Super Bowl Preview: the Steelers, the Pack, and Why the Vince Lombardi Trophy is Going Back to Green Bay
To date, only one sixth-seeded playoff team has won the Super Bowl: the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.
This year's Green Bay Packers remind us of that year's Steelers insofar as neither of the teams was an authentic sixth-seed. Rather, both are SINOs, Sixth-Seeds In Name Only. The typical sixth-seed is, by law, mediocre, and tends to be eliminated in the divisional playoff round.
Green Bay's squad is not mediocre: they're good enough to be the best team in football. The only thing preventing the Packers from ranking higher at the end of the season is the NFL's senseless seeding rules that allow division leaders to host playoff games over teams with better records, and injuries.
The Packers have, at various points, lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tight-ends Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee, defensive end Ryan Pickett, safety Derrick Martin and outside lineback Clay Matthews. Right now, they're healthy again and firing on all cylinders. Which makes them quite comparable to the 2005 Steelers, who had to play a few games without Ben Roethelisberger and suffered offensive line problems before getting healthy for the playoffs.
Other things the two teams have in common: the 2005 Steelers knocked off their rival Cincinnati Bengals (remember when Carson Palmer was young and the Bengals were destined to be good forever?) and the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts to make it to the Super Bowl. The 2010 Packers beat the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, took out the Philadelphia Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love, and took out their long-time rival Chicago Bears.
Green Bay is riding momentum and good health into the Super Bowl, and with a victory, they'll finally be able to move past Brett Favre. Perhaps the most astonishing fact about the Pack is that they have not trailed by more than 7 points at any point this season. That's an impressive enough a feat when you consider that it hasn't been performed since the 1960s, but it's especially noteworthy when you take the Packers' injuries into account.
That said, the Steelers seem to do just about everything the Packers do.
Both teams run a 3-4 defense that has its roots in Pittsburgh. Both are solid defensive units with great quarterbacks and good, fast wide receivers. They both rush for the same amount of yards per game (118) and they're both outstanding against the run.
If the Packers are motivated by the ghost of Brett Favre, Pittsburgh comes into this year's Super Bowl with a lot of anger toward the NFL over the fundamental nature of defensive football. Linebacker James Harrison has been especially outspoken in defense of bone-crunching. The Steelers defense believes it has the right to hit anyone as hard as they'd like, and it isn't hard to imagine James Harrison or Troy Polamalu spearing into Aaron Rodgers this weekend.
The difference between the teams, today, is that the Packers are playing their best football of the season while the Steelers are scrapping wins together. Don't let the final score fool you: the Packers easily beat the Bears two weeks ago and clobbered Atlanta. Nickelback Sam Shields is playing the best football of his life, and the Packers have Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and A.J. Hawk waiting for Roethelisberger. They might not be as angry as Pittsburgh, but they're just as good defensively. One more fact to consider: the Steelers have only played two elite quarterbacks this season: Drew Brees and Tom Brady. They lost both times. Can the Steelers handle a great quarterback like Aaron Rodgers?
Whenever evenly matched teams play against each other, pundits have a tendency to predict that it will be a close game. We're tempted to say it'll be close, but we really don't think it will be. The Packers are a much better team playing hot. Green Bay's walking out of Dallas with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.