Super Bowl XLV
Green Bay Packers (6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (2), Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX
Sunday, February 6, 2011, 6:30 pm EST, TV: FOX
Opening Line: Packers -2
Current Line: Packers -2.5
Opening Total: 44.5
Current Total: 44
Money Line: Packers -145 / Steelers +125
Few can argue against the fact that the two best teams in the NFL will be playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday when the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4) meet the NFC champion Green Bay Packers (13-6) in Super Bowl XLV. What might be the worst nightmare for the host Dallas Cowboys – since both teams playing in the league’s biggest game could equally be viewed as their top nemesis of all-time – promises to be a classic throwback matchup pitting two top defenses against two top quarterbacks with much different offensive philosophies.
Bettors might find it a bit strange that the sixth-seeded Packers (-2.5) are favored against the second-seeded Steelers, who have won two Super Bowls in the previous five years and a record six overall. But Green Bay literally had a more impressive road, beating the top three seeds away from home en route to Dallas, capped by a 21-14 victory at Chicago in the NFC championship.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh beat fifth seed Baltimore 31-24 in the divisional round and the sixth-seeded New York Jets 24-19 in the AFC championship at home and became the first team ever to win three straight road games en route to a Super Bowl title five years ago behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will be here for the third time. The New York Giants repeated that feat two years later, and now the Pack hopes to do the same.
Green Bay will be counting on a strong passing game from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has thrived in domed stadiums in his young career since taking over as the starter for Brett Favre. Rodgers has a passer rating of 111.1 in 12 career dome games, throwing 26 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. The Packers are averaging nearly 32 points per game in those games despite going 6-6 straight-up and figure to have a big advantage offensively.
Pittsburgh’s 12th-ranked pass defense (214.1 yards per game) will be tested by Rodgers and arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL, even without tight end Jermichael Finley. Wide receivers Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson could present problems for the Steelers in the secondary, where they were not really challenged through the air by the Ravens or Jets in their first two playoff games. Finley is one of 16 Green Bay players on injured reserve and could have been an even more dangerous weapon had he been healthy.
The main challenge for the Packers defensively will be trying to contain Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall along with Roethlisberger. Mendenhall almost single-handedly beat the Jets in the first half of the AFC championship on the way to a 24-0 halftime lead, rushing for 95 of his game-high 121 yards and scoring a touchdown. He is probably the only other offensive player besides the two quarterbacks who can make a big enough impact to garner MVP honors with another huge performance. Green Bay has struggled at times against the run, ranking 18th in the league (114.9 yards per game) during the regular season. Packers rookie running back James Starks will be hard-pressed to crack the Steelers top-ranked run defense, which surrendered an average of only 62.8 yards per game.
While each team has a specific weakness on the defensive side of the ball, both are still among the very best overall. Pittsburgh allowed an NFL-low 14.5 points per game, and Green Bay was right behind them with 15. They also ranked 1-2 in the league in sacks with Packers linebacker Clay Matthews finishing in a tie for third overall with 14 while Steelers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for 21. Both teams play a similar attacking style of defense, but Green Bay does have a huge edge in the secondary, led by 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson and another potential All-Pro cornerback in Tramon Williams. Pittsburgh has 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu at safety essentially serving as an additional linebacker but is average at best on the corners.
These teams met in an offensive shootout at Heinz Field last season, and it would be somewhat surprising to see a similar high-scoring result here. The Steelers won 37-36 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace as time expired, a little more than two minutes after Rodgers connected with Jones on a 24-yard touchdown pass for a brief 36-30 Packers lead. One key injury of note for Pittsburgh is rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered a high ankle sprain along with a broken bone. Pouncey was named to the Pro Bowl and has started all 18 games. Doug Legursky is expected to replace him.
The Steelers are 9-1 against the spread in their last 10 playoff games, and the OVER is 16-5 in their past 21 postseason games, including two this year. Green Bay is 6-2 ATS in its last eight games as a favorite and 5-0 SU since finding out the team needed to essentially win out in order to make the playoffs. The Packers are 4-1 ATS in those games, with the only non-cover during that stretch coming in a 10-3 win over the Bears in the regular-season finale that clinched a postseason berth and made this trek to the Super Bowl possible.
Click here for a feature on betting Super Bowl XLV props featuring the Packers & Steelers