Well, the Super Bowl is finally here, and it should be one of the more exciting games in championship history.
Both teams feature strong defenses and great quarterbacks, but I give Green Bay the edge because I think the Steelers' offensive line is vulnerable, especially with Maurkice Pouncey out with an injury, and because I believe the Packers secondary is better than Pittsburgh's.
Much has been made of the Aaron Rodgers-Ben Roethlisberger shootout a year ago, when Big Ben passed for a career-high 503 yards and hit Mike Wallace for the game-winning score with no time left in a 37-36 victory. Rodgers threw for 383 yards and three scores in that game.
But, Green Bay's secondary was decimated by injuries a year ago, and was nowhere as good as it is now. And the Steelers could not run the ball at all in 2009, and were not playing their physical brand of football.
It's hard to pick against Pittsburgh, because of the Steelers' winning tradition, their big-game experience, and Roethlisberger, who is as dangerous as it gets in the last two minutes of a game.
But, overall I think Green Bay is the stronger team. Neither team will be able to run the ball on the other's defense, so it will come down to the passing game, and I see Rodgers dissecting the Steelers in the dome much the same way Tom Brady did in Heinz Field earlier this year. The Packers will spread out the Steelers secondary, and Rodgers will get the ball off quickly enough to nullify the rush. Unless Dick LeBeau can come up with a scheme to either cover the receivers longer or get to Rodgers faster, I see Green Bay returning the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Titletown.
Packers 30, Steelers 24.
When I was writing regularly for the newspaper, each year before the Super Bowl I would conduct a Madden simulation on my PlayStation to see which team the game system predicted would win, then I would turn it into a story. I can recall Madden accurately predicting the Ravens' defensive domination of the Giants 10 years ago, as well as the Steelers' victory over the Seahawks and the Colts' triumph over the Bears more recently.
One pick Madden botched was the Super Bowl in Tampa two years ago, where it predicted the Cardinals would topple the Steelers -- and they almost did.
This year, I ran the simulation on my PS3, and Madden predicted a 34-27 Packers victory.
Green Bay actually got off to a slow start, as Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a field goal on the opening possession, and Jordy Nelson fumbled the ensuing kickoff. The Steelers' Anthony Madison, a fifth-year defensive back from Alabama, recovered the ball and ran it back 19 yards to make it 10-0.
The Packers didn't get their first score until midway through the first period, when Clay Matthews intercepted a sideline pass for Antwan Randle El, leading to a Rodgers 10-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings.
But James Jones fumbled a Rodgers pass on the next possession, and Troy Polamalu recovered and ran the ball back into Green Bay territory. On third-and-goal from the 6, Roethlisberger hit a wide-open Wallace for the TD, and it was 17-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The Packers got a pair of Mason Crosby field goals to cut the lead to 17-13 at halftime, but Roethlisberger and Wallace appeared to clinch the game when they hooked up for a 47-yard score to make it 24-13 early in the third.
Shaun Suisham tacked on a 51-yard field goal, and Green Bay was in a 27-13 hole.
But Rodgers brought the Pack back, capping the ensuing drive with a 3-yard TD pass to Donald Driver.
Then, on 3rd-and-goal from the 9 midway through the fourth, he hit second-year receiver Brett Swain in the back corner of the end zone for the tying TD. It was Swain's only catch of the game.
Still, the Steelers had more than five minutes to play, and Big Ben on the field. Pittsburgh gained one first down, then the turnover bug that had bitten them all game struck again, as Rashard Mendenhall fumbled, and Tramon Williams recovered on the Steelers' 37.
Rodgers moved the team down the field, then hit Jennings on a wide receiver screen for the go-ahead score from 13 yards out.
Roethlisberger failed to complete a fourth-and-14 pass, and with the Steelers having used all three timeouts, Crosby tried a 54-yard field goal that would have clinched the game.
But, he missed it, and the Steelers took over at their own 44 with just 1:05 remaining.
Roethlisberger's first pass deep down the right sideline was incomplete, and he was hit as he threw on the next down. Charles Woodson settled matters with a leaping interception at his own 22 -- Roethlisberger's third pick and Pittsburgh's fifth turnover of the game -- and Rodgers & company ran out the clock.
Rodgers was again spectacular, completing 24-of-37 passes for 248 yards, four TDs and no interceptions, and was named the MVP. Green Bay scored on five of six red zone opportunities, while Pittsburgh had just one trip inside the Green Bay 20.
Wallace caught six passes for 107 yards and two TDs, but Mendenhall was held to 44 yards on 18 carries (the Steelers ran for only 56 yards), and Pittsburgh managed just one sack of Rodgers.
James Starks surprisingly gained 97 yards on 23 carries, and Matthews had two of Roethlisberger's three interceptions thrown.
Jennings led a balanced effort with seven catches for 69 yards and two scores.