The majority of Cleveland Browns fans will probably be rooting for the Green Bay Packers to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday. Many experts have deemed this as closely-matched of a Super Bowl that you can get, which should make for a great game this Sunday.
Over the next two days, I will try to make a brief case why each team should come away with the Lombardi Trophy. Today, I'll start with the Packers, who are led by the NFC's best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
The NFC's best quarterback? Is that accurate? What about Drew Brees or Michael Vick? Both are talented quarterbacks, but Vick still lacks accuracy at times and Brees lacks mobility (not that he necessarily needs it, because Peyton Manning and Tom Brady don't). What Rodgers has is the uncanny combination of throwing the ball "on a rope" (have to use some recent terminology here) with accuracy, and being able to scramble away from defenses when they are already so concerned about covering receivers.
The Packers entered the postseason as the No. 6 seed, but they were probably one of the best sixth seeds in league history. Let's not kid ourselves either -- the Seattle Seahawks were viewed as the real sixth seed; Green Bay was considered contenders for the title all along. To get to the Super Bowl, look at the opponents the Packers had to go through, all on the road:
- at Philadelphia: They held Vick and the Eagles to just 16 points, winning 21-16 in a game that the Packers seemed to be in control of throughout the game. Vick's late comeback attempt was ended by Green Bay's secondary, which has been opportunistic all season long.
- at Atlanta: This was a stunner for me. I thought Green Bay had the chance to pull off the win, but against the No. 1 seeded Falcons who had arguably been the most consistent team all season? At the very least, I expected it to come down to the wire. Instead, the Packers blew the Falcons out of the water by a final score of 48-21.
- at Chicago: Next up was the No. 2 seeded Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Packers again got off to a hot start, and although they cooled offensively, their defense kept the pressure on third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie after Jay Cutler's injury prevented him from returning to the game. The Packers won 21-14.
Green Bay starts games fast offensively, and the thing that has really allowed them to maintain their lead throughout the game is the fact that it isn't all Rodgers -- rookie running back James Starks has provided a much-needed boost to the ground game. The Packers have entrusted him with 70 carries this postseason, something I wouldn't have expected from Green Bay during the regular season.
Remember the Browns' last postseason appearance, when they had a quadruple threat at receiver in Kevin Johnson, Quincy Morgan, Andre Davis, and Dennis Northcutt? Well, Green Bay has the same thing, except for the fact that their quarterback and their receivers are on another level when it comes to explosiveness. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson have each made big plays this postseason. Imagine what this offense would be like if they still had Jermichael Finley too.
Can Pittsburgh's secondary and linebackers handle that group of receivers? Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner likes the matchup for Green Bay's receivers. Three pretty good defensive teams have not been able to bother Rodgers this postseason, and their secondaries have been picked apart. Sure, Troy Polamalu needs to be accounted for, but he can't cover all of Green Bay's receivers. Rodgers has such a quick release that if he knows where Polamalu is presnap, he should be able to get the ball out to a receiver quickly. If they are covered, he always knows where his checkdown back is or can scamble for a first down.
Defensively, the Packers have to love having the advantage that they will be facing a team without their starting center, or with an injured starting center. B.J. Raji has become an impact player, and Clay Matthews was one of the league's best playmaking linebackers this season. Green Bay's cornerbacks are far more impressive than Pittsburgh's. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams have five interceptions between them this postseason, but the group also features former defensive player of the year Charles Woodson, who features good coverage and the ability to come up and play the run very well. That extra man defending the run can go a long way when stopping a guy like Rashard Mendenhall for the duration of the game. Besides that, Matthews watched the tape from last year's meeting between the team's and believes if they stop Ben Roethlisberger, they will win the game.
The Steelers have gone through the Ravens and the Jets this postseason. Neither offense comes close to the level of Green Bay's, and the Packers' defense can be just as good, if not better than both of those teams. Pittsburgh will be prepared for Green Bay, but when I look at the lack of offensive firepower the Steelers have faced since the end of November, I think they will be in for a rude awakening.
In case you're wondering what teams they have faced from Week 12 onward, here is the list: Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets. What happened when the Steelers faced two offensive-powered teams this season in New Orleans and New England? They lost. The verdict will be the same this Sunday when they face Green Bay.
Note: Saturday night, I will post a standalone poll asking who you think will win the Super Bowl.