After four weeks of preseason, 17 bone-crushing regular season weeks, and three weeks of the playoffs, the most important game of the 2010-2011 National Football League season is finally here: Super Bowl XLV. With so much uncertainty remaining in terms of the NFL owners and players coming to agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, this will be the last guaranteed NFL game for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, an even match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers should provide tremendous entertainment as the league’s highest prize is fought for at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
While much less prestigious than the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy, there is something on the line here at The Sports Geeks as our writing staff prepares for our final predictions of the season. With a one-pick lead over Matt and Pat, I am in the driver’s seat to win our group as Super Bowl XLV awaits. However, both Matt and Pat could come from behind and take the title for best game picker for this playoff year with the right predictions. Here is how the standings look going into Super Bowl XLV:
And, as we look back at the road that brought us to this game, one final look at the 2010-2011 NFL Playoff Tree:
Probably the most difficult part of sitting down to write a preview and prediction story about the Super Bowl is that the same story has essentially been written for two weeks now since the Conference Championship games came to a close. For the sake of this story, I’ll try to keep the re-treading to a minimum and just tell you what you need to know going into the big game.
In terms of statistical comparisons, the Steelers and Packers are just about dead even. Green Bay has the better passing game, while Pittsburgh rushes the ball for a higher per-game average. The Packers defense is stingier against opposing passers while the Steelers defense yields an average of over 40 yards-per-game less on the ground. The Packers outscored Pittsburgh by under 2 points per game, and each team gave up 15.3 points per game to opposing teams; an astounding coincidence there. In overall point differential, Green Bay outscored their opponents by 32 points more than Pittsburgh; however, the Packers also played one more game this season. Finally, each team finished the team far into the positive in turnover ratio; the Steelers just forced more of them compared to Green Bay.
Though the two teams in the Super Bowl did not play each other in the 2010 regular season—a bit surprising considering how many playoff games featured regular season rematches—the Steelers and Packers played a game for the ages at Heinz Field during the 2009 regular season. In a Week 15 game on Sunday, December 20th, the two normally defensive-minded squads found themselves in the midst of a shootout. Pittsburgh was fighting for their playoff lives, going into the game at 6-7 and out of the playoff race, and they took a 21-14 lead into halftime. At the end of the third quarter that lead was increased to 24-14, and then the points really started to hit the board. The teams exchanged scores—a Green Bay touchdown to make it 24-21, a Pittsburgh field goal to make it 27-21, another Packers touchdown to make it 28-27 GB, another Steelers field goal to make it 30-28 Pittsburgh—and then the Packers scored just before the two-minute warning to take a 36-30 lead and give their defense the opportunity to win the game. That wasn’t how it played out, however, as Ben Roethlisberger led the team down the field and threw an improbable 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace as time expired to win by a final score of 37-36.
Neither team had the opportunity to make their 2009-2010 season end Super, however; the Steelers failed to make the playoffs due to tie-breakers and the Packers went down in the Wild Card round to the Arizona Cardinals in another shootout which required overtime to decide. Even with that loss, Green Bay entered the 2010-2011 season as a favored team to not only win the NFC North but make the playoffs and potentially make a Super Bowl run; meanwhile, with an ugly offseason situation for Ben Roethlisberger and a six-game suspension eventually reduced to four for the offensive leader, few expected Pittsburgh to be able to overcome such a blow at the beginning of the season.
Instead, it was the Pittsburgh defense which stepped up in support of their replacement quarterbacks to lead the Steelers to a 3-1 record to begin the season on their way to an eventual AFC North title. In the meantime, Green Bay struggled early on in the season due to injuries and found themselves scratching and clawing their way to the final NFC playoff berth, which they were unable to clinch until the final week of the regular season with a hard-fought win over the rival Chicago Bears. In the end, one could say that the “expert” predictions worked out; just for different teams than originally expected.
In terms of Super Bowl preparedness, the Steelers hold a definite edge going into this Sunday’s game. They were in this same position just two years ago in Super Bowl XLIII where they were able to defeat the Arizona Cardinals and bring the sixth Lombardi Trophy home to Steelers’ headquarters. The Packers, on the other hand, have not made the big game since January 1998 in Super Bowl XXXII, when Green Bay’s bid for back-to-back Super Bowl victories was derailed by the Denver Broncos. Obviously no Packers remain from that Super Bowl team, while Pittsburgh returns nearly its entire Super Bowl roster from just two years ago.
Despite their postseason inexperience, the Packers are still slight favorites from a betting standpoint going into the game. For all intents and purposes, simulations of Super Bowl XLV have been 50/50 splits, which is actually a compliment to Green Bay considering the disparity in experience at the highest level of NFL play between the two teams. To have a Super Bowl without a clear favorite—arguably the first such occurrence in the past few years—is certainly a testament to the continued goal of parity in the league as well as a hopeful sign for a close, competitive game to end the season.
Experience aside, the Steelers and the Packers resemble each other in so many ways. Each team has a mobile young quarterback with big-game success and the ability to lead their team to victory. Both defenses have established themselves as among the league’s elite, surrendering on average just over two touchdowns per game this season. When it comes to making a pick for Super Bowl XLV either way, you’d be just as well-served flipping a coin and taking it from there.
For my final prediction of the playoffs here at The Sports Geeks, I’m taking the Green Bay Packers over the Pittsburgh Steelers by a final score of 24-21. My colleagues have made the following predictions:
The only way to know for sure how it will all play out will be to watch Super Bowl XLV live from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on FOX; kickoff is scheduled for just around 6:30PM this Sunday, February 6th, 2011!
Join us here next week at The Sports Geeks as we wrap up our final predictions standings and look towards an uncertain future in the National Football League.