The smoke has cleared and, emerging from the wreckage of what has proven to be a brutal series of hard fought, injury-ridden games, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face the Green Bay Packers in Dallas, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium. In a game that features the top three vote-getters in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, in Troy Polamalu (who edged Matthews by two votes to win his first Defensive Player of the Year award), Clay Matthews and James Harrison, respectively, The Steelers will look to add to their NFL leading six Super Bowl victories, as the Packers aim to win their fourth title.
Amidst implications towards the legacies of each respective franchise lies the resumes of their quarterbacks - Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers; two quarterbacks who, despite Roethlisberger only being one year Rodgers' senior in regards to years played in the league, have had careers of a polar-opposite nature. Roethlisberger has led his team to two Super Bowl victories, while Rodgers is finally coming into his own after playing backup to Brett Favre until the 2008-2009 season. Roethlisberger looks to put himself in an elite class among the two other quarterbacks who have won three Super Bowls - Troy Aikman and Tom Brady (with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana having won four), while Rodgers aims to win his first Super Bowl title, and, in doing so, shed the shadow of Brett Favre, and firmly establish himself as the face of the Green Bay Packers.
Expect each team to come out firing - the Steelers looking for big throws out of Roethlisberger to Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and the rest of their young receiving corps, and the Packers' Rodgers throwing downfield to Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Each team will also look to break off yardage in chunks by handing to their respective running backs: Pittsburgh to Rashard Mendenhall, and Green Bay to rookie playoff sensation James Starks and Brandon Jackson. The game will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes - something each team will find difficult to avoid against one another's tenacious defenses.
Key Matchups -
Ring count: Steelers - 54, Packers - 1. Will experience play a significant role in this year's Super Bowl? The Steelers find themselves in Dallas on Sunday, playing for a title for the third time in the last six years, while the Packers' players have minimal Super Bowl experience. Should the game come down to a last-second drive, as Super Bowl XLIII did (a game in which Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers downfield before throwing a game-winning touchdown pass), will the Steelers be at an advantage due to their Super Bowl experience?
Troy Polamalu vs. Aaron Rodgers: Will Troy Polamalu intercept an Aaron Rodgers pass in Super Bowl XLV? Having picked off an NFL second-best seven passes during the regular season, Polamalu will look to again make a big play for his team. In a quick-blitz against the Ravens in a game that would eventually prove to be the AFC North title game, Polamalu stripped the ball from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco - can he do something similar against Green Bay, and, in doing so, provide the spark to swing momentum in Pittsburgh's favor?
Green Bay Packers' offensive line vs. Steelers' defense: Aaron Rodgers was sacked a mere 31 times this year - will Green Bay's offensive line be able to pick up and hold back Pittsburgh's notoriously intricate and relentless blitz schemes, allowing Aaron Rodgers to remain comfortable in the pocket and make big throws? Or, as many have predicted, will Pittsburgh be able to break through Green Bay's offensive line, and fluster Rodgers into making mistakes?
Despite having 15 takeaways in the last 5 games (in which they are 5-0), I simply cannot see Green Bay's defense keeping pace with the defensive unit of the Steelers. Expect a somewhat low-scoring affair in which turnovers, or lack thereof, decide the outcome. That said, I can see Pittsburgh's defense making those big plays, and, with a consistent yard and clock-eating run game coupled with big plays out of Ben Roethlisberger, winning Super Bowl XLV.
My prediction? 21-17, Steelers.