NFL Picks – Super Bowl XLV

Finally, after two weeks of analysis and mindless chatter, the ending of the 2010 NFL season will be written. Let’s hope the Steelers don’t make the cut… I mean, I hope it’s a good game.

Last Week:  2 – 0 – 0
Playoffs:      6 – 4 – 0

Sunday, February 6 (6:29PM ET)

I can’t find the energy to compose an extensive, exciting preview of Super Bowl XLV. I lose too much steam between the conference championships and the “Big Game.”

It’s the same stories over and over. Team A overcame this, Team B overcame that. Blah, blah, blah. Sure, it’s great for the two fan bases, but not for the rest of us. Two weeks of propaganda, hyperbole, and as Mike Wilbon would say, “Slurping.”

I don’t need it. I don’t want it. It’s the most important game of the year and we beat it to death before the first whistle.

Before you call me a hater, know this: I’m depressed about my limited enthusiasm. In fact, in a week where I got electrocuted, learned Whopper Wednesdays are over, and ran out of ice cream during an ice storm, I found myself most saddened by my disdain for the Super Bowl. I love the NFL. It pains me to feel this way about the biggest game of the year, nonetheless.

With that said, I’m going to try to love Super Bowl XLV. But before I get started, here’s the best analysis I heard all week;

“If you take away the running game, you make the offense one dimensional.” – Emmitt Smith

Thanks, Emmitt. Good stuff.

I won’t waste any time. The Lombardi trophy will be won by the team that excels in three areas. Or, at the very least, outperforms the opponent.

1. Quarterback play

After torching Philly and Atlanta, Aaron Rodgers looked pedestrian in Chicago. Was it the bright lights? Nerves? A bad game? Result of good defense? If it’s anything but option C, the Packers will be in trouble. The stage is bigger, the lights brighter, and Pittsburgh’s defense is better.

However, Rodgers and the Packer offense are built to play in a dome. The timing is easier, the track is faster and almost every advantage favors the offense. I should also note that the Steeler secondary, while good, isn’t great. Tom Brady and the Patriots lit them up and so did Mark Sanchez and the Jets in the second half of the AFC Championship. The Steelers have a great defense but the weaknesses (especially, Troy Polamalu’s nagging injury) in the secondary have been overlooked.

Conversely, Green Bay’s secondary is its defense’s greatest strength. Cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams allow Charles Woodson to roam and blitz opposing quarterbacks, a skill he’s perfected. Shields also has amazing speed, so I expect the Packers to match him with Mike Wallace as often as possible.

Despite Green Bay’s defensive talent, Ben Roethlisberger is going to make plays. His numbers may not be as flashy as Rodgers’, but he’s every bit as lethal. If the Packers can’t bring Roethlisberger down at initial contact, they’ll be in for a long night.

Obviously, I don’t expect either team to have much success running the football. Therefore, it’ll be up to the quarterbacks to move their respective offenses… and not turn the ball over.

2. Turnovers

The decisive plays in all three Packer playoff victories were turnovers. Let’s review: Tramon Williams’ interception in the end zone to close out Michael Vick and the Eagles. Tramon Williams’ pick six at the end of the first half to deflate the Falcons and stretch Green Bay’s lead to 14. (Atlanta never recovered.) BJ Raji’s interception returned for a touchdown to slow a Chicago rally and give Green Bay a two score edge late in the 4th quarter. This just in; the Packer defense makes big plays at big moments.

It’s also important to note that Roethlisberger, due to his backyard style of play, has a tendency for sloppy turnovers. While you don’t want Roethlisberger to alter his style, Pittsburgh will need him to avoid the back-breaking, momentum changing turnovers the Packers have thrived on in the 2011 playoffs.

Rodgers will need to protect the ball, too. Brian Urlacher outwitted Rodgers at the goal line and nearly cut the Packer lead in half on a single play in the 3rd quarter of the NFC Championship. As we witnessed in Super Bowl XLIII, James Harrison can drop back in coverage and surprise a quarterback much like Urlacher did. (Just ask Kurt Warner.) And even though he’s not 100%, Polamalu can still terrorize quarterbacks.

Rodgers is going to get hit. He’s going to be under pressure for most of the game. It’s critical to Green Bay’s chances that Rodgers manage the pressure and not let Pittsburgh force him into ill-advised throws.

It’ won’t be an easy job for either offense to protect the ball, but avoiding turnovers is the biggest step toward victory.

3. Consistency

Super Bowl XLV will be the Packers fourth game of the 2011 playoffs. It will be the Steelers third. Combined, the two teams have played one, yes, one, complete game of wire-to-wire stellar football.

We’ll start with the Packers. In the Wildcard round, Green Bay jumped all over the Eagles and was headed for a decisive win. A dropped touchdown before halftime and a conservative decision to let time expire in the first half slowed the Packers’ momentum. Philadelphia responded by forcing a turnover right out of the half and clawed its way back. The Eagles were an underthrown ball away from winning the game.

In the Divisional round, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers throttled the Falcons. (RIP “Matt Ryan doesn’t lose at home.”)

In the NFC Championship, the Packers put on an identical performance to their Wildcard letdown. A dominant first half was not reflected on the scoreboard. Rodgers again turned the ball over out of the half. The Bears rallied and nearly forced overtime behind a third string quarterback none of us ever heard of.

It’s hard to be consistently great or even good against talented opponents. The Steelers can sympathize.

Divisional round against Baltimore; the Steelers started strong and essentially disappeared for an entire half of play until Ray Rice and the Raven offense invited Pittsburgh to pummel them by committing three turnovers in four possessions.

It was a similar story in the AFC Championship against the Jets, only backward. The Steelers executed perfectly in the first half and jumped out to a 24-0 lead, entering the half up three touchdowns. The Steelers haven’t scored since. The Pittsburgh offense slowed to a haul and the Jets went up and down the field on the Steeler defense. A clutch throw by Roethlisberger on 3rd down clinched the win and spared the Steelers a humiliating collapse.

To recap, don’t expect either team to dominant from start to finish. Obviously, winning in the playoffs is about grinding it out and outlasting the opponent. However, the team that is able to control the ebb and flows of the game most effectively should win.

The ultimate question; who wins?

I’ll be heavily rooting for the Packers. I love Mike Tomlin, but I’d rather give up fast food than suffer through another seven months (and maybe longer if there’s a lockout) of Steeler fans singing about their champion Steelers. I think Green Bay is the better team anyway. The Packer defense will have more success against Pittsburgh’s offense than the Pittsburgh defense will have against Aaron Rodgers and the Packer offense. While there’s a weird feeling telling me Roethlisberger will find yet another way to pull this out, I refuse to pick the Steelers. If Pittsburgh wins, I want to feel only anger and disdain. PACKERS If I were Charles Barkley; Packers -2.5


Last Week: 2 – 0 – 0
Playoffs:     5 – 5 – 0

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