Posts Tagged ‘Green Bay Packers’

NFL: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints

Over the last week, I’ve been working up division by division predictions across the NFL.  But today, on the verge of full-scale NFL action breaking out, it’s time to finish the job and put it all on the line. After all, what are 32 predictions if you don’t run them down to one? So here it is, who’s going to New York City for the Super Bowl, in the order they’d play out via the standings I arrived at. As a bonus, I’ll throw in a few awards for a few guys as well, for good measure.

But before we take it there, here a recap on how it all should shake out:

NFC East                                                           NFC North

  1. Redskins (10-6)                                 1. Packers (11-5)
  2. Cowboys (9-7)                                   2. Bears (10-6)*
  3. Giants (8-8)                                        3. Vikings (7-9)
  4. Eagles (4-12)                                      4. Lions (5-11)

NFC South                                                           NFC West

  1. Falcons (13-3)                                   1. Niners (12-4)
  2. Saints (8-8)                                         2. Seahawks (11-5)*
  3. Buccaneers (6-10)                            3. Rams (7-9)
  4. Panthers (5-11)                                 4. Cardinals (5-11)

AFC East                                                             AFC North

  1. Patriots (11-5)                                   1. Ravens (11-5)
  2. Dolphins (7-9)                                    2. Bengals (10-6)*
  3. Jets (5-11)                                            3. Steelers (10-6)*
  4. Bills (4-12)                                           4. Browns (7-9)

AFC South                                                        AFC West

  1. Houston (11-5)                                 1. Broncos (13-3)
  2. Colts (8-8)                                           2. Chiefs (7-9)
  3. Titans (6-10)                                       3. Chargers (5-11)
  4. Jaguars (2-14)                                    4. Raiders (3-13)

 

WILD CARD ROUND PLAYOFFS

Green Bay Packers over Chicago Bears

Seattle Seahawks over Washington Redskins

Cincinnati Bengals over Baltimore Ravens

Houston Texans over Pittsburgh Steelers

DIVISIONAL ROUND PLAYOFFS

Seattle Seahawks over Atlanta Falcons

San Francisco 49ers over Green Bay Packers

Denver Broncos over Cincinnati Bengals

Houston Texans over New England Patriots

NFC/AFC CHAMPIONSHIPS

San Francisco 49ers over Seattle Seahawks

Houston Texans over Denver Broncos

 

The MVP from two years back has as much of a load on his shoulders as ever before. And if he delivers on promise for the Pack again, an addition to his trophy case will be well deserved.

The MVP from two years back has as much of a load on his shoulders as ever before. And if he delivers on promise for the Pack again, an addition to his trophy case will be well deserved.

AWARD TOUR

Now before throwing it all on the line with the Super Bowl picks, let me back up and get some award picks for the season. It is impossibly difficult to select an MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive/Offensive Player of the Year before the season begins. So much goes into it, and it can change on a week to week basis. But, it’s Kickoff, so why not.

MVP—Aaron Rodgers: The Packers are leaning on him more than ever, and really, the team just behind him in the North via Chicago is the better overall team. But all things considered, the Pack will still take the North and it should come via a virtuoso performance from the league’s best QB.

Offensive Player of the Year—Peyton Manning: It is going to be a close call over Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Andrew Luck, but there’s a chance that Peyton pulls off one of the great offensive efforts in league history. He’s got the tools, the right division and a pretty decent head start to do it all. 50-45 touchdowns should be in his sights.

Defensive Player of the Year—Richard Sherman: Doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that the Seahawks will have the best defense in the NFL. And Sherman is not only the ringleader on the microphone, but also the catalyst of the entire attack. QBs have no choice but to challenge him due to the depth of the team around him. And he will make the most of it in some pretty big games.

Offensive Rookie of the Year—Tavon Austin: The impact may not be immediate…but then again maybe it will be. With a home run threat like Austin, there is no telling when or where he may make an impact from for the Rams. And in a style similar to what Percy Harvin did a few years back, Austin could be on par for a huge debut.

Defensive Rookie of the Year—Kenny Vaccaro: The Saints defense will be challenged yet again, but this time they’ll be met by a legitimate threat to bring the ball right back at them. Vaccaro was the perfect addition to a team that needs to keep its pass happy QB schedule honest.

And finally…

SUPER BOWL XLVIII –HOUSTON TEXANS vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers

The Texans have been on the verge for a few years, while the Niners have rapidly reinvented themselves underneath Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick. With both teams touting strong defenses and rushing attacks, it could come down to who can find room to make the big play first. When it comes to that element, the Texans have the biggest threat in Andre Johnson, but the Niners have the most options to find room for one between Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and by that time, Michael Crabtree.

It will be tight and February in New York may not have the best conditions for a highwire act, and that’s where it favors the road options of the Niners with the ball in their hands, as well as the best linebacker group in football getting plenty of shots on Arian Foster and Ben Tate. This favors San Francisco, and it nets them their first Super Bowl since 1994.

The NFC North is a nasty division. There’s more football history between its teams than any other division can boast, and they are still fighting their inherited rivalries to the bone to this day. It boasts the previous two league MVPs, as well as one of the most brutal defenses and maybe the most superhuman receiver the league has seen. In spite of all of these elements, the result has been the same the last three years: the Packers come out on top at the end.

If one thing is true in rivalries, it is that no one side stays up forever. 2012 saw the Vikings crawl from the bottom of the division and into the playoffs, while it saw the Lions and Bears both slide out of the playoff picture in years where it was foreseen they could dominate the league.

A year later, many of those same elements are in play, but there are new twists that bring each as close together as they have been in years. Can the Pack continue to impose its will, despite some crucial injuries that won’t heal this season, or can the Vikings continue to ride AD further into the promised land of February football? Or could the Bears offense get up to speed with its defense and close the gap? Or could the Lions do the opposite? At any rate, here is how the NFC North should shake out.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Aaron Rodgers, RB: Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, WR: Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Randall Cobb, TE: Brandon Pettigrew, OT: Jermon Bushrod, Matt Kalil, OG: Josh Sitton, TJ Lang, C: Roberto Garza

DE: Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, DT/NT: Ndamukong Suh, Kevin Williams, OLB: Clay Matthews, Lance Briggs, MLB: AJ Hawk, EJ Henderson, CB: Charles Tillman, Tramon Williams, FS: Harrison Smith, SS: Major Wright

K: Robbie Gould, P: Tommy Masthay, KR: Randall Cobb, PR: Devin Hester

 

 

Cutler has been one of the most divisive quarterbacks in the NFL over the course of his career, but an increase in protection could put many doubters to rest.

Cutler has been one of the most divisive quarterbacks in the NFL over the course of his career, but an increase in protection could put many doubters to rest.

CHICAGO BEARS (10-6 in 2012)

The Good—Despite the rather unceremonious, sudden retirement of longtime face of the organization Brian Urlacher, the defense is still one of the most aggressive in the league. It finished in the top 10 in both fewest passing and rushing yards a year ago, and led the NFL in takeaways with 44. With Julius Peppers, Henry Melton and Lance Briggs fronting the attack, and one of the best cornerback duos in the game in Peanut Tillman and Tim Jennings supporting them, points won’t come easy in the Windy.

The Bad—Is the offensive line finally ready to give Jay Cutler a fighting chance? In his four years in Chicago, Cutler has been sacked 148 times and hasn’t played a full season in three years. The hits take their toll over time, and if new additions Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long can’t provide some sort of relief for club’s oft underrated signal caller, the corner will continue to not be turned for the Chicago offense.

X-Factor—Jermon Bushrod: The revolving door of Bears offensive tackles has turned once again, and brings Bushrod in to hopefully be a much needed protector for Cutler. He brings a clear pedigree as a Pro Bowler the previous two seasons and a Super Bowl champion in 2010. If he can continue his premier ways as his new home’s anchor, he could be the unsung difference in the Chicago season.

Schedule— CIN (L), MIN (W), @PIT (L), @DET (W), NO (L), NYG (W), @WSH (L), @GB (L), DET (W), BAL (L), @STL (W), @MIN (W), DAL (W), @CLE (W), @PHI (W), GB (W)

Prediction—The Bears are a team that COULD be as good as any in the NFC. They have the defense to create close games. But the same question as always remains: can the offense make the plays to turn those contests into victories? A rough schedule is in store, which features trips to Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Washington and Cleveland, all teams that are in same fringe class as the Bears. A return to the playoffs should be within their grasp, even if they just equal their win total from a year ago. 10-6

 

Johnson has caught over 3,600 yards of passes over the past two seasons, but for the Lions to advance as a team, it can't just be on him get them there.

Johnson has caught over 3,600 yards of passes over the past two seasons, but for the Lions to advance as a team, it can’t just be on him get them there.

DETROIT LIONS (4-12 in 2012)

The Good—The offense continues to grow beyond Stafford-to-Megatron. On the heels of Calvin Johnson’s historically good 2012, the team went out and grabbed a much needed diverse backfield threat in Reggie Bush, who they hope can stabilize a position that has been endlessly in flux the last few seasons. Add in the emergence of wide receiver Ryan Broyles, and the Lions offense continues to quietly grow into a lot more than a one-trick pony.

The Bad—The defense is still way too little bend, and too much break. The addition of rookie Ezekial Ansah will add some diversity to the pass rush outside of Ndamukong Suh, but there are still plenty of underwhelming elements of the unit. Mainly, these include a porous secondary and an underwhelming linebacker group.

X-Factor—Joique Bell: He made the most of his first sniff of NFL action in his second year, running for 414 yards on 82 carries, good for a five yard per carry average. Now a year later, he’ll be counted on for a larger contribution, which could include a heavy amount of work in the red zone.

Schedule— MIN (W), @ARI (L), @WSH (L), CHI (L), @GB (L), @CLE (W), CIN (L), DAL (L), @CHI (L), @PIT (L), TB (W), GB (W), @PHI (W), BAL (L), NYG (L), @MIN (L)

Prediction—After what they showed in 2011, and still featuring a constantly exciting offense, the Lions are a team that always seems on the surface a bit better than they really are. They’ll have more ways to strike on offense, but still lack any consistent way to stop anyone from returning fire. It is a year at the fork in the road of progress in Detroit, and more likely than not its more like last year than the one before. 5-11

 

Cobb's increased role in the Green Bay attack last year led to him becoming Aaron Rodgers favorite target, a role that could have an even bigger impact this fall.

Cobb’s increased role in the Green Bay attack last year led to him becoming Aaron Rodgers favorite target, a role that could have an even bigger impact this fall.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (11-5 in 2012)

The Good—Aaron Rodgers is still alive and breathing, which means that the Packers will be a problem. He’s thrown 84 touchdowns over the past two seasons against only 14 interceptions, while completing over 67% of his attempts. Despite the loss of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, Rodgers is in the type of rare zone where anything he touches profits (ex—14 James Jones TDs and 954 yards from Randall Cobb in breakout 2012 efforts).

The Bad—Can the offensive line hold itself together in front of Rodgers? Starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga is out for the year with a torn ACL, and right tackle Derek Sherrod still has not returned from a broken leg that cost him the entire 2012 season. That leaves the pass-heavy offense with a rookie 4th round pick in David Bakhtiari watching the back of the most valuable QB in the NFL.

X-Factor—Eddie Lacy: He runs with bad intentions, and looks to be a sure thing in the effort to make the Packer attack more than a one (Rodgers) dimensional attack. The Packers have gone 43 games since they had a 100 yard rusher; Lacy ran for over 130 yards four times as a junior at Alabama a year ago.

Schedule—@SF (L), WSH (W), @CIN (W), DET (W), @BAL (L), CLE (W), @MIN (L), CHI (W), PHI (W), @NYG (L), MIN (W), @DET (L), ATL (W), @DAL (W), PIT (W), @CHI (L)

Prediction—The offense is growing and the defense is steady. Yet with all of those things considered, the injuries along the line are concerning, as is the inexperience in the backfield. They should win the division for a third straight year, due to how persistent the offense is alone, but it could prove to be a rough road if their youth doesn’t learn on the fly, quickly. 10-6

 

Peterson ran for over 1,000 of his 2,097 yards in 2012 after first contact. How much help will the rebuilt Vikings offense be able to offer him a year later?

Peterson ran for over 1,000 of his 2,097 yards in 2012 after first contact. How much help will the rebuilt Vikings offense be able to offer him a year later?

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-6 in 2012)

The Good—Minnesota only has the best running back since Barry Sanders in his absolute, untouched prime. Adrian Peterson’s near run into the NFL record book last season bulldozed the Vikings into the playoff picture, seemingly on his own. Overall, the offense should be more dynamic with additions of Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, and with the box loaded in anticipation of Peterson, each could find plenty of space to work with.

The Bad—For all of the weapons now at hand, will they be able to utilize them fully? And beyond that, can they hang in if they fall too far behind. Christian Ponder didn’t do enough in his second year to keep the team from bringing in Matt Cassel from the Chiefs to enter the picture. There is no team that can become a regular factor in the playoff picture for long with inconsistent QB play.

X-Factor—Cordarrelle Patterson: The Vikings maneuvered their way into the first round three times this Spring, and with the final selection they took a blazing receiver that could step directly into Percy Harvin’s now departed playmaking shoes. He’s raw (one season of Division I football), but also has a surplus of raw skill (4.33 40) and the shake to use them (700 receiving/300 rushing/700 return yards/10 TDs for Tennessee last year).

Schedule—@DET (L), @CHI (L), CLE (W), PIT (W), CAR (W), @NYG (W), GB (W), @DAL (L), WSH (W), @SEA (L), @GB (L), CHI (L), @BAL (L), PHI (W), @CIN (L), DET (W)

Prediction—The offense has potential, but it is depending on a few very circumstantial elements to survive: another once-in-a-career season from Peterson, growth from Ponder at QB, Jennings staying healthy and the young receivers picking up the game in a hurry. It is an offense that threw for the second fewest yards a year ago, while giving up the 24th most. A return to reality is likely this season, and a slight step back happens. 7-9

 

For more on the quickly upcoming NFL season in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

 

This is the short version, but I had to get my pick in before this newfangled week 2 early kickoff….

 

Chicago Bears (1-0) at Green Bay Packers (0-1): The Pack took a solid loss to start the season up, but still stunning because #1) it was at Lambeau, and #2) it was the Packers. They turnaround with not much better of a break, catching their oldest rival in the Bears, who now feature a high powered offense (never, ever, once, ever been said in history about them) with plenty off new toys. It’s going to be rough, and  it may take the full four quarters to squab out, but the Pack pull even at home and a fired up, yet constantly cool, Aaron Rodgers looks masterful in the process. The Packers defend their house.

 

Follow me tonight on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan for in-game commentary, sponsored in part by Captain Morgan & the Red Baron.

Coming into this season the North features both a champion and a Super Bowl champion, simultaneously…and each side happens to be the division’s biggest rivals as well. The Packers bring back the Lombardi trophy to a brutal mix that has three teams awaiting them on much different tracks. The Bears are still a brutal defense that is looking for the right mix out of its creative offense. The Lions are one of the rawest up and coming teams in either conference, and is hoping this is the year it all comes together, finally. Minnesota is looking to rebound from controversy filled season behind the game’s premier running back and a veteran QB looking to restore the luster to his career.

Will there be another surprise coup to take the division title, yet in the end to see the underdog win out? If any division has the candidates to pull such a feat out, it’s the one below. Let’s see how that could take shape…

 

All-Division Team

QB: Aaron Rodgers RB: Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte FB: John Kuhn WR: Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Percy Harvin TE: JerMichael Finley OT: Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga OG: Steve Hutchinson, Josh Sitton C: Scott Wells

DE: Julius Peppers, Jared Allen DT: Ndamukong Suh, Kevin Williams OLB: Clay Matthews, Chad Greenway MLB: Brian Urlacher, AJ Hawk CB: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams S: Nick Collins, Chris Harris

K: Robbie Gould P: Brent Maynard Returner: Devin Hester

CHICAGO BEARS (11-5 in 2010; Division Champs)

Offense: M. Forte-RB, J. Cutler-QB, D. Hester-WR, J. Knox-WR (C)

Defense: J. Peppers-DE, B. Urlacher-MLB, L. Briggs-OLB, C. Tillman-CB (A)

The Good: a few years of struggling along and trying to get the pieces right, the return of Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers headlined a renaissance of sorts for the Bears. They locked down the ground game (90.1 rush yards against per game, 2nd best in the NFL) and sent a hectic blitz that made life easier on their secondary than in many years. The good thing here: Nothing has changed out of this group. But….

The Bad: Both nothing and too little has changed here. If anybody is going to suffer based on the near elimination of kickoffs, it’s the Bears. They compensated for an often inconsistent offense (30th in total yards) by starting off with great position (or bypassing the offense totally for the endzone) with the track meet returns of Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. Now a largely unchanged offense will have to earn their chops on their own more often than not, not exactly welcomed news.

With kickoff chances decreased this year, finding creative ways to get Hester the ball must be a priority.

X-Factor-Marion Barber: After an offseason that featured some questionable moves and investments in advancing the offense, the acquisition of the former Cowboy road grinder was a smart move. The goal line juggernaut will provide relief for the often used Matt Forte and could be a foreshadowing of a plan to become a team dedicated to earning their keep on the ground.

Fearless Prediction: ATL (L), @NO (L), GB (W), CAR (W), @DET (L), MIN (W), @TB (W), @PHI (L), DET (W), SD (W), @OAK (W), KC (W), @DEN (L), SEA (W), @GB (L), @MIN (W)

In The End: Defense wins championships, and it put the Bears on the verge of playing for one last season. However, losing their biggest advantage in special teams is going to force much more responsibility on Cutler and the offense to produce, which looks eerily similar to the same offense that stalled far too often a year ago. Record: 9-7

DETROIT LIONS (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: C. Johnson-WR, M. Stafford-QB, J. Best-RB, B. Pettigrew-TE (B+)

Defense: N. Suh-DT, C. Williams-DT, Cliff Avril-DE, K. Vanden Bosch-DE (C+)

The Good: A potent offense has slowly been being assembled in the D, and finally, it seems that it’s ready to come together. Calvin Johnson is no longer a one man show in the receiving game, with Brandon Pettigrew stepping up a year ago and Nate Burleson joining the show as well. The biggest step forward came from the defensive front, with Ndamukong Suh becoming one of the premier forces in the game from the moment he hit the field, giving the Lions a long-needed defensive impact player.

The Bad: They are still bad in the details. The secondary still is open like a flood gate, and they don’t reach the QB in time, they are potential victims of the big play downfield. Also, there still isn’t an absolute dependable option in the running game. Jahvid Best will once again be asked to shoulder the complete load, when he’s better suited to be an option over the feature.

Suh is a force in the middle of a promising Lions' defensive front & already could be the NFL's best defensive tackle.

X-Factor-Matt Stafford: How many years has this been the case? For as far along has the Lions have come, their reward from their “defeated” season in 2008 has only managed to make it to the field for 13 games in his first two years. The talent is clear, but whether his shoulder will be able to stay attached to his body long enough to show it for a whole season is up in the air. It’s the difference between the Lions continuing to be the NFC’s biggest “What If?” club, and actually cashing in on its potential.

Fearless Prediction: @TB (W), KC (L), @MIN (L), @DAL (W), CHI (W), SF (W), ATL (L), @DEN (W), @CHI (L), CAR (W), GB (L), @NO (L), MIN (W), @OAK (W), SD (L), @GB (L)

In The End: It’s all coming together in Detroit, and they are much closer to getting over the hump than falling off it again. A full season of Stafford would keep them in the race in the North, but there too far off on defense overall to make the jump completely into the playoff scene this year. Record: 8-8

GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-6 in 2010; Super Bowl Champions)

Offense: A. Rodgers-QB, G. Jennings-WR, J. Finley-TE, C. Clifton-OT (A+)

Defense: C. Matthews-OLB, C. Woodson-CB, B.J. Raji-NT, N. Collins-S (B+)

The Good: Behind an amazing run from the last team in the playoffs to the last one standing, the Pack is now the elite of the NFL. However, what’s more is that they made it through the majority of the season at far less than full strength. Back-to-back 1,000 rusher Ryan Grant missed the entire season. JerMichael Finley’s season ended after five games. Injury ran along the offensive line. Now with everyone back and a team built up by the confidence on a Super Bowl can bring, Aaron Rodgers is at the helm of an even better offense than the one that already raised the Lombardi.

The Bad: The pass rush can’t be a one man show. For all that Clay Matthews does (13.5 sacks), he needs help from the defensive line as well, or even another linebacker. That doesn’t exist here, and after Cullen Jenkins bolted for Philadelphia, the situation became even bleaker. Returning Packers linemen combined for 11 sacks last year, with B.J. Raji accounting for just over six himself.

Rodgers pushed the Pack to the top of the NFL a year ago, and did so without his full offensive arsenal...which he now has back.

X- Factor-James Starks: After becoming the de facto starter at running back after Brandon Jackson, Grant’s first replacement, was sidelined by injury, Starks became a factor on his own merits. He took over 300 yards on the ground in the run to the Super Bowl, and is in position to at the very least split carries with the returning Grant in 2011. If last year’s finish is any indication of what could await, the job could very well be his by the end of the year.

Fearless Prediction: NO (W), @CAR (W), @CHI (L), DEN (W), @ATL (W), STL (W), @MIN (L), @SD (L), MIN (W), TB (L), @DET (W), @NYG (W), OAK (W), @KC (L), CHI (W), DET (W)

In The End: Staying at the top is much harder than getting there, and while Rodgers can make something out of nothing better than any other quarterback in the game, they still return to a tough division. Look for there to be some bumps along the way, but the Champs will accomplish something they didn’t a year ago while becoming Super Bowl champs: winning the NFC North. Record: 11-5

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: A. Peterson-RB, P. Harvin-WR, D. McNabb-QB, V. Shiancoe-TE (B-)

Defense: K. Williams-DT, J. Allen-DE, R. Edwards-DE, C. Greenway-LB (B-)

The Good: There is easy room for improvement. Much of last year’s struggles came from a constant stream of controversy finding the team. From Brett Favre, to Randy Moss, to Brad Childress’ exit, nothing was ever steady. The offense has potential to be both steady and explosive, with Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin bringing the explosion, and Donovan McNabb searching for what could be a focused last chance. Consistency is what the Vikings need, and balance can be easily found.

The Bad: The line on both sides is crumbling. For several years, no team featured better linemen on both sides of the ball than the Vikes, but a mixture of age and underachieving has left both units as a concern headed into this year. Replacing Bryant McKinnie, Pat Williams and Ray Edwards individually is a tall task, but all three at once could be a major headache.

For a Vikings team in transition, Peterson will mean even more this season...if that's even possible.

X-Factor-Michael Jenkins: With the departure of Sidney Rice, the receiver group on the outside is terribly thin. Jenkins became the odd man out in Atlanta, but the Falcons trash could be the Vikes treasure. He provides a capable option that can stretch the field and create behind the defense, something that is desperately needed for defenses to not overload on Peterson and to open up Harvin underneath.

Fearless Prediction: @SD (L), TB (L), DET (W), @KC (W), ARI (L), @CHI (L), GB (L), @CAR (W), @GB (L), OAK (L), @ATL (L), DEN (W), @DET (L), NO (L), @WSH (W), CHI (W)

In The End: This is a team that has to find its identity, but could get back on track simply by just have a more stable situation. But they have dropped a step behind the Bears and Packers, due have a vulnerable offensive line in a division that attacks the pocket as well as any. For this reason, they find their selves in its cellar for the second consecutive year. Record: 7-9

To see how right, wrong or in-between this all works out, and me living with it, follow me on Twitter at@CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

AND THE WINNER IS…..

Posted: February 6, 2011 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NFL
Tags: , , , ,

It’s finally upon us, Super Sunday, and it has all the makings to live up to the title too. In many years, while being a great matchup, know who will win the Bowl isn’t particularly hard. There have only been a few times I’ve been generally shocked by an outcome, the Giants in ’08, the Patriots in ’02 to name the few instances. In other years, the way the score came to be was more shocking than the actual winner (word to the Buccaneers, Ravens and Cowboys). However, this year nothing besides a monumental blowout, 49ers/Chargers style, would shock me, because out of my 20 years of Super Bowl watching, I’ve never seen a matchup more balanced than this one coming into it.

What it's all about. By tomorrow one of these historic franchises will add another of these to its impressive display case.

The Packers have, from a seeding and injury perspective, been a group of overachievers on their drive to this point. But this is only due to them taking six losses this year, in the face of injuries and losses to some the League’s best. However, regular season records being what they are, no team that hasn’t been down by more than seven points all year (a crazy stat) can be considered a major overachiever. This team was built to get to this point all year, and it’s no major shock that they pulled out of the evenly yoked NFC.

The Steelers have been baptized through fire to get to this point. They came out of the AFC North, which is like fighting a war with your bare hands and a toothbrush as your only weapon. They bring both the league’s best defense and a durable, experienced roster that has been here before. However, they are still not considered the favorites, but once again, that is an exaggeration of what is at play. The intangibles of the game are in favor of the Steelers, and while that can’t be accounted for on paper, it has to be respected.

That’s what we’re looking at here in the CHEAP.SEATS today, where the divide comes in to play between these two clubs can be separated. Actually, a crack in between may be a more appropriate way to describe it, because this is going to be a close, fight to finish in my estimation. No more build up though, let’s get at it.

Quarterback: This is, as usual the headline matchup, and rightfully so, with both guys being among the handful of the best in the league at the position. Aaron Rodgers has been the best quarterback on any team in the playoffs this year, and has driven the Pack to the Bowl with his superb play. However, at this point in the year, experience under the spotlight is everything, and Ben Roethlisberger has not only been here before, he has conducted one of the great comebacks in the game’s history in last visit here two years ago versus the Cardinals. The talent divide between the two is so small, it can be decided based on that alone, so I give the edge to Roethlisberger due to his previous baptisms in Super Bowl fire. Advantage: Steelers.

Running Back: This is one of the clearest cut advantages for either team in the game, with Rashard Mendenhall being single handedly better than Green Bay’s three headed attack of Brandon Jackson, Max Starks and John Kuhn. Unleashing Mendenhall may be Pittsburgh’s best approach to taking this game, as stopping the run is Green Bay’s only weakness on defense and it keeps it away from throwing into the teeth of their dangerous secondary. The Pack has done a good job of compensating for the loss of Ryan Grant all year, but this is finally the point in the year where not having him gives them a great disadvantage, so….Advantage: Steelers.

Mendenhall's performance could mean more than any other player on either sideline.

Receiver/Tight End: Both teams have similar units in their weaponry at the top of their receiving troops. Each has a dangerous deep threat, in Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace, and two of the tough possession catchers that their quarterback trusts in Hines Ward and Donald Driver. The presence of Heath Miller at tight end gives Roethlisberger another dependable target over the middle, but the Packers have more threats on the outside and a deeper unit overall, with James Jones and Jordy Nelson in the mix as well, giving the Packers much more depth. Advantage: Packers.

Offensive Line: When center Maurkice Pouncey was ruled out of this game earlier this week, it was a major setback to the Steelers offense as a whole. He is their best offensive lineman and the axis that the entire group works off of. His absence makes them far more vulnerable to the blitz, and Green Bay can afford to come after Roethlisberger with far more recklessness, because their secondary is so good they afford the risk. While the Packer line isn’t the best, it is more intact at the moment, and takes the gets the nod due to being intact. Advantage: Packers

Defensive Line: A close matchup here has well, as both teams use their defensive lines mostly to open up holes for their linebackers to take control. The Steelers have gotten consistent solid performances out of Ziggy Hood on the outside, and Casey Hampton is an anchor in the middle, but the player to watch here is on the Packers side, and that’s their huge nose tackle B.J. Raji. Their 2008 first rounder will benefit the most from the absence of Pouncey, who he would have been matched up with all day. His pressure on his new matchup will benefit every area of the Green Bay defense, and is a crucial element of how the game will flow. Advantage: Packers.

Linebackers: Both teams base much of their attack from the linebacker position. Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk are killers for the Pack, and will be all over the field all day. However, when you think linebacker, you think Pittsburgh. James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons are the best starting group of LBs in the game, and they are just are just as devastating on attacking the pocket as they are at stone walling the run. Their high speed, yet disciplined approach will be essential to limiting Rodgers’ ability to create extra downfield chances with his feet, which much of the Packers danger comes from. Advantage: Steelers.

Defensive Backs: For as big of a threat as the Steeler linebackers are, the Green Bay secondary does the same thing for them. Charles Woodson leads a group that took the ball away the second most times in the league, and has enough guys to cover every Steeler threat tight enough to give their blitz a chance to harass Roethlisberger consistently. If the Packers are to win this game it will come down to this unit making the timely plays. The Steelers have Troy Polamalu in their secondary, and he is the biggest defensive play maker in the game. Without a doubt he’ll make a difference in the game several times, but their coverage is the weakest part of their team as group, and despite how it looks at times, Troy can’t cover everyone at once. Advantage: Packers

Roethlisberger would be wise to pick his shot carefully when targeting Woodson's side of the field.

Special Teams: The Steelers have made changes at both kicker and punter this year, and for the better. Shaun Suisham has been consistent from everywhere as Jeff Reed replacement at kicker and that is huge in such a game. Return options are plentiful for the Steelers as well, with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are both threats to make a big return for Pittsburgh as well, and Antwan Randle-El is still dangerous as well. On the other sideline, Mason Crosby has one of the most powerful legs in the game, but is erratic at times and a badly timed miss in this game would make a fatal difference. For dependability’s sake, Pittsburgh has a much safer overall unit. Advantage: Steelers.

Coaching: Mike Tomlin’s place in the league’s hierarchy of coaches is severely underrated. He makes measured decisions, while still being deploying an aggressive scheme. He will rarely make an irrational decision, and his style shows through his team’s attitude and approach more than any other coach’s in the League. Mike McCarthy has done a great job in keeping the Packers on course, despite a constant string of injuries to critical pieces of the team. He will have them ready on Sunday to stare down the Steelers on all fronts. However, experience on this level means everything in blocking out everything else and managing just the game itself, and in that regard Tomlin has the edge. Advantage: Steelers.

The underrated job of Tomlin has Pittsburgh in position for their second ring in his first four years on the job.

In summary, by positional breakdowns favor the Steelers 5 to 4 and showcases just how tight of a match up this is. I’m with the intangibles today, the “It Factor”. The Steelers as a unit have had tough road this year & there is no team tougher than them in the League. In a matchup of two stingy defenses, Pitt has more game breaking; big play guys on their side, and those plays could make the entire difference in a close game. That combined with them having a better running game to control the clock with & the experience at this level previously will put them over the top & bring home the franchise’s record seventh Super Bowl title today.

So far this week, I’ve recapped the where the Super Bowl has been, but now it’s time to turn to where it is going. Super Bowl week is in full swing in Dallas and the attention is on which club will be the 46th champion of the Big Game. The Green Bay Packers are currently favored to take down the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in their first appearance in the game in 13 years, despite the Steelers being the more proven of the two franchises in recent times, as they are seeking their 3rd Super Bowl in six years.

Each club has a lot of similarities in their structures. They each have big player receivers that can get behind any secondary for the score. They have tough defenses that have play makers at every level, with an X-Factor defender that can make back-breaking hits. Last but definitely not least, they each have quarterbacks that can make plays only a handful would even attempt to try, let alone actually make.

 

Polamalu landed the League's top defender honors, but will he be the most critical player on the field come Sunday?

 

However, of all of these units, which of these players will make the biggest difference in the game? Who has the biggest responsibility and has the biggest chance to send their club to adding another Lombardi Trophy to their historic legacy? Here are the 10 players who have to carry the most weight in around 72 hours in Big D.

10. Mason Crosby: The Packers kicker has one the biggest legs in the league, capable to nailing the 50 yard out bomb, and the Pack have no apprehension about deploying him from far out. His career long kicks of 53 (twice) and 56 yards show his ability, however it doesn’t show that for all of his range, his accuracy is prone to stay home as well. In his four-year career, Crosby has never landed 80% of his kicks in a season, making him far from a sure thing. With two strong defenses at work here, scoring opportunities could be at a premium, and Crosby’s leg could be a deciding factor, Truly a gift or a curse for Green Bay.

 

Having a dependable Crosby could make a big difference for GB against the stingy Steelers defense.

 

9. Maurkice Pouncey: The 2nd year center is the lynchpin of the Pittsburgh offensive front, and when he went down with a knee injury in the AFC Championship game, the entire offense fell off beat. His status has been one of the most watched pre-game stories of Super Bowl week, and with the tough interior Green Bay defensive his presence will make a marked difference in how Pittsburgh can attack. Details such as this can go a long way in determining the game of inches that make up the big picture of the game.

8. B.J. Raji: Speaking of the frontline wars , Raji is Green Bay biggest soldier. How he freely he can move about will plays a big difference in how Pittsburgh establishes themselves. He was in the spotlight for running in an interception in for a touchdown in the NFC Championship game, but what he does outside the highlights makes the biggest difference, where his (conservatively listed) 340 pound frame not only creates pressure by pushing back the pocket, but also closes down the inside running game, which is what the Steelers may have to lean on heavily again if Pouncey is a no-go.

7. Ike Taylor: the Green Bay passing game will be on display early and often as usual and Pitt corners have perhaps the biggest burden to carry of any unit in the game. Taylor is the best corner the Black and Yellow has to deploy, and will most likely be assigned speedster Greg Jennings, Aaron Rodger’s favorite deep threat. How closely he stays on Jennings will make a huge difference in how far Rodgers can look downfield, and what is open underneath the secondary as well. Pass coverage has been the one blemish on the Steeler defense this year, and Taylor must have an effective day all over the field to not have a relapse of these problems.

 

How Taylor and the Pitt secondary performs will make the biggest difference in the outcome in Dallas.

 

6. Flozell Adams: Usually the quarterback’s blindside tackle is the most critical lineman to his success, but there is an exception to that rule when his opposite mate on the line is assigned to Clay Matthews, as Adams will be on Sunday. While stopping Matthews completely isn’t going to happen, Adams has to dig down and make every play one that the Packers pass rush terror has to work for. If Big Ben has pressure coming from inside AND Matthews consistently besting Adams on the other end, it could be a short, yet long day for the Steeler offense, with Roethlisberger spending more time looking at the sky than at the coverage.

5. Clay Matthews: Speaking of Matthews, there is far more to his impact on the game than just how many sacks he racks up. While he will without a doubt be deployed to attack the pocket frequently, the result of the attention he commands is just as important as the result he brings himself. Despite being assigned as Adams’ responsibility, it will take more than just him to hold off Matthews, which could mean that Heath Miller or Matt Spaeth is devoted to watching him as well, and therefore take a target away from Roethlisberger. Also the attention on Matthews gives more freedom to Ryan Pickett or A.J. Hawk to attack more freely. Less can still be more as far as Matthews’ stat line goes, and Pittsburgh may have to accept not picking their poison, but just how much of it they are willing to take.

4. Greg Jennings: One of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL, Jennings could have a big day on Sunday on just a few catches. The Steeler secondary has had issues with stopping the outside pass all year, and Jennings is one of the craftier receivers in the game at finding open space and getting deep for the long score. His career long distance scores of 75, 82, 83 and his record long of 86 this season prove that in a blink of the eye he could make all of the difference in close game and give a quick lead to the Pack.

 

If Jennings gets too open even a few times it could spell quick doom for Pittsburgh's hopes.

 

3. Ben Roethlisberger: He’s been here before, and he knows what it takes to get the job done. Big Ben will be ready to play, and he is the perfect QB to take on the Packer defense, which is tough at every level and requires a high level of adaptation to beat repeatedly over four quarters. Considering he’s facing a team that hasn’t trailed by more than seven points at anytime during the season, he will have to lead a constant onslaught to bring home his third Super Bowl in his young career. The key for him will be not making bad passes into a Green Bay secondary that is the 5th in pass yardage against and forced the second most interceptions in 2010. Despite Green Bay’s prowess in coverage, no quarterback can stay alive in the pocket longer and wait for an opening better than Ben, an ability that will make it as tough an adjustment for the Packers defense to face him as it is for him versus them.

1. Troy Polamalu & Aaron Rodgers: Did you miss something? No, because both of these guys are one in the same. They have identical effects on both their own team and their opponents, in both preparation and in-game adjustment. Games like this are where Polamalu’s knack for being everywhere pays off the most. Whether it is cutting off the entire middle of the field against the pass, or coming up making the crucial hit, he is the single most difficult player to account for in the NFL. The same goes for Rodgers, just substitute the hits for passes and scrambles. No QB in the league creates more passing opportunities after the ball is snapped than Rodgers, and he has played like a man possessed in the Playoffs thus far, using both his feet and arm to paralyze defenses. Now he’ll face the best unit the League has to offer, and his uncanny playmaking ability will be matched by every bit his improvisational equal on the other side of the ball.

 

Rodgers' 109.2 QB rating is tops among playoff passers, and no opponent has had an answer for him completely.

 

The single most interesting feature of the Super Bowl will be how Polamalu plays off of and adjusts to Rodgers’ multi-layered passing attack, which deploys as many as seven different receivers in every area of the field. This is the perfect matchup of two diverse and unpredictable players on each side of the ball. Whichever one converts not the most, but the timeliest play, could decide which team takes home the Lombardi. They are tied here, but whoever ends up #1 will take home the hardware on Sunday, and will have to climb over the other to get there.

 

In part 3 of CHEAP.SEATS.PLEASE weeklong lead up to Super Bowl Sunday, let’s take another look backwards. I’ve already showcased who are my picks for which players had the best games or careers playing in the Big Game, but which games were actually the best? The Super Bowl is unique in that despite all of the hype around it, in the majority of years it actually lives up to it. In the last 10 years, only two games have been decided by more than 10 points. Ironically, those totals were scored by two teams that walked into Super Sunday with big time defensive reputations (’01 Ravens and ’03 Buccaneers).

I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to try to rank the best of all 44 Super Bowls played, for a variety of reasons. One being I want to have an actual opinion from memory, meaning I want to comment on what I’ve seen. With all due respects to the Steel Curtain & Roger Staubach & company in Dallas, it’s hard for me to remember things that happened before I was born (for obvious logistical reasons). Also, I won’t count myself as actually understanding what was going on when Joe Montana took to the field for his late 80’s Super Bowl reign, because while I watched it, I didn’t really have a clue what was going on like I would need to include them on this list. NFL Films or opinions from others isn’t at work here, just a guy’s memory who has only missed one Super Bowl broadcast  in the last 20 years. The first Super Bowl I remember is Super Bowl XXV in 1991, so this rounds out well and makes the top 10 of the last 20 years a manageable task. Enjoy.

10. Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (Super Bowl XXX, 1996): This game was a tale of two halves, with it being a defensive struggle early and then a Cowboy showcase in the second half. The Steelers took a 13-7 lead into the half, however a 20-point second half and three interceptions by Steeler quarterback Neil O’Donnell turned the tides of this game. Two Emmitt Smith touchdown runs and two Larry Brown interceptions sealed the Cowboy victory, a record third in four years.

9. Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21 (Super Bowl XXXI, 1997): This was a return to the spotlight for the NFL’s most successful franchise in Green Bay. Lead in by league MVP Brett Favre, the Packers took control of this game early and often. Its notability remains in the style in which the Packers won, with a couple of record-setting Sundays, including a 3-sack game from future HOFer Reggie White. However the highlight of the day was Desmond Howard and his 244 total yards, including a 99 yard kickoff return.

8. New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17 (Super Bowl XLIV, 2010): In a showdown between the league’s MVP (Peyton Manning) in Indianapolis and Drew Brees, the heart and soul of a dangerous Saints offense, this was advertised as a shootout where whoever had the ball last could be the winner. Instead this game came down to a strategic onside kick by New Orleans to start the second half, which they recovered, and a 15-point fourth quarter by the Saints, capped by a 74 yard interception return for a touchdown by Tracy Porter during Manning’s 4th quarter drive, which sealed the first Super Bowl for the Saints.

Crafty play calling and an accurate Brees brought the Saints their first championship in franchise history.

7. Denver Broncos 34, Green Bay Packers 24 (Super Bowl XXXII, 1998): The Packers returned the Big Game to defend their title against a Bronco team that was a redemption mission of sorts for quarterback John Elway, who had been beaten badly in his previous Super Bowl trips. Elway made a heroic run to inch into the end zone, while being spun by two hits from Packer defenders, but the main difference maker was Terrell Davis and his three touchdowns & 157 rushing yards, while playing with a migraine that caused him to miss most of the second quarter. A deflected fourth down pass by John Mobley sealed the win during Brett Favre’s late drive to tie the game.

6. New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19 (Super Bowl XXV, 1991): This game gets summarized by one moment in history, Buffalo kicker Steve Norwood’s missed field goal with only eight seconds left following an impressive drive by quarterback Jim Kelly. This miss is the most infamous moment in Super Bowl history, and also ended the Bills best chance at a Super Bowl victory during their four-year stretch of reaching the game, as the Redskins and Cowboys easily defeated them over the next three years.

Even 20 years after he went wide right, Norwood's missed kick still looms as one sport's greatest errors ever.

5. New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17 (Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002): In the history of upsets, this one was one for the books, with the high-powered Rams being 14 point favorites, while the Patriots had reached the game behind the improbable rise of their previously unknown backup QB, Tom Brady. The New England defense is what made the greatest difference here, giving up only one Kurt Warner touchdown out of his 365 passing yards and forcing two interceptions. In the end, a historic 48 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal won the Patriots their first championship of the Belichick/Brady era, and become the first Super Bowl won on its final play.

4. New York Giants 17, New England Patriots (Super Bowl XLII, 2008): In yet another Patriot appearance here, they were involved in yet another upset, albeit not coming out on the same end as they had six years earlier. This is not just ranked here for what it was as a game, but how monumental of an upset it was in the history of sports. The Patriots entering it 18-0 and looking to become the first team to win 19 games in a season, and Tom Brady and Randy Moss had the most productive seasons in the history of the game for a quarterback/wide receiver tandem. None of this deterred the wild card, fifth seeded Giants defense which continually stonewalled every Patriot attempt and deployed an ingenious mix of a heavy zone pass defense and unleashed a heavy blitz, which Brady never overcame. Also notable is wide receiver David Tyree’s amazing one-handed catch against his own helmet during a third down scramble by quarterback Eli Manning, which led to the go head touchdown catch by Plaxico Burress to seal the biggest upset in the history of the Super Bowl.

3. New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29 (Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2003): The Pats 2nd Super Bowl in three years was a thriller, and perhaps the most exciting of all of their visits to the game. After starting off slow, and staying that way for three-quarters, business picked up in the fourth in a major way. This final frame featured one of the best fourth quarter battles in the history of the game, with five touchdowns and three lead changes. It came down to a 41-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to seal the win for the Patriots, his second such heroic kick in a three year span, but more on the other one later.

2. St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 (Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000): This was a game that from the beginning smelled of an epic finish. The Rams, who had come to power shot out of cannon, brought one of the greatest aerial offenses in the history of the game to Atlanta for the game, to face the gritty, hard nosed Titans, led by Steve McNair and Eddie George. The first half of the game was a defensive struggle between the two clubs, with the Rams managing only three Jeff Wilkins’ field goals, but holding a 9-0 advantage.

Known for Warner's masterful offensive performances, the 2000 Rams legacy was saved by a very different type of play.

Following the Rams first touchdown by Torry Holt, the Titans kicked into gear in the third quarter and scored 16 unanswered points to tie the game up. However, the Rams true fashion kicked into gear, and a 68 yard Isaac Bruce touchdown put them ahead. The greatness of this game is in its final play, which came after a 72 yard Titan drive in the last 1:48 of the game. In the end McNair connected with Kevin Dyson over the middle, but a lunging tackle by linebacker Mike Jones stopped Dyson half a yard (if that) short of tying the game (with the extra point afterwards) as the clock expired to secure the St. Louis Rams’ first Super Bowl win.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23 (Super Bowl XLII, 2009): This game was a sleeper that turned into a dynamo. The Cardinals rose from wild card status to the NFC Champions behind the arm of past Super Bowl hero Kurt Warner and an incredible three game run by Larry Fitzgerald. This game was characterized by the big & unexpected play, and they came early and often. The first big moment came at the end of a strong Steeler first half when linebacker James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner in the Cardinal end zone and returned it for a 100 yard touchdown, a Super Bowl record.

In the second half, Larry Fitzgerald took over, making a two incredible catches for touchdowns, the second being a 63 yards score which pulled the Cardinals ahead for the first time with 2:37 left in the game. This is when Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger took over. The pair connected on 4 plays for 71 yards on the last Steeler drive of the game, which the last being an incredible six yard catch in the corner of the end zone, which Holmes barely getting both feet down, to put the Steelers ahead. The Cardinals got the ball back, but a Lamarr Woodley sack caused Warner to fumble with five seconds left and sealed the win for the Steelers.

In game defined by the big play, the Steelers and Holmes save the biggest for last.

Will the 46th Super Sunday lead to another moment being added to this list? Tomorrow never knows, but the Packers and Steelers have some big shoes to step into shortly.