Today, the 2010-11 NFL season comes to a conclusion, with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers set to clash at Cowboys Stadium from Arlington, TX. Pittsburgh is seeking its 7th Lombardi Trophy and 3rd in 6 years, which would make them an undeniable dynasty worthy of being mentioned with the greatest teams in NFL history. For Ben Roethlisberger, it's a chance to silence some (can't believe there are some, but yes there are) of the remaining critics who still question whether he's one of the best in the league. A third Super Bowl ring would go a long way, which would put him in the company of Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, and Terry Bradshaw. An elusive MVP award would certainly seal his legacy as one of the greats.
For the Packers, it's a chance permanently pull the cord on the mind-numbing, never-ending Brett Favre talk and establish a new legacy in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers, a 3-time Pro Bowler, has the chance to cement his legacy as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game today. Dom Capers, who came so close to the Super Bowl in 1996 as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, has his first shot at a ring today. It would be a crowning accomplishment for a universally well-respected coach who's done a great job this season.
On paper, this looks like quite the even matchup. Both teams have the big-armed QBs and the receivers to beat you deep down the field. Both run a physical and aggressive 3-4 defense featuring playmaking LBs. Green Bay's corners are better, but Pittsburgh has better safety play, led by Troy Polamalu. Green Bay's James Starks leads the NFL in postseason rushing yards with 263. However, that's likely more of a by-product of situation, as Green Bay has been playing from ahead for virtually all of the postseason. Pittsburgh is a run-first team, and Rashard Mendenhall really is the straw that stirs the drink for the Pittsburgh offense.
So what will the key to victory be today?
I like the Pittsburgh Steelers today, and I like them for two big reasons.
First, Pittsburgh's defense leads the NFL in Yards After Catch (YAC) allowed with only 4.1. That's reflective of alot of things....Dick LeBeau's calls confusing QBs leading to short dump offs, as well as Pittsburgh's defense swarming to the football and being sound tacklers to a man. Green Bay relies greatly on big plays through catch-and-run opportunities. Pittsburgh will shut down Green Bay's running game and, more importantly, are better equipped to limit the big play in the passing game.
On offense, I'm looking at Mendenhall having a good day. Green Bay has been solid against the run in the playoffs, but they allowed a whopping 4.7 yards per carry in the regular season. And, given that BJ Raji matched up on CHI C Olin Kreutz only 11 plays out of 61 last week, I'm not sold on Pouncey's absence being as big of a deal as others proclaim. If Mendenhall gets going, Pittsburgh should be able to put together some balanced and time-consuming drives and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Green Bay 21
Game MVP: Rashard Mendenhall