Let me preface this by saying, I'm sorry Packers fans. I know many – nay, all – of you won't be happy with this.
I'll also say, I'm very conflicted. I originally mentioned on Packers Transplants and a couple radio interviews that my initial instinct was that the Packers would win.
And I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the Packers won today. I expect a close game between two good teams, but I'm giving the Steelers the edge.
Don't get me wrong. The Packers fan in me is going to be cheering as loudly and vociferously as anyone. My heart wants the Packers to win, but my brain says the Steelers will.
I give the Packers the edge in a few areas.
The Green Bay wide receivers against the Pittsburgh cornerbacks is a mismatch of epic proportions. I entirely expect the Packers to spread out the Steelers defense as much as possible and get them into their nickel personnel.
For one, the Steelers run defense won't be as stout in their nickel personnel as their base.
But I also see the Packers trying to take advantage of Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor and William Gay. There should be plenty of short stuff – slants, and run-pass option passes – that will frustrate them to no end. And then just when they try to take away the short stuff, either Greg Jennings or James Jones is going to beat someone deep down the sideline.
The Steelers front seven is as impressive as they come. Make that the front nine when you add in safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. I love their defense just about everywhere except the corners.
Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga have done a solid job throughout the playoff run, but I think the best pass rushers they've seen all season will be today. Clifton and Bulaga might be able to hold their own on 95% of the plays, but it's going to be the 5% that hurts them. Harrison and Woodley should be good for two sacks combined today, at minimum.
On the other side of the football, I like the four or five Packers who will line up along the line of scrimmage against the Pittsburgh offensive line, especially without Maurkice Pouncey.
But even without a great offensive line, they manage to be effective running the ball. And I believe Rashard Mendenhall is an underrated running back. The Steelers should see at least some success running the ball against a Green Bay defense that's been just average against the run this year.
Ben Roethlisberger is a difference maker, though. I don't like him as a person, but I have utmost respect for him on the football field.
He's big, can extend plays, and best of all, he has a quick release. His targets may not be Pro Bowl guys, but they're very reliable. Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Heath Miller are guys that can make a defense pay.
I realize the Green Bay secondary has improved a ton since the last time they faced the Steelers in 2009, but I just think Roethlisberger will protect the football. And like it or not, he's a winner with two Super Bowls to his name already.
If the Packers do win, it will be because of the secondary. And it will take an interception or two from Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields or Nick Collins to do so. So they're the key to the game, in my eyes.
If I'm forced to pick a winner today, I give a slight, slight edge to the Steelers. Unlike their high-scoring affair a season ago, I expect it to be a low-scoring game. Not 9-7 low, but rather somewhere in the range of 21–17.
If it's any consolation, I believe the Packers are built for sustained success and have the chance to win a Super Bowl, maybe even a couple, down the road. I'm already convinced the Packers are the favorites to win the NFC again next season.
But I guess I'm resigned to be the guy you'll love to hate today. If the Packers win, feel free to hold this against me forever.
I hope I'm wrong.
Go Pack Go.
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