Sunday, February 6, 2011: Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, TX at 6:30 pm eastern
Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4) vs. Green Bay Packers (13-6)
Super Bowl XLV (45): The Steelers are in their 8th Super Bowl, the Packers in their 5th.
Vegas line/spread: Green Bay by 2 1/2 (over/under 44.5).
The Super Bowl is the most bet-on sporting event by far, where public money controls the line movements. The Packers opened a 2 1/2 point favorite, with anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 points being offered early. The game is expected to be much lower scoring than last season's 37-36 shootout, and the over/under has declined slightly from 45 to 44.5.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. spread|
Green Bay is slightly ahead of Pittsburgh in the Strength Power Rating for NFL teams; they are #2 to the Steelers' #3.
Rnk Team rec rating offense defense
1. New England 14-3 14.41 34.11 [ 1] 19.70 [ 7]
2. Green Bay 13-6 12.20 26.28 [ 3] 14.08 [ 1]
3. Pittsburgh 14-4 10.04 25.18 [ 6] 15.14 [ 2]
Comparing game performances the Packers edge the Steelers winning roughly 55% of the time; when a 2.5 point spread is factored in the Steelers have a very narrow edge in outcomes.
Strength Power Rating: Green Bay 19, Pittsburgh 17
As noted on the listing above, Green Bay is slightly ahead in both scoring offense (#3 to #6) and scoring defense (#1 to #2). The game features the top two scoring defenses in the NFL, one reason the game is expected to be lower-scoring.
The Strength Power Rating expects an even lower-scoring game than the oddsmakers, with the Packers holding just over a 2 point advantage.
Yardage analysis: Pittsburgh 20, Green Bay 20 per attempt: Pittsburgh 24, Green Bay 20
Pittsburgh is 3rd in yardage differential (yards gained - yards yielded per game) and Green Bay is 7th. The Steelers are 14th in total offense but #2 in total defense, while the Packers are 9th and 5th respectively. As both teams are stronger on defense, a low scoring game is predicted by the yardage numbers, too. But Pittsburgh instead of Green Bay comes out on top. Both teams should have just over 300 total yards, with the Steelers ahead by only about 10 yards, which translates into pretty much a dead heat. (Note that unlike for college football, for the NFL we use unadjusted yardage numbers that do not account for schedule strength.)
The per-attempt numbers are probably more relevant for pro football than for college, and here the Steelers are a slightly more convincing favorite. The passing games should be about equal per-attempt but Pittsburgh should average a full yard per rushing play more than Green Bay and that will give them the win according to the per-attempt rundown.
Yardage + turnovers + kick returns projection: Pittsburgh 20, Green Bay 19
Pittsburgh is #2 in turnover margin and Green Bay is #3 in the NFL, so neither team should have a huge advantage. Both teams should garner 1 or 2 takeaways, with the Steelers having a slightly higher chance for 2 than the Packers. The total estimated benefit for the Steelers is just over 1/2 a point.
The Steelers also have a slim edge in kick returns, mainly on kickoffs where they excel on defense and Green Bay is poor on fielding. They rank dead last in the league, however, on punt returns, though the Packers aren't much better on defense. Overall the Steelers' edge might be about 1/4 point, and the odds of a big play on returns is fairly slim for both sides.
The Steelers' edge in yardage was slim to start with, and the minor additions for turnovers and kick returns give the Steelers a total of a one-point edge.
When Pittsburgh has the ball
|Pittsburgh rushing offense: #11
||Green Bay rushing defense: #18
Rashard Mendenhall had another great season with over 1,000 yards again, with 13 touchdowns compared to last year's 7. Green Bay's rushing defense isn't great, and the Steelers should have nearly 120 yards on the ground. And because Green Bay ranks 28th in per-attempt rushing defense Pittsburgh could have significantly more if they emphasize the run and Mendenhall gets going.
|Pittsburgh passing offense: #14||Green Bay passing defense: #5 per att: #7|
|Pittsburgh interceptions thrown ranking: #3||Green Bay interceptions picked ranking: #1|
|Pittsburgh quarterback protection rank: #23||Green Bay pass rush rank: #2|
Love him or hate him, Ben Roethlisberger has gotten the job done this season once again. Though his yardage is down a lot—due mostly to missing the first four games of the year on suspension. One thing he's done right is to reduce his interceptions to a measly 7. With Mike Wallace playing much better in the 2nd half of the year, Pittsburgh's passing game is underrated by full-season stats. They should have over 200 yards, but Green Bay's passing defense is pretty solid.
One of the Packers' strongest areas is interceptions, where they lead the league. Though Roethlisberger hasn't thrown many this year, two of them came in the conference finals against the Jets and helped them come back. The Packers should pick Roethlisberger once in the Super Bowl; if they get more than that it could be the difference in the game. The Packers' pass rush is one of the best in the league, too, and they look to have 2-3 sacks as Pitt's protection hasn't been great and could be worse without center Maurkice Pouncey.
When Green Bay has the ball
|Green Bay rushing offense: #24
||Pittsburgh rushing defense: #1
Green Bay doesn't have that much of a running game, as their top runner for the season (Brandon Jackson) averaged 3.7 per carry and top rusher in the playoffs (James Starks) averages 3.5. QB Aaron Rodgers averages 5.6 per scramble. With the Steelers' defense ranking 1st against the run, Green Bay might have a tough time establishing a ground game. If the Packers get more than 100 yards it's a great sign for them, and if Pittsburgh can hold them below 80 it's a good omen for the Steelers.
|Green Bay passing offense: #5||Pittsburgh passing defense: #5 per att: #1|
|Green Bay interceptions thrown ranking: #9||Pittsburgh interceptions picked ranking: #7|
|Green Bay quarterback protection rank: #15||Pittsburgh pass rush rank: #1|
Aaron Rodgers' arm is a big reason for the Packers' success this year. He completed 65.7% of his passes this season for 3,922 yards and 28 touchdowns. Matched evenly with the Steelers good pass defense, Rodgers should have nearly 250 yards through the air. On a per-attempt basis the Steelers are #1 in the nation in limiting yards per passing attempt, which could be the important statistic.
Rodgers has thrown 11 interceptions and the Steelers are 7th in the league in picks, so they shoud get around one in the game; as with Green Bay's secondary, more than that would be a boon obviously as Super Bowls often turn on turnovers. And just as Green Bay's pass rush will likely give Roethlisberger trouble, the Steelers should harass Rodgers. They had 48 regular-season sacks, tops in the league, and Green Bay's offensive line protection is only average. They should have 2-3 sacks in the game.
Wins vs. playoff teams (4)
L to losing teams (0)
- Atlanta 15-9
- @ Tennessee 19-11
- @ Tampa Bay 38-13
- Baltimore 14-17
- Cleveland 28-10
- @ Miami 23-22
- @ New Orleans 10-20
- @ Cincinnati 27-21
- New England 26-39
- Oakland 35-3
- @ Buffalo 19-16 OT
- @ Baltimore 13-10
- Cincinnati 23-7
- NY Jets 17-22
- Carolina 27-3
- @ Cleveland 41-9
- Baltimore 31-24
- NY Jets 24-19
The Steelers only beat four playoff teams, and that's including the playoff season and counting Baltimore twice. But of their four losses, all were to playoff teams, too, and they got revenge on two of the teams (Baltimore and New York). The defense was only to blame for one loss, to New England where they gave up 39 points. In the other three—in particular the losses to Baltimore and New Orleans where they scored 24 points combined, the offense was the problem.
That first loss (to Baltimore) was in the first four games where Roethlisberger was on suspension. In three of the four games Pittsburgh scored fewer than 20 points. In 10 of the 14 games since his return they've topped 20 points. They've won four straight and, more significantly, eight of their last nine games.
Green Bay's season
Wins vs. playoff teams (6)
L to losing teams (3)
- @ Philadelphia 27-20
- Buffalo 34-7
- @ Chicago 17-20
- Detroit 28-26
- @ Washington 13-16 OT
- Miami 20-23 OT
- Minnesota 28-24
- @ NY Jets 9-0
- Dallas 45-7
- @ Minnesota 31-3
- @ Atlanta 17-20
- San Francisco 34-16
- @ Detroit 3-7
- @ New England 27-31
- NY Giants 45-17
- Chicago 10-3
- @ Philadelphia 21-16
- @ Atlanta 48-21
- @ Chicago 21-14
Of the Packers' six losses, three were to playoff teams but surprisingly three were to losing teams. Two of those, however, were overtime games. In fact, no team beat the Packers by more than 4 points this year. Twice they lost by an overtime field goal, twice by a regulation field goal, and twice by four points.
The Packers' offense was all over the place, scoring just three in a loss to Detroit but drilling the Cowboys, Giants, and Falcons for 45, 45 and 48. The defense was more consistently solid, particularly after game 8 where they shut out the Jets. Before that they gave up an average of 18.6 points in regulation; from then on it was just 12.9 per game.
Maurkice Pouncey will not be starting the game for the Steelers and is unlikely to play. Pouncey started the entire season until an ankle injury knocked him out of the conference championship game against the Jets.
But Green Bay might be without linebacker Erik Walden, who has three sacks in the Packers last four games. Walden joined the team in mid-season right before the defense began to dramatically improve. He appears more likely to play than not, but probably won't be 100%.
It's been over a decade since the Packers have been to a Super Bowl so it's new to many of their players, while Pittsburgh won't have any mental distraction. But since the Steelers have won the Super Bowl two out of the last five years, Green Bay might be the hungrier team. For a game of this magnitude I don't normally try to pick an emotional advantage unless it's obvious.
This game looks like a defense-oriented struggle, as both teams are better defending than on offense. But then again, Auburn-Oregon looked every bit like a high-scoring shootout, and both the Super Bowl contestants have shown the ability to run up points. Indeed, their last meeting was just such a shootout, with Pittsburgh winning 37-36.
But that's not the likely result. Defense should keep a lid on the scoring, with solid pass defenses and pass rushes limiting the heroics of Roethlisberger and Rodgers. And neither ground game is that spectacular to start with. But there's where I see the Steelers' edge: they should be able to stifle to Packers' running game while having at least a decent amount of success on the ground themselves. Pittsburgh is the best in the league per-game and per-play at rushing defense, and this should help overcome some of their offensive shortcomings.
If things go according to plan, the Steelers won't have to score very much, and they should be able to prevent Green Bay from having one of their 40+ point romps. Control the running game and focus on corralling Rodgers' passing, and the Steelers should win their 7th Super Bowl. I'm going with the minor upset in a close game.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 21, Green Bay 20