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Beating Punxsutawney Phil At His Game

If a groundhog can predict the weather, I can make a Super Bowl pick.

Does anyone know how accurate that overgrown rodent is, anyway? I don’t care how it does when it predicts six more weeks of winter; that’s like anticipating darkness toward evening. I want to know its track record on early springs. I await a full accounting from Marmota monax Central.

As for my own accuracy, before I reveal my SB XLV prediction, you have the right to ponder the results of my previous forecasts. At the start of the NFL season, I made 10 predictions about the future, which is one of the hardest things to predict. Let’s see how I did.

1.  Brett Favre’s consecutive starts streak will not survive the season. True. But this was a little like betting on winter in February.

2.  Pete Carroll will lose as many games this season as he did in has last six seasons at USC. Technically correct, though I never imagined the loss that pulled him even would come in the playoffs. No team should ever lose its 10th game of the season in the playoffs. 

3.  The Detroit Lions will be the surprise team of the year. Next year. I knew they’d be much better, but I thought their schedule would keep them from being a breakthrough team. They went from 2-14 to 6-10, and improved their point-differential from minus-232 to minus-7. Call this one pending but looking pretty good.

4.  Aaron Rodgers will be the NFL MVP. Not going to happen this year, but not for lack of production.

5.  The Jets will win two games while scoring fewer than 10 points. They scored fewer than 10 points four times, and lost all four. The opponents’ point totals in those four games: 10, 9, 45, 10. Close but wrong. (The Jets averaged 29 points in their other 12 games. Weird team.)

6.  Jay Cutler’s time in Chicago will end badly. Truer after the NFC championship game than before, but it’s not happening this season. 

7.  Ben Roethlisberger will be cheered on his return in Week 6. True, though I didn’t think Pittsburgh would be 3-1 when it happened, and Steeler Nation has been admirably ambivalent in its embrace of him.

8.  Mike Singletary will win Coach of the Year. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only person on this particular Titanic.

9.  Buffalo fans will send a thank-you note to the people of Toronto. I thought this game would match two rotten, boring teams, and Buffalonians would welcome the one-game savings on their tickets. The Bills’ 22-19 loss dropped them to 0-8, but they proved surprisingly entertaining. The win began a 7-1 stretch for the Bears. You be the judge.     

10.  Green Bay will defeat Baltimore in Super Bowl XLV. Half-right. Maybe.

With all that as background, I turn my supposed analytical skills to the Steelers-Packers matchup.   

On first glance, it seems a very poor pairing for the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s single greatest strength is its ability to stop the run; that’s a power that’s wasted on the Packers, because they don’t run very well against anybody. The Green Bay offense has enough excellent receivers to spread the field on Pittsburgh, and if the Steelers try to send their usual trick blitzes at Aaron Rodgers, he’ll kill them with a variety of quick slants. 

The massive Packers defensive line should cause serious problems for a Steeler offensive front held together at this point by chewing gum and masking tape.  Whether or not Maurkice Pouncey starts at center, Green Bay’s deep phalanx of 300-pounders will make life tough for the Pittsburgh running game. Unless Rashard Mendenhall can perform the same Houdini act he pulled off against the Jets, taking hits in the backfield but busting through for consistent yardage, the Steelers will face a lot of second- and third-and-longs, where the Pack’s depth in the secondary will be key. Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk will not allow Roethlisberger to roam as freely as the Jets’ defense scheme did, buying time to make crucial conversions with his legs or arm.

Pittsburgh was just 2-4 against playoff teams in the regular season, 3-4 against teams with winning records. Of the Packers’ six losses, two were by four points and four were by three (two of those in overtime). The Steelers have played one good half in the playoffs; the Packers have played four. Against Philadelphia, a team with a pass defense statistically similar to Pittsburgh’s, Aaron Rodgers had a 122.5 passer rating in that playoff game. Against New York, a team whose pass defense is statistically similar to Green Bay’s, Ben Roethlisberger’s rating was 35.5. 

On paper, this is one of the closest Super Bowl matchups we’ve ever seen. Under the closed roof of Cowboys Stadium, Green Bay will be too fast and strong on both sides of the ball. In September, contemplating Green Bay’s chances against a different AFC North co-champ, I wrote, “Defense wins championships, especially when it’s accompanied by a kick-ass offense.” I’m pretty sure I got that part right. Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 20. 

Jeff Neuman's columns for RealClearSports appear on Monday and Thursday. Follow him on Twitter @NeumanJeff. His collected golf writing and blogging can be found at www.neumanprose.com.

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