Super Bowl XLV will feature a match-up between two of the most storied franchises in the National Football League: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. Both teams have long histories with the Super Bowl. The name of the trophy awarded to the winner-the Lombardi Trophy-is so named for former Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi, who piloted the Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls (six) than any team in NFL history, winning most recently in Tampa in 2009.
The teams meet on February 6th at the new Arlington stadium that's as big as Jerry Jones' ego. The mega-stadium will house more fans for an NFL game than ever before (around 105,000 fans are expected to attend and over 100 million are projected to watch from their living rooms). There's plenty to discuss about the big day, but for now, we're going to focus on the football. Coach Lombardi wouldn't want it any other way.
The 45th Super Bowl might boil down to the most important position on the field: quarterback. No single position has more of an effect on a team's chances, and with Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger leading these squads, there's no Trent Dilfer or Kerry Collins caveat for either team. Both QB's have excellent control of their team's offense, are known for making big plays when the pressure is on, and have the complete trust of their coaches. But how they handle the opposing defenses will most likely determine the winner.
The Packers will be starting surprise 3rd-string RB James Starks, a rookie who is a former 6th-round draft pick out of Buffalo. Starks burst onto the scene in the Packer's first playoff game in Philadelphia by rushing for 123 yards and he's provided the Pack with the running threat they desperately needed to buttress Rodger's brilliance. One of the biggest storylines of the game will be seeing how the skinny Starks deals with facing the fearsome Pittsburgh defense.
Unlike the unknown Starks, Rashard Mendenhall has been at the top of the Pittsburgh depth-chart all season. But, despite amassing over 1,200 yards on the ground this season and scoring 13 TD's, he only broke the 100-yard plateau three times, and only averaged more than five yards per rushing attempt twice. But Mendenhall is playing well at the moment: he was the deciding factor in the AFC championship game against the Jet's when he gained over 150 yards rushing and receiving to gone with one touchdown. History suggests that sort of output is unlikely in Arlington.
On the other side of the ball, Green Bay's stellar LB corps is finally healthy. Led by their dominating left side with Clay Matthews speed rushing around the left tackle, and A.J Hawk on the interior trying to limit Rashard Mendenhall's push past the front four, Pittsburgh might want to avoid the left side of the field altogether. In Green Bay's secondary we have 34 year-old CB Charles Woodson matched up against either fellow 34 year-old veteran, Hines Ward, or Roethlisberger's new favorite target: second year player Mike Wallace. Woodson only had two interceptions this year after picking off a career high nine passes last season, but with 13 seasons under his belt, he's a dangerous presence regardless of whom he's lined up against.
Pittsburgh's defense is anchored by all-world safety Troy Polamalu. The flowing tresses of Polamalu will be easy to spot from your television set as long as he slows down for a minute or two when he's not too busy contending with Rodger's prime targets: Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. To get an idea of just how dangerous Polamalu is, know he was hobbled by an Achilles injury most of the season, but still managed to play in 14 games and pick off seven passes.
Pittsburgh's linebacker corps is no group of slouches either, led by walking nightmare for offensive coordinators everywhere James Harrison. He's still as nimble and scary as he was in 2008 when he claimed Defensive Player of the Year honors. This year, he recorded over 10 sacks for the third year in a row and 70 solo tackles (more than he had in 2008).
Aaron Rodgers might be the best QB playing right now, but he hasn't won anything. Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games this season, but led his team into the playoffs as Pittsburgh finished 12-4. Roethlisberger might not have had gaudy stats like Rodgers during the regular season (28 TD's vs. 17 in just three less games), but Ben's 10-2 lifetime record in the playoffs, and two Super Bowl rings say all that you need to know about the Pittsburgh QB's big game credentials.
It'll be Roethlisberger's savvy in high pressure situations vs. Rodgers' coming out party as an elite QB on the highest stage. Roethlisberger is trying to put a tumultuous 2010 offseason behind him and tie Tom Brady for most Super Bowl victories by an active quarterback. Rodgers is looking to firmly put his name among the list of the NFL's elite passers.
So who will win out? Look for Rodgers and his receiving corps to run all over the place on the domed turf, frustrating Polamlu, with that nagging Achilles, and the rest of the Pittsburgh defense, who struggled mightily this season when facing a high octane offense. Expect Roethlisberger to find a way to keep things close, but in the end Aaron Rodgers will hoist his first Lombardi trophy as Green Bay fans celebrate a year when they get their old coach's trophy back while their disgraced former QB sat at home and contemplated retirement for the umpteenth time.
Final Score: Green Bay 31-Pittsburgh 24