When the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Green Bay Packers this Sunday in their quest for a seventh Lombardi Trophy, it really will be a game to be had by either side.
The last couple Super Bowls have proven that the parity in the NFL is greater than we all thought.
Gone are the days when the AFC seemed to have a vise grip on the NFL's championship. In 2008 the New York Giants proved that even the undefeated New England Patriots were a flawed team.
The years that followed saw the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints—perennial doormats of the NFC—representing their conference in the title game and providing us with some of the greatest story lines and games of the last decade.
Sunday's matchup will see two of the NFL's most storied franchises and devout fanbases pitted against each other. The legendary Rooney family of Pittsburgh versus the NFL's only publicly-held franchise and the ghost of Packers past—Curly Lambeau, Ray Nitschke and the great Vince Lombardi.
Along the way both franchises have won nine combined championships, with Pittsburgh maintaining the recent edge by winning two in the last five years.The Packers' last championship game appearance was in 1997 in a loss to the John Elway-led Denver Broncos.
In the Packers the Steelers will find a formidable opponent, and any chance at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy a seventh time will depend on their ability to do the following.
The argument that an effective running game is the key to winning in the postseason cannot be overstated. The Green Bay Packers have allowed 114.9 average rushing yards this season. It's important that the Pittsburgh Steelers rushing attack come close to that number in this game.
A productive rushing attack in this case will do two things:
a. Keep the blitz-happy Green Bay defense at bay.
b. Limit the margin of error for a weak offensive line that will be missing key components and has struggled to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright all year.
This season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 14-0 in games where they've either led their opponents or been tied at halftime. In their case, the only thing better than a great defense is a great defense with a lead.
The Green Bay Packers have made a living in the Aaron Rodgers era in the opponent's defensive backfield with accurate deep throws. It'll take a joint effort by Steelers pass rushers and members of the defensive backfield.
Expect to see plenty of No. 43 for Pittsburgh popping up on your screen as Troy Polamalu attempts to separate Rodgers' targets from the ball and make spectacular interceptions. Limit the deep throw, and you severely limit the Packers' offensive attack.
Fellow blogger and Steeler fan Susan Shan, in a recent article, described Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin as the anti-Marty Schottenheimer—a dig at the legendary coach in Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington and San Diego known for leading teams to the playoffs and crumbling under the pressure of the moment.
Tomlin has proven that his approach is equal parts, practicality, discipline and chutzpah, or sheer guts for the non-Yiddish speaking amongst us—always playing to win.
He and his team will need every bit of that controlled chaos and bold approach to leadership in a game that could propel him to new heights as a professional by winning two Super Bowls in his first four years as a head coach in the NFL and his team to its seventh Lombardi Trophy.
His two Super Bowl rings aside, Ben Roethlisberger can easily be overlooked in a discussion about elite quarterbacks in the NFL. He has a 63.1 percent career completion percentage and 92.5 passer rating.
The real value in his style of play comes from the things that don't show up on a stat sheet. It's the tacklers he sheds on his way to a crucial first down, accurate throws on fourth down and game-winning touchdown drives.
There's absolutely no doubt that Roethlisberger is made for the moment, and his performance in big games speaks for itself. When the Steelers need a crucial play on offense this Sunday, it's no secret that the person they turn to will be No. 7.