 20-17, 2002
· This was a changing of the guard, as the Rams were the high-powered offense led by MVP Kurt Warner. The Patriots were the young guns, led by second year quarterback Tom Brady, trying to dethrone the great offense. This was the first Super Bowl after 9/11, and U2’s halftime performance was the greatest of all time. It was very touching and emotional, and when I found the clip, the opening still gave me chills. And, of course, the PATRIOTS were the first Super Bowl champion after our country’s largest attack on our soil. Perfect. It could have been number one if the game were as intense as my number one game.
2. New York Giants vs. New England Patriots, 17-14, 2008
a. Pretty obvious here. 19-0 on the line, and the Patriots could not get it done. An all-time highlight, which was the LAST catch of David Tyree’s career, defined this game, hands down. The Patriots missed their chance at immortality, and who knows when we will see this again.
· This game was phenomenal on so many levels. It featured one of the all-time great plays in Super Bowl history (Harrison), the greatest Super Bowl touchdown catch of all time (Santonio Holmes), and a receiver with a post-season performance of the ages (Fitzgerald had 30+ catches, 500+ yards, and seven touchdowns in four games. Yeah.) Roethlisberger’s and Holmes’ pitch and catch with less than three minutes left was one of the best two-minute drives I have seen conducted. Also, Kurt Warner now owns the top three passing yard performances in Super Bowl history. I re-watched this game a few days ago, and it was still exciting.
As always, this NFL season was great and even more unpredictable than usual, and I will be very depressed if the CBA is not figured out sometime soon. Please, owners. Do not do this to the fans. I am not sure when I will be writing next, but I will definitely write about the CBA at the deadline, whether the problem is resolved or not, and NFL Draft stuff. Have a nice off-season, everyone.
>By TSL Staff and Friends
Check out our team previews from earlier this week: Packers and Steelers. Here are predictions about the big game from TSL associates!
Seven months ago, I would have bet my entire Sack Lunch Blog salary that neither the Green Bay Packers nor the Pittsburgh Steelers would make it to the Super Bowl, let alone play against each other. Luckily, no one chose to make this bet with me, and with the big game just days away, it’s time to get familiar with some background information on these two teams, just in case the gambling bug strikes again.
The biggest storyline thus far has been the strong similarities between the two teams. Both the Steelers and the Packers are located in hard-working towns with quarterbacks who have been through rough times to make it this far in the post season. Ben Roethlisberger returned from suspension and a quite embarrassing legal suit earlier this year to play superb football for Pittsburgh during the playoffs; Aaron Rodgers was forced to live in Brett Favre’s shadow for years, and after throwing for 4,400 yards last season and making the Super Bowl this year, he has officially assumed his role as team leader.
Defense has been both teams’ strongest aspect of play all season. Troy Polamalu’s well-shampooed hair has been present in covering deep plays for Pittsburgh, while James Harrison has been putting a stop to run games at the line of scrimmage. For the Packers, Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Clay Matthews will be a force in the Green Bay defense that has only allowed 70 yards rushing in the post season, compared to just 115 in the regular season.
Defensive battles and quarterback productivity will be the two main focuses of this game, and it will be Green Bay that capitalizes on both. The Pittsburgh offensive line has been injury-prone lately, and there is a chance that center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered an ankle injury in the AFC championship game, will have to sit out. The Packers’ receivers are led by ‘The Old Man,” veteran Donald Driver, and will be able to out-play and out-smart the Steeler coverage.
After witnessing the way these two teams have played all year, I’m ready to take offers on Sunday’s game. Green Bay wins, 24-20, and my entire Sack Lunch Blog salary is on the line… any takers?
These past two weeks, the Super Bowl has been covered from every different angle, every story has been told ad nauseam, so I figure the last thing you want is more of the same. Unlike my (correct) MLS Cup prediction, I’m qualified to pick a winner for the Super Bowl, because I actually watched these two teams play this season. I could tell you about how Pittsburgh’s experience in big games is being overrated; I could tell you how Mike McCarthy could be a bigger hindrance than help; I could tell you that Aaron Rodgers is better than Tony Romo; I could tell you that defensive playmakers are going to swing this game; but if you want all that, read my colleagues. I want to tell you that with a win, Aaron Rodgers will finally end Brett Favre’s reign of terror on the NFL. Packers fans will have a new champion to hang their hats on, it will forever put to rest the debate over whether the Packers got rid of him too soon (which they most definitely didn’t), and people will finally stop talking about the Old Gunslinger. Rodgers is on the verge of superstardom and winning this game will catapult him into the Manning-Brady-Brees class, not in terms of production, because he’s already there, but in terms of celebrity. Rodgers will be the face of the NFL, just like Brees was last season following the Saints’ Super Bowl run. All of that is if the Packers win of course.
The NFL is a league of quarterbacks, and despite the fact that everyone knows that quarterbacks don’t actually play each other, the matchups are billed as such, so this game seems to be a battle between Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, both hoping to solidify their spot in the top tier of quarterbacks. While examining this matchup, I couldn’t help but think Rodgers’ victory was preordained. Rodgers’ ascension has played out to me like a cross between Macbeth and Beowulf, with Packers General Manager Ted Thompson starring as the three witches and foreseeing Rodgers’ path to a Super Bowl championship. Jettisoning Favre and giving Rodgers the starting job was the first step, then making the playoffs, and now winning the Super Bowl completes the prophecy, just like Macbeth becoming Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and finally, the King of Scotland. The only problem is that Rodgers is the good guy. If Michael Vick was playing for the Super Bowl, then the murderous part of the Macbeth analogy would be apt, but alas, Vick was defeated by Rodgers, which is where Beowulf comes in. Beowulf first defeats the murderous Grendel (Vick), then Grendel’s mother (Cutler), but there is still the dragon (Roethlisberger) to be slain, and on Sunday, we will see how that plays out. Obviously, this can’t be taken literally, I mean I’m not saying Rodgers is going to die after the Super Bowl like Macbeth and Beowulf did (Spoiler alert? Too late, I guess, oh well). Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if I learned anything from ninth grade English, it’s that the Packers will win the Super Bowl and Rodgers will be the King of Scotland, 27-14.
I know that this is going to be cliché, and it is probably what you have been hearing in all the Super Bowl predictions over the last couple of weeks, but this game really comes down to one player: Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers has been unstoppable in the playoffs in good weather situations (which we will see Sunday), passing for ten touchdowns against just one interception in three games. Rodgers didn’t play his best in the NFC Championship, but he still made the throws he needed to make when he needed to make them. Rodgers is the best and most important player in this game and he will have to show it if the Packers are to win.
Conversely, the Steelers are more of a grind-it-out, hard-nosed, old school football team. They run the ball well and stop the run well. Unfortunately, when the other team is putting up yards in chunks and you can’t stop its pass game, there isn’t a lot of time to be running the ball. I think the Packers will win simply because the Steelers won’t be able to guard all of their offensive weapons at one time. The Packers go four deep at receiver with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelsen. All of them should have big days in a 28-14 Packers victory.
The favorite’s offense is way too good. The quarterback of the favorite will have no trouble picking apart the opposing secondary. This performance will vault that quarterback into the next level. The underdog will have to play perfectly to have any chance to win. Before the start of Super Bowl XLII between the undefeated Patriots and Giants, this was all we heard for two weeks. Before the start of this Super Bowl between the unstoppable Packers offense and the banged up Steelers, Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers have been lauded much the same as that New England juggernaut. Now, I’m not saying that a Steelers victory would be anywhere near the magnitude of the upset the Giants pulled off, but when a team is talked up as the next great thing for two weeks, that’s when strange things happen.
When Green Bay went into Atlanta and destroyed the Falcons, people assumed that was the beginning of a great playoff run for the Packers. One game seemed to vault the Packers from, “banged up team with a good quarterback” to “unstoppable force who will win it all.” People seem to forget that three of Green Bay’s losses came against non-playoff teams while the Steelers lost their four games to teams that all made the tournament. Throw out one bad game against the Pats and Pittsburgh lost its three games by a combined 18 points to New Orleans, the Jets, and Baltimore (without Big Ben). Two things that set apart championship teams are the ability to beat teams they should and winning close games. Pittsburgh went 8-3 in games decided by single digits while the Packers were only able to pull a 6-6 record in those contests. If Michael Vick throws a little better ball in the 4th quarter of the divisional round, we may be looking at an all Pennsylvania Super Bowl.
I’m obviously a little biased, as I have seen ¾ of Pittsburgh’s games, but I know that this is a team that can win games no matter the situation. Having a quarterback of Roethlisberger’s size and abilities means that they are never out of the game, while the defense has been its usual suffocating self. I think that on Sunday Ben will be able to move around much like he did against the Ravens and Jets and make some big plays. After hearing how great the Packers are for 2 weeks, the Steelers defense will come out fired up to show why they led the league in scoring defense. I predict the first half will be a little sloppy offensively but the fourth quarter will match the intensity and entertainment of Super Bowl XLIII between the Steelers and Cardinals. I believe the difference in the game will be the experience of the Steelers and Rodgers will make one more mistake than Roethlisberger.
Steelers: 24 Packers: 20
MVP: Ben Roethlisberger
What are the odds that within a one-month period, the two football teams I despise most in this world would compete for the championship in their respective leagues?
Last month, the ugly and fowl (ha!) Oregon Ducks competed in the BCS National Championship, fortunately losing to the Auburn Tigers. Now, the NFL team who I hate most is competing in the Super Bowl versus the Green Bay Packers.
However, as opposed to last month when I predicted the Auburn Tigers to satisfy me by dispatching the hated Ducks, I have my life savings of $23.04 and whatever spare change is under the front seat in my car on the Pittsburgh Steelers winning this edition of the Super Bowl.
As much as it pains me to predict them to win, it came to me as the most logical conclusion. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, head coach Mike Tomlin included, simply have the experience to take care of business and take home their third ring in the past six seasons.
The Steelers defense is their strong suit, led by Defensive Player of the Year, safety Troy Polamalu. He teams up with Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark to form an above-average secondary, but the meat of Pittsburgh comes from their front seven. Linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are certainly going to be a burden on the Green Bay offensive line and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The pivotal matchup in my mind is that front seven for Pittsburgh versus the offensive line and other blockers for the Packers. The running backs and fullback for Green Bay will be called upon to protect Rodgers when he sends three or four wide receivers out for a pass.
Whoever has the greater push in this matchup will give their team a chance to win. If the Packers can give Rodgers time to pass, I think he has the ability to take advantage of a Steelers secondary that isn’t terrible full of depth. Rodgers is quickly becoming an elite quarterback, ready to join the realms of the Manning/Brady/etc. in due time. But if the Steelers can knock Rodgers down and get to him, it’ll take a toll on him and Pittsburgh will be in great shape to put yet another ring on.
The football gods already did me one favor this year by not letting Oregon win the BCS National Championship, so I feel as though they won’t give me one more opportunity to see the despised Steelers falter.
Not that they’ll need any help though, they have this one in the bag. Steelers 23, Packers 20.
For those of you who know me, I only really care about one sport. Soccer. Of course I will watch many other sports if soccer is not available on TV, which, let’s be honest, historically has not gotten a whole lot of airtime. Today I even watched unranked Baylor defeat number sixteen, Texas A&M in overtime. That was an exciting game.
But I digress. This piece is supposed to be about who will win Super Bowl XXXXXVVVIIII*&^$*&^ between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburg Steelers. So without further ado, here is my pre-game analysis.
This game features two in form quarterbacks in Aaron Rogers and Ben “The Rapist” Roethlisberger. Both teams have standout defensive players in Clay “Thor” Matthews III and Troy “Head & Shoulders” Polamalu. But this game will come down to more than just those players will. It will come down to the cheerleaders.
“But wait,” you say, “Neither team has a cheerleading squad!” That’s true. It’s really cold in Green Bay and while it is also cold in Pittsburg, the simple fact is that the Steelers just couldn’t put their trust in Big Ben to perform well while surrounded by scantily clad women. The liability is just too much.
That being said, since this version of “the big game” is in Dallas, I’d expect to see a plethora of fake-breasted Texan women at the game. So, what it really comes down to is whether the ladies’ man himself can ignore those tantalizing images and concentrate on winning his team another title.
My prediction? Roethlisberger goes AWOL and starts running amok through the crowd grabbing boobs while Rogers kicks some ass. Green Bay 5, Pittsburg 3 ½.
To be honest I hope both teams lose the Super Bowl. I hate both teams with a passion. The Steelers are hated among Cowboys nation because of their battles in the seventies that were mostly won by the Steelers, the lesser team if you will. The Packers are mortal enemies of the Cowboys for multiple reasons.
1. The Ice Bowl: The Packers faced the Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship game. The weather was terribly cold and ice covered the field, thus giving it the name “The Ice Bowl.” The Packers ended up winning a hard fought battle 21-17, probably because the referees fixed the game or something.
2. The “Lombardi” Trophy. Look, everyone knows Vince Lombardi was a great coach, and an even better motivator. But was he a better coach than Tom Landry? Not. Even. Close. Lombardi had great players, he was known for running the same 12 plays, and his players were so good no one could stop them. Does that make him a good coach? No, it makes him a guy who knows how to call 12 plays. Tom Landry coached 20 consecutive winning seasons, a record that will never be broken, won two Super Bowls and, commanded respect from his players. The man in the fedora was an icon a legend. Lombardi was a loud-mouthed alcoholic that knew his team couldn’t be stopped.
3. Packers fans. Talk about delusional, these guys take the cake. First off, they think NFL Championships count for something; well I got news: THEY DON’T. I don’t care that your team won it all when there were 12 teams in the league and no playoffs, that’s like bragging about how good your tee ball team was in grade school. Then Brett Favre was the best QB ever, one shaky offseason and he’s turned on by a bunch of ungrateful spoiled brats. Now Clay Matthews is the best LB in football… not according to DeMarcus Ware. Who knows where it will go next, I’m sure somewhere there’s a Packers fan saying Mike McCarthy is the best coach in NFL history, actually he’s probably saying second best to Lombardi.
Ok so if it isn’t obvious, I hate the Packers, but I can’t deny they are by far the best team in the NFC this year. That offense is amazing and they have the best (and most underrated) receiving corps in football. Rodgers is a good QB, not ready to jump on the bandwagon yet though, most of his throws are simple and easy to make, and he doesn’t quite command the offense yet like a Brett Favre once did for the cheese heads. The Packers D is great, best secondary in football, but their LB and DL core seem to struggle in anything other than blitz scenarios.
The Steelers are the veterans. Big Ben commands his offense and they have a great mix of veterans and young guys. The Steelers D is the best overall in the NFL, veterans everywhere that have the ability of third year players; it’s scary what this D can do.
This is a tough game to predict, but I’m going to go with the team that’s been there before. I think the Packers can win it all, just not this year; they don’t have the experience. Going to be close though. Steelers take it late.
In other must watch football on Sunday, Fernando Torres will be making his debut for Chelsea against his former club Liverpool. This is MUST SEE TV PEOPLE. Bad feelings between players and fans, gonna be an all-out brawl.
I like Chelsea 2-1 (Torres with the winner)
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, this is it. This is the ultimate moment of the 2010-11 National Football League season. Two of the premier, classiest, more storied franchised in the league’s history meet for the first time in any incarnation of the league’s championship game. Despite the week in Dallas being disrupted by the poor weather, this game has all the makings of a classic. One thing that does concern me is that so many people say it will be a great game that would make a letdown hurt more. I personally forget all of that, and I am stoked for what may be the last game in a long while, if the owners and the players union cannot work a deal out.
As I had previewed earlier this week (Packers and Steelers), both teams have a great passing attack fronted by elite quarterbacks who will likely decide the game with their play. Each of the teams have great receivers (Jennings and Mike Wallace, leading the way) and over-performing offensive lines; yet, the Steelers have a distinct advantage in the run game with Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, and Isaac Redman. Both defenses are very good and feature their own various playmakers.
With all that being said, I am extremely troubled about this game prediction. I chose the Packers in the beginning of the year to make it to Dallas and defeat New England. They didn’t quite take the route I was expecting, and obviously, they aren’t playing New England. Rodgers has been playing lights out, but he has not really encountered a defense this post season with this many playmakers and aggressive blitzers. I would much rather have Roethlisberger in this game, as he has the big game experience, but I will be sticking with my pre-season pick. Green Bay will win 24-20.
By Will Robinson
The longstanding history of the Steelers is that they have always been a run first, smash mouth football team. While media members still love to play this angle up and say that is how the Steelers have had success, they are clearly a pass first time. This year they were about 50-50 throughout the whole year, but in the first four games without Big Ben (with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch), they called more run plays, to the tune of 123 to 81. By the end of the regular season, they had eight more pass attempts than run.
Even though he may not put up the Brady, Manning, or Brees numbers, Ben Roethlisberger has to be considered a top five quarterback. Had he played the full 16 game schedule and continued his season long pace to those four hypothetical games, he would have posted a 4200 yard, 22 touchdown, six interception season – very good numbers, and had an impressive 8.23 yards per attempt. Roethlisberger’s ability to create more time in the pocket and throw on the run is, by standard metrics, statistically indefinable. You have to “see it” to know it, and it really is something amazing to watch when he extends a play to make something magically happen. Just watch the last few minutes of Super Bowl XLIII (try and get past the epic music). Great, clutch quarterback play and he is the quarterback in this game I want with two minutes left, down by four.
Even though I just spent a paragraph chastising the Steeler run game, it is still very important to their overall success. Rashard Mendenhall built off the success he had last year, rushing for 100 more yards (on a dismal 78 more attempts, dropping his yard per rush average from 4.6 to 3.9), but scoring six more times. He had great performances against the vaunted Jets defense twice this season, rushing for 220 yards combined. Mewelde Moore has been sufficient in coming in on third downs, and the bruising Isaac Redman is hard to bring down whenever he spells Mendenhall.
The Steelers receivers are some of my favorite to watch, because they carry great depth. Mike Wallace, the third round pick out of Ole Miss in 2009 (note: Denver traded with Pittsburgh, and they possessed this pick before. Not that they WOULD have taken a receiver, but this still makes me sick), is the premier wide receiver in the league. He has exceptional speed, and with most traditional deep threats (think DeSean Jackson), they rely too heavily on the big play. Only 16 players since the merger have posted at least 50 catches and 20 yards per reception, and Wallace is the first player to do so since Ashley Lelie (REALLY?!?!) in 2004, and only the sixth since 1970 with 60 receptions and 20 yards per reception (Pro Football Reference). Hines Ward has turned in a Hall of Fame résumé, being the leading receiver in Steeler history, winning a Super Bowl MVP, and being known as one of the toughest pound for pound blocking receivers to play the game. Rookie Antonio Brown and one year man Emmanuel Sanders round out the receiving corps as solid, young receivers and tight end Heath Miller is a consistent security blanket for Roethlisberger.
The one sect of the Steelers offense that could cause trouble for them is the offensive line. They were without starting tackle Willie Colon for the whole year and have missed tackle Max Starks since November. Lineman have routintely been injured in the game, and they have been down to their last dressed lineman more times than anyone should be comfortable with. Rookie Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey said he has a 75% chance to play in the game after suffering a high ankle sprain against the Jets. He is by far their best lineman, and he will be a big difference maker if he can step up his game while not 100%.
Unlike the premise that the Steelers have always been a run first team, their success has been directly coordinated with their tough, blitzing defense. Just like Green Bay’s front line, Pittsburgh’s has played phenomenally this year with 3-4 ends and tackles in Ziggy Hood, Aaron Smith Casey Hampton, and Brett “I Have the Greatest Beard Ever” Keisel. Smith typically plays at a Pro Bowl, even All Pro level when he is healthy, but he has missed the last 12 games with torn triceps. Keisel would have gone to Hawaii if his team didn’t make it to Dallas, even though he missed a few games this year (I’m telling you, it’s the beard). Hood has greatly filled the void, solidifying his first round pick status in the 2009 draft.
Pittsburgh linebackers have had a long and great lineage. From Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Andy Russell, and Greg Lloyd of the past, to James Farrior, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley of now, their linebackers have defined the Steel Curtain. Farrior was runner up to the defensive player of the year award, and has been a solid second interior linebacker to the young, developing Lawrence Timmons. The hard hitting, aggressive Harrison is one the best outside linebackers playing now, and is definitely in the top five of “NFL Players I Would Not Want to Piss Off” – who knows what this fine-getter and ’08 DPOY will do to you. Four years into the league, Woodley is an elite pass rushing force, and is already coming close to the all-time post season sack record. Woodley has ten sacks in six postseason games; Willie McGinest has the record with 16… in 18 games played. Woodley will assuredly own this record by the time he retires, which, barring a terrible injury, should not be for another eight to ten years.
The secondary, the overall weakest part of this defense, is really not that bad. They are led by the reigning defensive player of the year in Troy Polamalu and his headhunting partner in crime, Ryan Clark. Cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden are above league average, but this is by far the weakest part of this defense. That being said, the tandem and chemistry that Clark and Polamalu share is so great that they can cover up some of the other defensive backs’ problems. This will be the one spot Green Bay must try to challenge in order to grain some ground against the stout defensive squad.
Three Key Players
If I were a betting man, I would put money on a Steeler offensive lineman being hurt during this game. Whether it is Flozell Adams falling down again or Pouncey not being able to play, Legursky will be the go-to sub. He filled in very nicely against the Jets when Pouncey hurt his ankle, and was a surprising success. However, should Legursky be thrown into the fire, he will have to block one of the giant 3-4 tackles if he is inside or Clay Matthews if he is on the outside. A great Legursky performance will keep Roethlisberger on his legs more and plays alive for longer.
This extends to Sanders and Brown as well. Depending on what role Charles Woodson plays in this game, whether it be on Mike Wallace, or his wildcard role he has played recently, Sam Shield and Tramon Williams will be covering the next two top receivers. Miller or one of the other receivers across the middle of the field may often be the best option for Roethlisberger to choose, and may rake in seven catches or more. The interior linebackers are solid for Green Bay, but they are definitely better with the injured Nick Barnett in the lineup. If a safety has to cover Miller, he can outwork him as he has a distinct size advantage.
I alluded to this earlier, but the Pittsburgh secondary will have their hands full with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones. Polamalu and Clark can’t do it all on their own, so they will need some help from Taylor, McFadden, and William Gay to follow the green receivers around the gridiron.
>By Dylan Davis
When I was four years old, I remember sitting in my grandparents’ basement watching Super Bowl XXX (that’s Super Bowl 30 for those of you not in the know). I remember eating cake adorned with Steelers and Cowboys insignias while sitting on horrific eighties-style shag carpeting watching a TV that’s probably been turned into a nice home for a family of landfill rats in the 16 years since. While I don’t remember all that much of the game (other than one of my cousins crying afterward), I do remember being severely disappointed at the outcome. The Steelers lost that day 27-17 to “America’s Team” and from that moment forward I was completely devoted to the Black and Gold of Pittsburgh’s finest.
To be perfectly honest, it hasn’t been very difficult rooting for the Steelers. If the previous paragraph had been about the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIII and my lifelong allegiance to the Arizona Cardinals, you probably would be more impressed. Since that fateful day in Tempe, Arizona, Pittsburgh has been to the playoffs nine times and captured two Super Bowl crowns. Only once in my lifetime (1998-2000) have they missed the playoffs multiple years in a row. It’s obvious to see why they are one of the most popular American football teams in the world, and why I won’t be alone in throwing on some Steelers paraphernalia this coming Sunday. With that being said, a majority of the country will become honorary Cheeseheads for a few hours on Sunday because of one man: Ben Roethlisberger.
On March 5, 2010, news broke that Ben Roethlisberger was being investigated in reference to a sexual assault in Milledgeville, Georgia. A young woman attending Georgia State University claimed that Roethlisberger forced himself upon her in a bathroom stall while one of the quarterback’s bodyguards stood outside of the bathroom and prevented anyone from entering. While nothing has ever been proven and no charges were filed, this was the second case against Roethlisberger in under a year and the unsubstantiated evidence could have potentially been damning in the court of law. In light of these allegations, many people in the Pittsburgh area and all over the country came out of the woodwork to tell stories of the arrogance, sense of entitlement, and downright ass-holery (not technically a word, but perfectly accurate in this instance) towards people he deemed “below” him. He demanded free meals and drinks in restaurants and bars and expected the world to be handed to him on a silver platter. This article does a perfect job of painting an unflattering, but true, picture of the once revered quarterback. Small anecdotes started coming out of the locker room about his lack of leadership and the frostiness shown to some of the lesser players on the roster. In a span of a matter of months, Roethlisberger had gone from a heroic two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback to being discussed as trade bait because of his off-field digressions. How could anyone root for a person like this? Allow me to explain.
Before I begin, I want to state for the record that I was totally disgusted and horrified when I heard about Roethlisberger’s alleged rape and for a few weeks after I mulled disowning the quarterback, or possibly the entire team, from my fan-hood. While I, like almost every child ever, was somewhat of a bandwagon jumper in my younger years, I was always a fan of the Steelers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Sacramento Kings. It was difficult for me to know that one of the teams I loved on the field was lead by such an uninspiring douchebag off it. Once I backed off the ledge a little bit, I decided that it wasn’t fair to the team to change my allegiance because of one bad apple. Commissioner Roger Goodell flexed his authoritative muscles and ruled a six game (later changed to four) suspension was the correct punishment for Roethlisberger’s misdeeds. Although the QB was never charged in either sexual assault case, the fact that he had put himself in the same position multiple times forced Goodell’s hand.
After being skewered by the 24-hour news cycle and legions of fans all over the world, a light seemed to flick on Ben’s head. He went from this to this. He started to step up in the locker room and was more appreciative of his teammates and coaches. He was more of a factor in the community and has shown a different, more likeable side. Of course, although less than one year of actions is not proof of a change, it’s obvious that Roethlisberger saw that he needed a change and planned accordingly. If he can raise his maturity level for the remainder of his career, maybe people will forget that this ever happened. While that’s unlikely, he may become the next Michael Vick, in the sense that he was skewered for his previous misdoings, but ultimately forgiven by most because of his remorseful ways and superb play on the field.
When you sit down to enjoy possibly the most entertaining Super Bowl in recent memory, don’t think of Roethlisberger as a vile human being. What he supposedly did was not as bad as this, this, and nowhere close to this or this. I know where my allegiances stand. They stand with the man who has shown remorse and has attempted to better his standing in the community and nation by his actions off the field. I stand with the player who has shaken off controversy to lead his team to the brink of another title. And I stand with the team that captured my heart before my fifth birthday and has held it ever since. I stand with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
By Will Robinson
The high octane Packer offense is led by sixth year Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has exhibited commanding performances during the post season. Rodgers succeeded Favre in 2008 and has put up spectacular numbers, and has been to the playoffs twice in his three years starting. The loss of running back Ryan Grant added weight and pressure to Rodgers this season, but all he has done is shine through. The Packers trailed by no more than seven points this year, thus all of their defeats have been within that same margin.
The emergence of James Starks has been nice for the Packers’ offense, but the run game is not as significantly improved as people may suggest. Starks turned in decent performances against Atlanta and Chicago, but neither of them jumps off the paper. Fortunately, for the Packers, the Pittsburgh defense’s strength is shutting down the run, Green Bay’s worst aspect is running, and its weakest part is pass defense, the Packers’ bread and butter.
The receiver play, on the other hand, has been phenomenal. Greg Jennings delivered a season similar to last year, except with eight more scores and receptions. As Rodgers’ favorite deep threat, he has really put the team on his back. The ancient, yet effective, Donald Driver was a consistent force through the year, but the emergence of James Jones has begun to diminish the role for a receiver with double letter initials (JJ for DD), or the second receiver spot. Not sure which, to be honest.
The offensive line has been much improved this season in protecting the elusive Rodgers. Last year, Rodgers was tied in the league with Ben Roethlisberger (coincidence?) for amount of times sacked, at 50. This year? Rodgers was only brought down behind the line of scrimmage 31 times. There aren’t any particularly elite linemen on the offensive front – Daryn Colledge and Chad Clifton are good – but they have played well through the season.
Dom Capers was not a very good coach for the Houston Texans, but he is a premier defensive signal caller. Ever since he joined the Green Bay staff in 2009, the defense has been relentless. The defense definitely has some Dick LeBeau aspects, but Capers definitely catered it to what personnel the Packers have.
The heart of the crazy Packers defense lies with the three down linemen: Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji, and Ryan Pickett. The two stars are Jenkins and Raji, who each had a spectacular NFC Championship game at Chicago. Jenkins had half a sack against Cutler and harassed quarterbacks to no end during the whole playoffs. Raji had the interception for touchdown from a Caleb Hanie pass, and has excelled as the critical 3-4 nose tackle. The Steelers’ decimated offensive line could have their hands full all day dealing with the linemen and the blitzing linebackers.
Everybody knows about Clay Matthews, the modern day warrior with his long, savage hear and his unyielding motor. Matthews had 13.5 sacks this season, improving from the ten he had as a rookie. Matthews could have a large role in the outcome of this game if Flozell Adams or Jonathan Scott can’t slow him down. One other player in the linebacking corps who caught my attention was Desmond Bishop, who had to come in and start most of the season due to the loss of Nick Barnett. The fourth year man from Cal played well next to AJ Hawk, and managed to keep the middle linebackers held down without Barnett.
The defensive backs of this team are their deepest and most talented overall. The secondary boasts Pro Bowlers Charles Woodson (2009 Defensive Player of the Year), Tramon Williams, Nick Collins and undrafted rookie stud Sam Shields. Shields has played so well on the outside, Capers has shifted Woodson’s role to playing more inside, even blitzing the quarterback. Woodson is still a great player at 34, and his versatility is perhaps the most valuable part any player on the defense can give. Tramon Williams has been a revelation this season; pushing him to, at the least, top 20-cornerback consideration. This guy was undrafted in 2006, and CUT by the Texans! Oh, the irony. Shields was a converted receiver at Miami, but did not attract any draft attention. Even though he played one year, his senior year, at cornerback, it’s hard to find a prospect from a school as prominent as Miami to go undrafted. The secondary will have a big test in front of them, having to deal with multiple receiving weapons in Mike Wallace (Football Outsider’s top WR in 2010), Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown.
Three Key Players
Pretty obvious, here. A great Rodgers performance will most likely result in a Packer victory.
The Running Backs
I’m tossing in the backs into a running back by committee and having them as a key to the game. Even though the Packers prefer to pass, they will be able to run with some success to take the pressure of Rodgers, the offensive line, and the receivers. Starks, Brandon Jackson, and John Kuhn need to be able to run at a decent clip, about what they accomplished against Chicago (32 rushes, 120 yards). Head coach Mike McCarthy sticks to his guns in believing he needs to rush for about 30 times per game for team success, ergo, a large volume of successful runs is obviously better than a large value of poor ones.
I spoke about Shields earlier, and I believe he is crucial on defense. Ben Roethlisberger likes to buy time in and out of the pocket, which can lead to coverage breaking down. Shields will need to be able to blanket whomever he is covering; either Wallace or Ward, on extended plays. Shields’ role will be diminished if Capers isn’t quite confident enough to use Woodson as he has done in past weeks being a wild card on defense. I see of no reason to stop what has been working, and a great Shields performances in tandem with Williams and Woodson should slow down the great Pittsburgh receivers.
>By Will Robinson
That was another great and crazy weekend in the NFL. This past weekend we saw two blowouts, an intense, close game that went down to the wire, and a flat-out beating. A quarterback had a Bill Walton ’77 esque performance; another one had a coming out party; Pittsburgh’s main man had another typical comeback performance; and the Jets’ signal caller notched his fourth road playoff win in his second year of starting. Unfortunately, with New England being eliminated, my Super Bowl match-up has been squelched; however, my Super Bowl champion is still in the race. Let’s cut the crap now and get to the two conference championship games.
#6 Green Bay Packers (12-6) at #2 Chicago Bears (12-5), 12 p.m. PST, FOX
Aaron Rodgers had a performance for the ages, with his 31/36, 366 yard, three-touchdown performance against the #1 seed Atlanta Falcons. Rodgers completed his passes to eight different receivers en route to the 48-21 rout. The run game, led by James Starks, was not very affect as the Packers compiled 96 yards on 31 attempts. The run game will need to be more efficient against Chicago so Rodgers is not overly exposed to Julius Peppers and the Chicago defense. Green Bay’s defense was phenomenal last week, led by Clay Matthews’ two sacks and Tramon Williams’ two interceptions. They disrupted Matt Ryan and completely stopped Michael Turner. The Bears are also coming off a dominant win at home against Seattle, and Jay Cutler became the first quarterback in playoff history with two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns. Matt Forté had an average day running, with 80 yards on 25 attempts. The team had 176 yards total on the ground. The defense was great shutting down the Seahawks until the fourth quarter, when they reeled off 21 points. Granted, the game was out of reach, but a three-touchdown quarter is nothing to completely disregard. This should be another hard fought game at Soldier Field.
Prediction: Green Bay 27-23
#6 New York Jets (13-5) at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4), 3:30 p.m. PST, CBS
The Jets executed a great game plan to shut down the high-powered Patriots offense, only rushing three or four on Tom Brady and covering EVERY SINGLE RECEIVER. Darrelle Revis is now back to his all-pro form, and played fantastically against New England. Shaun Ellis also did a phenomenal job getting to Brady, sacking him twice and constantly pressuring him throughout the game. Mark Sanchez looked back to his typically mistake-free playoff self, throwing for 195 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene ran the ball very well, which they will need to do against Pittsburgh this week – which will not be easy. Pittsburgh started rough against their chief rivals, but managed to pull off a great win. Ben Roethlisberger is extremely underrated, and I would have him as a top-five quarterback (Brady, Peyton Manning, Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Roethlisberger) in the league. Forget what he has done in the past in his personal life. He has two rings (one of them he was a nervous, second year quarterback. The other was Ben coming through in the clutch). Roethlisberger’s last loss in an AFC Championship game was his rookie season. The defense was also great against Baltimore, allowing 126 yards. Safety Ryan Clark played the game of his career, forcing a crucial fumble and picking off Joe Flacco. Their offense made some bad miscues early, which allowed Baltimore to score with a short field. The main issue is the Pittsburgh’s patchwork offensive line, which was down to their last suited lineman last week. I expect a slugfest.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 24-17
By Will Robinson
Well uh, THAT happened. This past weekend was one of the better Wild Car weekends I can remember (last year had one good game, Arizona vs. Green Bay, where this weekend had one bad game, Baltimore vs. Kansas City). I got two of my picks correct, while I totally whiffed on my Seattle one. Here are the upcoming Divisional Playoff Round match ups:
#5 Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4), 1:30 p.m. PST, CBS
Man oh man am I excited for this game. This is one of the best rivalries in the NFL right now and the highest margin of victory in the last seven games is nine points. These games are always fast and hard hitting and go down right to the wire. The Ravens won the first game with Charlie Batch under center for the Steelers in the fourth game without Ben, and they only pulled out a three-point win. The Steelers offense had been sputtering to end the year, but they enter the playoffs dropping 41 on Cleveland. Crucially important 3-4 lineman Aaron Smith could make it back to this game, but he will probably be doubtful. The Ravens rolled in to Baltimore and dominated the Chiefs in Arrowhead: one of the best home field advantages in the league. This should be another classic.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 20-14
#6 Green Bay Packers (11-6) vs. #1 Atlanta Falcons (13-3), 5:00 p.m. PST, FOX
The Packers are the hottest team in the NFC, finally discovered a running game that did not exist throughout the entire season. Aaron Rodgers got his first playoff win in his second start with an impressive three touchdown outing in Philadelphia. The defense shut down Michael Vick en route to a 21-16 win. Cornerback Tramon Williams made a great play on Vick’s last pass of the game to seal the win, with a leaping interception covering receiver Riley Cooper. The Falcons secured the home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs, where they have lost twice with quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan with receiver Roddy White and running back Michael Turner lead a strong Atlanta offense that beat Green Bay earlier this year, 20-17. The defense may have its hands full with the discovery of a Packer run game that Atlanta allowed 26 yards to in their previous match.
Prediction: Green Bay 28-24
#4 Seattle Seahawks (8-9) vs. #2 Chicago Bears (11-5), 10:00 a.m. PST, FOX
The Seahawks shocked the league with their win against the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints. Matt Hasselbeck, in which people thought was his last game for Seattle, had a terrific game with four touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch had a run for the AGES, with a storming 67-yard touchdown run, including about six broken tackles and a SICK stiff arm on Tracy Porter. The defense is suspect, as they needed every one of those 41 points to win that game. The Bears won the NFC North and played tough through the whole year. They could have prevented their archrival Packers from making the postseason, but they didn’t pull of a win. Seattle beat them in Chicago, but the Bears are a different team now. Quarterback Jay Cutler has limited his mistakes this season, but the threat always exists. The defense has achieved great pressure on the opposing quarterback with rushing their four linemen, and Julius Peppers has had a great year. This should a very interesting game, which will be close.
Prediction: Chicago 22-17
#6 New York Jets (12-5) vs. #1 New England Patriots (14-2), 1:30 p.m. PST, CBS
The Jets won by a foot in Indianapolis, and must now go to Foxborough to take on the Pats. Even though Mark Sanchez tried to throw to Manute Bol on practically every pass, the Jets got a great performance from the run game, particularly LaDainian Tomlinson’s 82 yards, two-touchdown performance. The defense played very well against Peyton Manning, allowing only 16 points and shut down Reggie Wayne (one catch, one yard). The Patriots rolled their way through the season, and did not let up in the last week. They killed Miami at home and entered their bye with a strong note. The defense hasn’t been great, but they have come through when it has mattered. Tom Brady has been phenomenal this year, and picking against him at home is a poor choice.
Prediction: New England 31-17