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Tue, 08 Mar 2011 03:22 AM EST

Super Bowl XLV


Cowboys Stadium – Arlington, TX
Kickoff: Sunday, 6:25 p.m. EDT
Line: Green Bay -3, Total: 45

For two teams that meet once every four years, the Steelers and Packers should feel oddly familiar with each other. Football betting lines.

Start with the defenses. The 3-4 front, “Blitzburgh” identity originated in 1992 when Bill Cowher handed the defensive coordinator role to. . . Dom Capers, who now coordinates the Packers D. Both defenses rely on deception among the front seven to generate pressure and throw off opposing quarterbacks. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will counter it with brains and escapability, while Ben Roethlisberger can beat defenses with brawn, an ability to shed blitzers and improvise school-yard style.

Both teams will likely struggle to run the ball. That’s in spite of a couple of hot running backs—Packers rookie James Starks has been a post-season revelation and Rashard Mendenhall is coming off an outstanding 121-yard effort against the Jets. The Steelers’ front three of Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood are all formidable run-stuffers. The Packers are also strong against the run—B.J. Raji is playing as well as any nose tackle in the NFL, and the Steelers could be without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered an ankle injury early in the AFC title game. Odds.

Separation in the secondary will less of an issue for the Packers receivers—the Steelers’ mediocre stable of cornerbacks will be tested by Green Bay’s four starting-caliber WRs, led by true superstar Greg Jennings. But the Steelers do have an ace up their sleeve in Troy Polamalu. With two weeks to rest an injured Achilles that was clearly bothering him in their two postseason wins, a healthy Polamalu freelancing in the secondary could give Rodgers just enough pause to allow OLBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, who has 10 sacks in six career playoff games, to get to him. Green Bay’s offensive line is average, but when you play the Steelers, your tight ends—and more importantly, your running backs—have to be up to the task in pass protection. That could be an issue.

Rodgers faced five teams that use primarily 3-4 fronts. The Dolphins (5 sacks of Rodgers) and Redskins (4 sacks) each scored upsets over the Pack. The Jets (2 sacks) held them to nine points. The then-hapless Cowboys (one sack) are the only 3-4 defense that Rodgers torched. Tight end Andrew Quarless will be overmatched, as will Starks, who hasn’t seen anything like the Steelers’ blitz-happy scheme.

When the Steelers have the ball, budding superstar Tramon Williams or rookie speedster Sam Shields have a shot to contain burner Mike Wallace, who caught just one six-yard pass against the Jets. Charles Woodson can handle Hines Ward underneath. Pittsburgh once again needs big performances from rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, as well as tight end Heath Miller, who could stay in more often to help on OLB Clay Matthews. Roethlisberger is the most difficult QB to scheme for in the league because of his ability to improvise and turn broken plays into big gains. But officiating will have a huge impact. The Packers cornerbacks are physical and toe the line between incidental grabbing and penalties. That will be a factor when Big Ben extends a play and they try to cover for an extra second or two. On average, since 1992, there have been nearly two fewer flags (12.7 to 10.9) and 17 fewer penalty yards (103.3 to 86.3) in Super Bowl games than in regular-season matchups.

Speaking of regular-season matchups, these teams did play each other in Pittsburgh during the 2009 season. At the time the Steelers were reeling, coming off give straight losses, and were without Polamalu. As time expired, Roethlisberger threw a 19-yard TD pass to Wallace at the side of the end zone (in front of CB Josh Bell, who’s now out of the NFL) to give the Steelers a 37-36 victory. Rodgers threw for 383 yards and was sacked just once on 51 dropbacks, but he had a healthy Jermichael Finley catching a team-high nine passes for 74 yards (Finley is on injured reserve). Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards.

They were much different teams then. The return of Polamalu and the maturation of Rodgers can’t be underestimated. Those two will be at the center of a chess match that will decide Super Bowl XLV. This is a tight match-up, but the big-game experience of Roethlisberger and the Steelers gives Pittsburgh a slight edge.

The FoxSheets give two more reasons for backing Pittsburgh to win its seventh championship.

PITTSBURGH is 38-16 ATS (70.4%, +20.4 Units) vs. good passing teams averaging 7 or more passing yards/att. since 1992. The average score was PITTSBURGH 24.2, OPPONENT 19.1 – (Rating = 2*).

PITTSBURGH is 17-7 ATS (70.8%, +9.3 Units) after having won 5 or 6 out of their last 7 games over the last 3 seasons. The average score was PITTSBURGH 24.0, OPPONENT 16.4 – (Rating = 0*).

These teams had the top two scoring defenses in the NFL during the regular season (Pittsburgh 1st at 14.5 PPG and Green Bay 2nd at 15.0 PPG). However, this four-star FoxSheets trend concerning both teams sides with the Over on Sunday. Scores.

Play Over – Any team against the total (PITTSBURGH, GREEN BAY) – after covering the spread in 5 or 6 out of their last 7 games against opponent after covering the spread in 6 or 7 out of their last 8 games. (32-7 over the last 5 seasons.) (82.1%, +24.3 units. Rating = 4*).

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