Pittsburgh (+2.5) vs. Green Bay
Let’s start with what I don’t think. For instance, I don’t think this game comes down to whether Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback than Ben Douchelisbagger. I’m pretty sure he is (though not as sure as I am that he’s a better person — because, you know, just about everyone, even icky Mark Sanchez, is at least marginally a better person than Douchelisbagger).
Neither do I believe this game comes down to which offense can establish the run and which defense can stop it. The Steelers were slightly better at both during the regular season, but the Packers have excelled at both through the playoffs.
And I don’t think an effective pass rush is the key to this game, either, mostly because I’m not sure what an effective pass rush means here. It certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense to do a ton of blitzing. Douchelisbagger is too hard to bring down; send extra guys after him with any kind of frequency and you risk creating holes in your coverage and leaving yourself exposed to those ridiculous completions he has a habit of throwing with defenders draped all over him. And Rodgers is a quarterback in the style of Tom Brady, who shredded the Steelers D in Pittsburgh back in week 10; blitz him and he just coolly steps up and finds the open man.
So you’re gonna use only your down linemen and outside linebackers to get after the QB on most pass plays. And, OK, sure, with the pass rushers the Steelers have, and with Maurkice Pouncey’s absence likely creating opportunities for B.J. Raji to get into the Pittsburgh backfield and make a mess of things, it seems likely that a standard pass rush is probably gonna be enough to hurry both quarterbacks more often than they’d like. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to sacks or turnovers; it simply creates the possibility for errors in judgment.
The question, to my mind, is this: Which team is likely to be in a better position to capitalize on whatever mental errors the quarterbacks might make? And that’s where I believe the difference in this game will come from. Because while both teams have formidable secondaries, I think the Packers have the edge there.
Statistically speaking, Green Bay’s pass D has been somewhat better than Pittsburgh’s. On the field, the Packers are simply a faster team than the Steelers — at virtually every position, including wide receiver and defensive back. And, most important, while the key player in Green Bay’s secondary, the incredibly underappreciated Charles Woodson, is healthy and very, very hungry, Pittsburgh’s best DB, Troy Polamalu, has an Achilles tendon injury and is, at best, operating at 75-80 percent. Polamalu’s still a dangerous player, of course. But Woodson is more dangerous in this game.
I think the Steelers need Douchelisbagger to play flawlessly more than the Packers need a flawless effort from Rodgers. And since I think Rodgers is the QB more likely to play flawlessly, I figure that leaves Pittsburgh in a bad position. I anticipate a hard-fought and close game. But I think the Packers come out ahead. (And I really rather hope a pick-six by Woodson makes the difference.) Green Bay by four.