Early betting odds have been released for Super Bowl XLV in Dallas and the Vegas odds-makers have the Green Bay Packers as a 2.5 point favorite over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before Steelers fans get up in arms, this spread isn't necessarily bad news.
The team taking points into the game is 7-2 against the spread in the last nine Super Bowl match ups, including last year, when the New Orleans Saints (+4.5) upset the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17. On a side note, for those of us who bet for entertainment purposes only, the over/under opened at 45.5.
My money (surprise!) is on the Steelers, not only taking the points but winning out right. Let's go through fiver reasons why I think this is where the smart money is going to be.
The pressure that I am talking about that is going to be on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers takes two different forms. The first is defensive pressure and the threat of injury.
Rodgers has some concussion history, and I actually thought that the Bears had managed to knock him out on the hit in the picture from Julius Peppers. The more concussions that you've had, the more prone you become to them, so one well-placed shot to Rodgers could end his day.
The second aspect of pressure that should have Packer fans concerned is that, in the biggest game of his NFL career to this point, he didn't play particularly well yesterday against Chicago. He had a great regular season, no question.
Against the Bears yesterday, he was 17-for-30, with two interceptions, and a final quarterback rating of 55.4.
That may not get it done on Super Bowl Sunday.
I realize that this is the playoffs, the second season, but if you look at the Packers' total body of work this season, they have come out and laid some eggs.
They lost overtime games to both Washington and Miami early in the season. Is that an indication that they can't get it done in crunch time?
Just a month ago they lost to the Detroit Lions, 7-3, who aren't exactly an NFL power. By the way, this was a Lions squad led by QB Drew Stanton, not Mathew Stafford.
Can Pittsburgh find things from those tapes to give them clues as to how to get to Green Bay, or do those things even matter now?
We'll see in two weeks.
The coaching staffs between these two teams is like night and day in terms of experience. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been in the NFL longer than anyone on the Green Bay sideline has been alive.
There is nothing that the Packers will do that LeBeau hasn't seen before.
Mike Tomlin has already proven in his young career that he can win in the big games and does not get phased by pressure late in the game. With a Lombardi Trophy already on his resume, he will have the Steelers ready to play.
On the Packers' sideline, Head Coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin are going into the land of the unknown. They already showed yesterday against the Chicago Bears that they can struggle in the big game.
These are two good defenses.
The Packers finished the regular season ranked fifth in passing (257.8 YPG), but they were also fifth in total defense (309.1 YPG) and against the pass (194.2 YPG) and second in scoring defense (15.0 PPG).
On the other side, Pittsburgh was the regular-season leader in scoring defense (14.5 PPG), second in total defense (276.8 YPG) and first against the run (62.8 YPG). Take a look at that last one again—62.8 YPG to opposing running backs.
Nobody can run on Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have shown that they can play bend, but not break, defense against the passing game.
I would also argue that Pittsburgh accumulated these statistics in a much better conference against much better competition than did Green Bay.
I think most agree that Packers linebacker Clay Mathews is their best defender. Neutralize him, and many opportunities should present themselves.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk is solid, and Charles Woodson can be a threat, albeit an inconsistent one, but the Packers defense has nothing near the depth as does Pittsburgh in terms of playmakers.
Aaron Rodgers will not have seen anything like the defense he will be facing in Dallas. Ask Joe Flacco.
Some readers may be tired of hearing about Big Ben. He doesn't have the stats, is most often not mentioned in the list of top five quarterbacks in the NFL, and will probably never win an NFL MVP award.
However, all the guy does is win.
He has played most of the season on what is probably a broken ankle in a crazy steel boot and got his face rearranged several weeks ago.
He probably could have packed it in like the Bears' Jay Cutler did during the NFC Championship Game, but he hasn't missed a down. He never gets the "Tom Brady" or "Peyton Manning" calls, but it doesn't matter because he's as tough as they come.
If this game is close going into the fourth quarter, bank on Roethlisberger making the plays needed to close it out and bring Super Bowl trophy number seven to Pittsburgh.