Super Bowl XLV Prediction: Packer Passing Predominates

The Game: Green Bay Packers v. Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium (sorry, I had to get the Cowboys in here).

Three Keys to The Game:

1.       Pittsburgh’s Achilles Heel is trying to stop top passing games, which is Green Bay’s strength, especially indoors.  Bad matchup for the Steelers.

2.       Pittsburgh is football’s best team against the run, but Green Bay doesn’t have to run to win. Another bad matchup for the Steelers.

3.       Pittsburgh has health issues at the two most important positions against Green Bay: offensive line (Green Bay is the NFC’s top sacking team) and defensive secondary (Green Bay is the NFC’s most efficiently effective passing team). Yet another bad matchup for the Steelers.

Preliminary Matters:

First, think about the irony of the Pittsburgh Steelers playing a Super Bowl in the home stadium of their historic Super Bowl Arch Rivals.  (Most franchises haven’t even been to three Super Bowls.  The Steelers and Cowboys have PLAYED EACH OTHER in three Super Bowls, a record.

Second, think about Brett Favre watching his understudy take the Packers to the Super Bowl.  Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Third, think about what going to a third Super Bowl does for the reputation of Ben Roethlisberger who is in his prime and is likely to go to a 4th, maybe a 5th, entering John Elway territory.

Fourth, think about…. ok, let’s get to the game prediction.

When Green Bay has the ball:

I don’t see Pittsburgh stopping Green Bay’s passing game, unless cheap short artist James Harrison gets at Aaron Rodgers.  Unless the Steelers can eke out a bunch of L…O…N…G… drives, it could be a LONG day for Pittsburgh’s possibly still-recovering defensive backs Troy Polamalu and Bryant McFadden.  The Steeler secondary was not exposed while facing the Ravens and Jets, two teams without dominating passing games, and in fact Polamalu’s Pals have not faced a top passing team in months, while pressuring opposing QBs into oblivion.  However, the last two times Pittsburgh faced high-octane passing offenses, New Orleans and New England in the late fall, Pittsburgh lost both times and gave up gaudy passing yards.  Plus, like those two teams, Green Bay does not have to run to win.   That neutralizes the strength of Pittsburgh’s defense: crushing the opposing team’s rushing game, which ultimately led to defeating Baltimore and the Jets, two teams that rely heavily on the run to control clock. Meanwhile, GB merely runs to keep DBs honest, so Pitt could crush the run and still lose by 10 via Rodgers’ aerial assault. And more bad news for the Steelers, who prefer the nasty outdoors winter weather:  When Green Bay plays indoors, their top passing game gets even better, as top-seed Atlanta found out in the playoffs.

Takeaway Lesson:  Aaron Rodgers has all the capability and weapons that Drew Brees and Tom Brady had when they beat Pittsburgh earlier this year. If Rodgers has time, or is able to get outside the pocket and throw, GB is likely to score into the 30s.

When Pittsburgh has the ball:

Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger is the third Pittsburgh Steeler QB  to guide the team into the Super Bowl, and he may well be the greatest Steeler QB ever.  Plus he can spell cat without help.  Although Roethlisberger has not been as spectacular through the air as Aaron Rodgers has been in Rodgers’ briefer post-season career, Big Ben has been impressive in protecting the football, rarely throwing a post-season interception.   Between Roethlisberger’s passing judiciousness and the Steelers’ excellent defense, the Steelers have not had to take chances to win postseason games.    However, that should change on this Super Bowl Sunday.

It is likely that Green Bay will successfully throw early and often, putting points up on the board and forcing Pittsburgh to compete in a high-scoring game, which goes against their strengths as a tough-defensive minded team with a tough QB.  Roethlisberger will have to take chances downfield.  He may find some early success as the Steelers do have some terrific young speedy receivers, and a great route runner and blocker in Hines Ward. But that also increases the chances of turnovers, which are a concern because of Green Bay’s excellent defensive speed plus a few ball hawks (and even an AJ Hawk), who would love to turn the ball the other way, in the fashion of newly inducted HOFer Deion Sanders, who (with all due respect to today’s top guy Darrelle Revis) is the best CB I have ever seen play, and who Steeler fans know well from Dallas’ 1996 Super Bowl victory over the Steelers. But I digress (let’s blame Dallas hosting this game).

The Steelers offense will be able to put up some points, since Green Bay’s defense is no better than the Ravens and Jets defenses that Pittsburgh already beat in the playoffs.  However, Pittsburgh will need more points in this game.

Green Bay 33  (Aaron Rodgers 330 Yards; Greg Jennings 130 yards, Jordy Nelson two TDs, Starks 50 yards, Woodson INT)

Pittsburgh 23 (Roethlisberger 250 yards; Ward/Wallace TDs, Mendenhall 112 yards, Defensive Safety).

Baseball Break

Time for a break from football to ask: What is up with SI Writer Jon Heyman?

Heyman has for years touted Jack Morris and recently has hyped Andy Pettitte for the Hall of Fame, yet for 14 years consistently voted against Bert Blyleven, a demonstrably better pitcher than those two (plus of course Nolan Ryan, whom Heyman also voted for).   Heyman even mocked Blyleven and those who support him because they dare to go beyond pure Win-Loss records when comparing pitchers.

One little piece of information for Heyman and other Blyleven detractors who avoid the facts.  Bert Blyleven’s rookie season was 1970, about the time Nolan Ryan was becoming a full-time starter.  Over the next 10 years, Blyleven had a better ERA 8 times, compared to Ryan’s 1 time (they tied once).   This, by the way, included all of Ryan’s record-setting strikeout seasons.  In other words, year after year, while Ryan was setting strikeout records, Bert Blyleven was outpitching him.

Pettitte’s supporters cannot show a decade’s worth of dominance over a current or future Hall of Famer. Yet guys like Heyman, now having lost the cause of keeping Blyleven out of the Hall of Fame, are going to try to get Pettitte in, all based on wins-losses, the most archaic way of measuring pitching performances.  Yikes.