Saturday, February 05, 2011

Mmmm...Super Bowl...Goooood

With proper respect to Homer Simpson, yes, Super Bowl..mmmmm....goooooood.

It will be exceptionally good if the Packers win, of course. Which they will. More on that later with my specific score prediction. But for now, let's consider what it's going to take to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home to Green Bay where it rightly belongs.

Just about everything that can be written about both teams' players, the storied franchises, the legacies, the championship wins and more has been written. And let's not forget the stories about the fans. The Packers and Steelers have the best fan followings in the country. The game is being played in Dallas, which likes to assume the title of America's Team. We all know that's as big a pile of horse hockey as to be found anywhere. These two teams' fans know where the truth lies.

So, we're roughly 27 hours away from the kickoff of what will be the most-attended Super Bowl ever, and likely the most-watched Super Bowl, as well. The Packers have been confident and loose all week, according to reports. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters yesterday, "We respect Pittsburgh, but we feel that this is our time and Sunday will be our night." No doubt Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin feels the same way about the Packers and his team's chances.

A look at each team's units
OK, that subhead doesn't sound right, does it? But you know what I mean...get your mind out of the gutter!

It has been said for the last two weeks that the Packers and Steelers are pretty much cut from the same cloth: great defenses -- number 1 and 2 in scoring defense -- and great quarterbacks. Most are predicting a close game. The 2-1/2 point spread in favor of the Packers is the tightest margin since 1983, when the Washington Redskins played the Miami Dolphins. Many are giving the edge to the Steelers' defense. Well-deserved praise, for sure. They are loaded. But so is the Packers' defense. In my view, that's a draw. It will be up to individuals on each unit to make an impact one way or another, to cause a turnover, make a tackle, blow up a run or pass, and so on. Game-changing stuff. When looked at that way, I think the Packers "D" has more impact players in more places. Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, B.J. Raji, Tramon Williams, Cullen Jenkins, Desmond Bishop, Sam Shields, Nick Collins, Ryan Pickett, A.J. Hawk... I mean, c'mon on.

Special teams? A few months ago I would have said -- actually, did say -- that the Packers' special teams unit was the team's Achilles Heal. No more. They still might not have found a returner on the roster, but the coverage units have gotten much better. And free agent punter Tim Masthay has turned into a great punter over the last part of the season. He could be as much a key to a win as anyone, believe it or not. Especially if the game comes down to field position.

As to offenses, the Packers have the better offensive line, and I'm not the only one saying that. Packers NT B.J. Raji should have a field day going against the Steelers backup center. On the Pack's side of things, if they can just create enough of a push to get rookie RB James Starks two or three yards a carry that will help considerably when the Pack unleashes its air attack from play-action. The Packers receiving corp is arguably the best in the league; they are certainly the best in this game. Donald Driver hasn't practiced the last few days due to a quad injury, but as coach Mike McCarthy said there's no way he can imagine Driver not playing in this game. It would be an added bonus if rookie TE Andrew Quarless felt this was the time for him to also learn to catch the ball on critical downs.

Last but not least, let's look at the quarterbacks. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl wins under his belt already. That experience helps big time. He's done it and he's won it. But his big frame helps more when he's both in and out of the pocket. The Packers defense will have to somehow figure out ways to get him down. He's got a big arm and is great at improvising. But those last two qualities are shared with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. In fact, Rodgers has the added benefit of having a quicker release on his passes and that, again, helps give the Packers an edge. In listening to a cast of former Super Bowl winners this morning on ESPN, from coaches to players -- including Mike Ditka and Steve Young -- it was nearly unanimous that Aaron Rodgers was the key to victory for the Pack. He's been hot. And there's no reason to suspect he won't be on Super Bowl Sunday.

Former QB and Super Bowl winner Kurt Warner had some advice for the Packers with regards to Rodgers, however. He suggested, quite wisely, that coach McCarthy should help Rodgers by giving him an easy throw or two coming out of the box to build confidence and get into a rhythm. When Rodgers gets into that flow quickly, it usually means good things in terms of the final outcome.

Here's the final prediction
The game will undoubtedly ebb and flow. These are two great teams. It will be a physical game. Both teams will be brining it, as they say, for the full 60 minutes. The defense that wears down first might be the one to let the game slip away.

Throughout the regular season, the Packers never lost games as much as beat themselves. They aren't going to do that on this stage. Even if they get down, they are capable of getting back in it. They will never be out of it.

I'm thinking that coach McCarthy will unleash his offense and, as he's done all season, rely on defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his great defense to hold down the Steelers. The final score? I'm calling it 31-24 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!