The Green Bay Packers will win the Super Bowl.
Call it a hunch if you like.
The Packers, last winners of the Lombardi Trophy 14 years ago, are due. Posterity is of no concern to professional football’s most nostalgic franchise, but an additional chapter in Green Bay lore wouldn’t hurt.
Exorcise the ghosts of Super Bowls I, II and XXI. Please stand up, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Wolf, Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren, Jerry Kramer, Reggie White, Jim Taylor, Herb Adderley, Desmond Howard and Ray Nitschke.
And yes, even you, Brett Favre.
Congratulations, Earl “Curly” Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun: Your pride-and-joy is champion once again and owner of a 13th league championship.
The tapestry is rich in Green Bay, and another thread to the count makes for a nice story.
Statistically, the numbers don’t suggest it will happen. Neither does recent history.
During the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers rank higher than the Packers in total defense, rush defense, passing defense and rushing offense.
Though not as impressive this time around, with a third NFL title in six seasons on the line, the Steelers are a win away from etching in the record books another period of sustained dominance worthy of dynasty chatter.
Pittsburgh has the more seasoned quarterback, the better running back, a former Super Bowl MVP on both sides of the ball and a relentless defense led by a wily 73-year-old coordinator who, were he not decked from head to toe in black and yellow, would be mistaken as just another senior citizen.
Aside from Green Bay’s NFL-best 28-16 postseason record since the playoff system was introduced in 1967, I have no overwhelming evidence to support my theory.
Other than to tell you that the Packers are the better team at the moment. Simple as that.
The Packers’ run through January has so far contained all the right ingredients.
They’re getting spectacular quarterback play. Turnovers have been minimal. A defense that allowed the second-fewest points during the regular season (behind only Pittsburgh) hasn’t let up. Players previously relegated to lesser roles are accepting and acing challenges placed before them. More established performers are using a Super Bowl run to put a cap on career seasons.
This postseason, Green Bay won three consecutive road games by an average of 13 points. The Steelers have won two home games by a combined 12 points.
That margin is skewed by the Packers’ sizeable win over Atlanta, but the manner in which the team is winning this postseason is not.
Aaron Rodgers, he who recorded the most prolific postseason passing performance in franchise history against the Falcons, is playing the best football of his career. In three games, he has thrown for 790 yards and six touchdowns versus only two interceptions.
Rodgers has completed 71 percent of his passes. He’s making sound decisions and has rushed for two touchdowns.
On those rare occasions Rodgers has faltered, like during the second half of the NFC Championship, the defense has stepped up. The offense out of rhythm and the Bears mounting a charge, it was defensive tackle B.J. Raji’s pick-six that essentially earned Green Bay the conference crown.
The Packers, who finished the regular season second in sacks with 47 (again, behind only Pittsburgh), have added 10 more in the playoffs, a barrage led by defensive end Clay Matthews.
Raji and Matthews are two of the defense’s lynchpins, but where would this unit be without the contributions of corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, an undrafted rookie from Miami (Fla.)?
Williams, who tallied a career-high six picks during the regular season, sealed the first-round win in Philadelphia. His second interception of the postseason a week later, for all intents and purposes, ended the game in Atlanta before half time. And Shields, nearly a training camp casualty, clinched the victory at Soldier Field.
And what of James Starks? The sixth-round pick from Buffalo was no less obscure than Shields, but a breakout performance against the Eagles, and subsequent solid outings against the Falcons and Bears, have earned him the title of featured back as Green Bay heads to Arlington.
The Packers are enjoying the fruits of a team effort. But fortune has smiled down once or twice.
Green Bay has fumbled the ball seven times this postseason, but only three were lost—hence the Packers all a plus-3 in the all-important turnover margin.
No championship team won without a little luck. But no championship team has won without playing its best football at the most critical times, either.
The Steelers are doing that. They may even be the better team, but not on Sunday.
That will be the Packers.
Just a feeling I get.