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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Super Bowl XLV to Feature Super Match Up

Green Bay and Pittsburgh vie for Lombardi Trophy

By Dan Karpiel
Sports Writer

The NFL is smiling today. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, two of the most illustrious franchises in the NFL, will meet in Dallas on February 6 for Super Bowl XLV. The game will mark the eighth time Pittsburgh has vied for the title and it will be the fifth time for Green Bay.

Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin and LB LaMarr Woodley

The Steelers hold the league record for most Super Bowl wins with six, and their eight appearances in the game are tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the most in NFL history. Pittsburgh’s last appearance came after the 2008 season when they topped the Arizona Cardinals in a thrilling 27-23 game. Next Sunday will be the third time in the last six seasons that the Steelers will contend in the Super Bowl.

Broncos’ fans have fond memories of the last time Green Bay appeared in the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXXII, which followed the 1997 season, the Brett Favre-led Packers fell 31-24 to John Elway’s Denver Broncos. The Packers most recent Super Bowl victory came the season before that when they stomped New England 35-21.

The Packers and Steelers have a lot in common. Both are renowned franchises with long, storied histories. Both hail from two of the NFL’s smallest home markets yet are two of the most popular teams in the league with legions of fans in all corners of the world. In the Super Bowl era, which began in 1968, neither team has made any significant alterations to their uniform, logo or team colors.

Pittsburgh and Green Bay are both widely regarded as two of the best-run franchises in the NFL. Neither is very active in veteran free agency, opting instead to build through the draft. Thanks to their stellar drafting, both teams have tremendous depth. Green Bay has put 15 players on Injured Reserve this season including starters such as RB Ryan Grant, TE Jermichael Finley and LBs Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar.

Both teams are led by a Head Coach named Mike; Tomlin for Pittsburgh and McCarthy for Green Bay. Following the 2008 season Tomlin became only the second African American Head Coach to win a Super Bowl (Tony Dungy in 2006 was the first). Super Bowl XLV will be the first time McCarthy has coached in a Super Bowl. Both men will be coaching in their seventh playoff game; McCarthy has a 4-2 career playoff record while Tomlin is 5-1.

Both teams feature stout 3-4 defenses led by world-class coordinators. Dom Capers’ defense in Green Bay finished the regular season having allowed an average of only 15 points per game. That was good enough for second in the NFL only to Dick LeBeau’s defense in Pittsburgh that surrendered an average of 14.5 points per game.

Combined, Pittsburgh and Green Bay have ten players who were elected to the NFL Pro Bowl this season, seven of whom play on defensive side of the ball. Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews and Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu are two of the leading contenders for the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

The similarities end there as each team took a markedly different route to the Super Bowl.

As the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs, the Packers had to play three consecutive road games. Green Bay traveled to Philadelphia in the Wild Card round where they beat the Eagles 21-16. The Packers followed that win with a 48-21 trouncing of the number one-seeded Falcons in Atlanta.

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy and QB Aaron Rodgers

In order to play for the Lombardi Trophy, named for legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi, Green Bay beat Chicago 21-14 in the NFC Championship and in so doing won the George S. Halas Trophy, named for the Bears legendary coach.

The Packers are the first NFC team to make it to the Super Bowl as the number six seed. With eight total touchdowns, 709 passing yards and a passer rating of 109.2, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers would win the Playoffs MVP award if such an award existed.

The Steelers were the second seed in the AFC and as such had a bye week during the Wild Card round.

In their two playoffs wins the Steelers failed to play a complete game. Rather they played one very strong half in each game. The Steelers were down 21-7 after the first half against Baltimore but turned it on in the second half and out-scored the Ravens 24-3. Likewise against the Jets, Pittsburgh took a 24-3 lead into the locker room at halftime but allowed New York to score 16 unanswered points in the second half.

Pittsburgh has the edge in experience as their roster and coaching staff is almost totally unchanged from the 2008 Super Bowl squad. In addition to this experience advantage, the Steelers are top-to-bottom the more talented and more balanced team. If they can play a full 60 minutes they should be able to win their seventh Lombardi Trophy.

Super Bowl XLV will be a game for the ages. The Steelers will win 31-27.

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