In the 45 year or XLV history of the Super Bowl there may never have been a match up that appeared to be so even on paper heading into the big game. Each team has edges and each team has weaknesses but together against each other it is as close as the 37-36 meeting they had in December of 2009. That game was in Pittsburgh and it was won by the Steelers on a touchdown in the final seconds. This game could be just as good and just as exciting with all the marbles on the line.
Both teams are battle tested, having faced adversity all season. The Steelers got their rough waters out of the way early as Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension was over after Week 4. While the Packers endured a whole lot more with 15 players going on Injured Reserve. This included RB Ryan Grant lost in the first game of the season. The Packers also lost TE Jermichael Finley and RT Mark Tauscher for most of the season. All three were thought to be key members of the Packers offense when the season began in September. They also lost Nick Barnett on defense. A team with this many key players lost due to injury usually folds with the Halloween Costume and are an after thought before Thanksgiving, but the Packers hung in all season and even after losing QB Aaron Rodgers for a game and a half they ended up getting the sixth seed and won three road games to reach Jerry World in North Texas.
Quarterback is an edge for the Packers in only the slightest sense as Ben Roethlisberger has already won twice at the Super Bowl. There is no doubt he is an elite QB with his winning experience and his toughness as he has battled a broken foot and a broken nose without flinching. Rodgers is also tough and that can be a determent as he has received two concussions this year. However, Rodgers accuracy and arm strength are among the best in the league as a win on Sunday will cement him as one of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL today, and as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady get older he is poised perhaps to become the best of the best. The conditions with the roof closed in Dallas should be ideal for Aaron Rodgers who shredded the Falcons in the Divisional Round the last time he was indoors.
With Ryan Grant sidelined the Packers running game was iffy most of the season. However, thanks to strong performances by John Kuhn and James Starks in the playoffs the Packers have managed to add some balance during their three playoff road wins. The Steelers still have a big edge in the running game as Rashard Mendenhall has emerged as a dependable back capable of carrying the load. If the Steelers are to win this game Mendenhall could be the key, as the Packers defense will have to prevent him from having a big day like he did against the Jets in the first half of the AFC Championship Game.
The big worry for the Steelers meanwhile is their offensive line. The Steelers line has been a weakness all season as injuries have played a role. Center Maurkice Pouncey is the latest injury with his high ankle sprain. The Steelers have managed well all season with a makeshift line, but in the Super Bowl against an attacking defense like the Packers he could be missed.
The defenses of each team mirror each other as Coordinators Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers are the masters of the zone blitz. James Harrison of course will be one of the focuses on the Steelers defense, not just for how he can destroy offenses, but as a the target of several fines this year for head hunting, he could be the focus of the officials who may have an itchy flag trigger. The Packers pass rush is led by Clay Matthews Jr. who finished second to the Steelers Troy Polamalu in Defensive Player of the Year voting. Matthews in just his second NFL season is already a star, and a big game stopping Roethlisberger will secure his place among the NFL elite. Polamalu meanwhile is a freak of nature a Safety in the tradition of Ronnie Lott who hits hard can cover the speediest receiver and bring down any Quarterback is another weapon that gives the Steelers an edge. However, overall the Packers defense may be a bit better thanks to the corners as Charles Woodson is a future Hall of Famer and the emotional leader of the Packers, along with Tramon Williams could take one back at any given moment. If the Steelers have any vulnerability on defense it is in the very same corner position.
The Steelers have an edge in experience, as they won the Super Bowl just two years ago, but when a team wins three road games just to reach the Super Bowl that goes out the window. The coaches are about even with Mike McCarthy quietly being of the best coaches in the league, while Mike Tomlin is on the way to being among the best ever, especially if he wins a second Lombardi Trophy before his 40th birthday. A game this close could simply come down to who has the better kicker and that is the Packers who have the reliable Mason Crosby going against the erratic Shaun Susham.
In the end you can toss a coin to pick the winner and it will come up 50-50, in the last six years two teams have won three games on the road to reach the Super Bowl and both have won, of course one of them was the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. When you get on a role sometimes there is a magic and the Packers who have fought through injuries and are playing their best football in the postseason I see them taking the trophy named after their legendary Coach Vince Lombardi back to title town in a game that I will go on a limb and say will be the first Super Bowl to reach overtime.