Sunday, December 20, 2009

Packers - Steelers preview

The big snow storm belting the East Coast missed Pittsburgh for the most part. Weather conditions today call for it being cloudy and about 30 degrees...basically, a repeat of the weather the Packers played in at Chicago last Sunday.

But that will be where the similarities end.

The Steelers have had 10 days off to ponder their five-game losing streak. They have been getting hammered in their local media. Among their seven losses are losses to Da Bearz, Chiefs, Raiders and Browns. Yikes. On the other hand, among their six wins are victories over the Chargers, ViQueens and Broncos. Yikes again.

The Steelers are sick of losing, they are the defending Super Bowl champs, and a visit by the Packers might be just the thing for them to plug a sinking ship. They still are alive in the wild card run for the AFC playoffs, but a loss today would almost certainly stick a nail in their playoff coffin this season.

The problems, then, for the Packers begin by first trying to figure out which Steelers team will show up today. The bad Steelers or the good Steelers. The oddsmakers are giving the Steelers nearly the full benefit of their home field advantage, establishing them as 2.5-point favorites over the Pack. Seems reasonable given the situation. Many, including many Packers fans, are figuring that out of their remaining three games, this is the game the Packers are most likely to lose. When looking at both the offensive and defensive stats, things are pretty close in many categories. Toss up, right?

On defense, the Steelers have a solid linebacking corps that can be disruptive to the Packers' offense. They have a very physical presence across the board. On offense, the Packers will be facing QB Ben Roethlisberger who has been banged around quite a bit this season. He was sacked eight times by Cleveland in their last loss. The Packers "D" should be able to get pressure on him, as well. The key will be staying on receivers if Big Ben is flushed from the pocket, where he can become very dangerous making plays. WR Hines Ward will return to play today despite nursing a hamstring injury and is typically the Steelers' go-to guy. WR Santonio Holmes also is a threat. The Packers rush defense -- 2nd in the NFL -- should be able to contain Rashard Mendenhall and whomever else is in the backfield despite nose tackle Ryan Pickett being questionable for the game.

You'd hate to have this game come down to 3 points or less and rest on the leg of K Mason Crosby who, as we all know, has been less than reliable over the last five or six games. This could be the opportunity that Crosby needs to regain his confidence. On the other hand, let's have that confidence-boosting, game-winning kick come another day. It shouldn't even be necessary if the Packers are finally able to figure out a way to get into the endzone when they get inside the redzone. They cannot continue to stall out. Better play-calling and better execution are necessary. Otherwise, that lack of redzone production could just be the difference in the game.

Predictions for this game seem to be all across the board, most favoring the Steelers. Before the Packers got rolling a bit on their five-game winning streak, I also figured this game to go into the loss column. But a win by the Packers and a loss by the Giants at Washington on Monday night gives the Packers a wildcard lock. If the Cowboys had lost to the Saints last evening as most expected, and the Packers got a win today, the Pack also would have been guaranteed a wildcard spot. Didn't happen that way. Bottom line: just gotta get a win no matter what.

The Packers haven't played a complete game yet this season, and that's what's worrisome. But they are winning. Winning ugly, but winning. Good teams do that: find a way to win. That might be what happens again today.

Alright...hold on a second while I take a drink from the Green 'n' Gold koolaid...I'm calling it Packers 20 - Steelers 17.

Go Pack Go!!!

A shout out to UW-Whitewater
While the Packers have dreams of championships dancing in their heads, there is already one national championship that has come back to Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin - Whitewater Warhawks beat Mount Union yesterday, 38-28, to win the NCAA Division III National Championship in the Alonzo Stag Bowl held in Salem, WV. The game was delayed five hours so crews could move about 17 inches of snow from the playing field. Because of the storm, many fans were stranded and busloads turned around and never made it. This great game, which was tied going down to under 2 minutes in the game, was bumped from ESPN2 to ESPN Classic (where the heck is that on the dial???) because of the time change. Just over 3,000 fans were in the stands at game time. But it was a great game for those who had a chance to see it. If you have a chance to catch it on a replay, it's worth watching. Two of the top non-scholarship Division III programs in the country went at it for a full 60 minutes.

Mount Union and UW-Whitewater were ranked #1-2 all season long. Both came in undefeated. These two teams have faced off in the National Championship for each of the last five years. With yesterday's win, Whitewater brought home the trophy for the second time in the last three years and finished the season 15-0, the school's first undefeated season since 1950.

Congrats to the Warhawks! You can read more about this great game here.