Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Predictions



Two of the oldest NFL franchises. Two of the most aggressive defenses. Two of the most challenging quarterbacks. Two of the best fan bases. Green Bay. Pittsburgh.

It will be a battle for the ages. So how will it go down?


Steeler Offense vs. Packer Defense

The Packer defense has consistently shown up, game after game. With stalwarts like Raji holding the line, Matthews rushing the passer, Woodson covering the slot, and a couple of young talented corners, the Packer defense has playmakers at every level. But how do they stack up to the Steelers offense?

Up front, the Steelers have a patchwork line with only one original starter, left guard Chris Kemoeatu. However, despite the injury bug, this unit of backups has jelled down the stretch, and is playing decent football. The Steelers have also used extra tight ends to shore up pass coverage and to run the ball. Green Bay's defense is strongest against the pass, and I think they can be run on. Pittsburgh showed last week against the Jets that even without Pro-Bowl center Markice Pouncey, Mendenhall can still scratch out yards in chunks.

The Steelers have exceptional strength under center, with arguably the strongest QB in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger. His size, strength, and mobility can frustrate pass rushers, but his patchwork protection can leave him vulnerable at times. Against Green Bay's elite secondary, and strong pass rush, I expect Ben to have a challenging day, and to take multiple sacks.

Speaking of the Packer secondary, they are perhaps the best in the NFL. Look for them to play the pass with an extra corner back. Pittsburgh's wide receivers will have a hard time separating, so look for Ben to target mismatches with his rookie recievers, Sanders and Brown, as well as tight end Heath Miller.

I predict the Packers will limit the Steeler's passing attack, while having trouble stopping the run. Though Pittsburgh's offensive line is in shambles, they have proven they can still win in the trenches.


Packer Offense vs. Steeler Defense

Aaron Rodgers has become the hottest name in football, and deservedly so. He has pinpoint accuracy, great movement, and terrific speed for a quarterback. Pittsburgh has struggled against top-flight QBs, losing to both Tom Brady and Drew Brees in the regular season. Look for Rodgers and his great receivers to attack Pittsburgh's mediocre secondary.

Up front, Green Bay's line has struggled to protect Rodgers. The sack numbers don't show it, as Rodgers is talented at evading the rush and making the play, but he has spent a great deal of time this season running from pass rushers. His speed and ability to make plays on the run make him very dangerous regardless of his protection, so containment with pressure will be the key for Pittsburgh's defensive front.

Remember, those Pittsburgh front seven have become one of the best in NFL history at stopping the run. Green Bay lost their star running back early in the season, but have been riding back-up James Starks through the playoffs. He runs strong, with conviction, but he hasn't faced a defense like this before. I see the Green Bay running game being fairly limited in the contest, relying on Rodgers using the pass to set up the run.

Ultimately, the Packers will have success through the air, but will struggle in the run game unless it can force the Steelers into a nickle defense.


Special Teams

Both teams have struggled on special teams this year, so I see this matchup to be relatively even. Steelers have had some success with Antonio Brown returning kicks, but he's certainly no Devin Hester. A big play by either team on special teams is possible, and could greatly affect the outcome.

As for kickers, neither are top of the class. Both are adequate, but don't expect great accuracy on field goals or long kickoffs for touchbacks.


My Prediction

These teams are mirror images of each other. Elite 3-4 defenses, mobile playmaking quarterbacks, and talented wide receivers. Both teams emphasize developing draft picks over trading for free agents. Both come from old football towns with incredible fans. Both poised to win the biggest game in football. But only one can be crowned champion.

Very little separates these teams. Green Bay can score points through the air, and Pittsburgh can score points on the ground. Green Bay has enough talent to beat Pittsburgh, but ultimately, I think it comes down to Pittsburgh's experience in the big game mixed with the ability to ground and pound. It will be close, but even if it comes down to the final drive, no one has proven he can finish playoff games better than Ben Roethlisberger.

My pick: Steelers, in a thriller.

Sunday, January 23, 2011