The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers will battle this Sunday in Super Bowl XLV, and the die-hard fantasy football owners who need as much action as the average degenerate gambler are hoping their guys are the ones scoring the touchdowns and racking up the yards.
If your love for fantasy football does not wane during the postseason, then you have probably been playing in a fantasy playoff league over the last month. For those of us who cannot survive on fantasy basketball and hockey alone, living and dying with every James Starks run, Ben Roethlisberger pass, and James Jones catch/drop during the playoffs has gotten us through.
So which Steelers will post huge numbers during the Super Bowl, and which will come up small and cost fantasy owners their playoff league titles? Here is a preview and my predictions on who will do what on Super Sunday.
Remember when the clamor during the offseason was that Pittsburgh’s ownership wanted the Steelers to run the ball more and cut down on the aerial acrobatics? Well, luckily once “Big Ben” returned from his four-game suspension at the start of the season, sanity prevailed and Roethlisberger was still allowed to chuck the ball to his fleet-footed fleet of receivers 30-plus times per game.
Roethlisberger has a history with the Packers. He sliced them up for 503 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-36 barnburner in 2009 that is as memorable to fantasy owners as the Senior Prom is to former high schoolers.
But Green Bay’s pass defense has improved immensely since that game, with young corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields teaming with 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson to form the best cornerback trio in the NFL.
Prediction– I think the game will have a high-scoring fourth quarter late like Pittsburgh’s last Super Bowl against the Arizona Cardinals, although it will not be as crazy as last year’s Packers-Steelers regular season shootout.
Roethlisberger will complete some important passes on crucial third-downs and scramble out of Clay Matthews’ clutches a couple times, but he will not be dominant. Look for 237 passing yards, 30 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, and one interception.
Mendenhall was a beast in the AFC Championship game with 121 rushing yards and a touchdown, although the New York Jets played as if they had just graduated from the Deion Sanders School of Lousy Tackling.
Mendenhall gets no help from his offensive line. Pittsburgh’s line is mediocre when healthy, and without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey on the field, there will be as much persistent penetration as there would be in a porn movie.
Green Bay’s run defense does not remind many of the 1985 Chicago Bears, though. The Packers allowed 4.7 yards per carry this season, which was tied for second-worst in the NFL. If Pittsburgh can stay with the run and ground and pound regularly, Mendenhall should be able to gain his yards.
Prediction– Mendenhall will not take over like he did in the AFC title tilt, but he will give fantasy owners something to smile about. Look for 93 rushing yards, 35 receiving yards, and a touchdown.
The fastest man in the AFC is going to try and fly by the Packers secondary en route to some big plays. One problem—Green Bay’s secondary has been shutting down top receivers throughout the postseason.
Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Chicago’s Johnny Knox, and Atlanta’s Roddy White all failed to break the 80-yard barrier in playoff games against the Pack. White was the only one to catch a TD pass, but that came in the fourth quarter when the score was 42-14.
Wallace has not endeared himself to fantasy owners during the playoffs, either. After piling up 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns during the season, he had a quiet three-catch, 20-yard game against Baltimore, then was virtually silenced by Darrelle Revis in the AFC Championship (one catch for six yards). Wallace’s playoff inexperience and problems against tougher competition and coverages seem to be catching up to him.
Prediction– Wallace makes one catch over 30 yards, but his other grabs are of the 10-to-15-yard variety on quick screens and slants. Look for five receptions for 72 yards, plus one reverse for seven yards.
Ward has mentioned that he will retire if the Steelers win the Super Bowl. I am sure Baltimore’s Ed Reed and countless other defenders will be happier than Joan Rivers on a red carpet if Ward does indeed call it a career.
Ward’s production went way down in 2010—a 412-yard drop in receiving yards from 2009—and with young greyhounds Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders waiting in the wings, Ward has picked a good time to get out. But when the game is on the line and Roethlisberger needs to make a play, Ward is still his first choice to throw to.
Prediction– Ward’s worth is higher in real football than fantasy football, unless you are in a playoff league where third-down catches, blindside blocks, and devilish smiles are categories. Look for five receptions for 49 yards.
Miller caught a career-low two touchdown passes this season and missed time due to a concussion. He has been more of a factor in the passing game over Pitt’s last four contests, though, with 16 receptions for 205 yards and two TDs.
Green Bay has been masterful at covering tight ends during the postseason. Philadelphia’s Brent Celek only had two receptions for 25 yards, Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez could only muster one catch for seven yards, and Chicago’s Greg Olsen had three grabs for 30 yards. Miller is in the same tier of tight ends fantasy-wise with that group.
Prediction– Miller finds no room to roam over the middle of Green Bay’s clogged drain of a defense. Two receptions for 25 yards.
Coming off a surprising regular season that saw him successfully make 14 of 15 field goals after taking Pittsburgh’s kicking job from Jeff Reed, Suisham looked like he had become another Billy Cundiff, a formerly erratic kicker who had now found his stroke later in his career.
Suisham did miss a field goal against Baltimore in the divisional round, but he connected successfully on his remaining field goal and extra point attempts during the playoffs, so while many may hold their breaths when watching him kick, he has not shown any shakiness this season.
Kicking in Pittsburgh is about as easy as being a funnier awards show host than Ricky Gervais, so Suisham’s numbers are even more impressive when you take into account the frigid field conditions he kicked in most of the time. He will have optimal conditions in Dallas on Super Bowl Sunday, plus he kicked for the Dallas Cowboys briefly in 2009, so he knows the stadium.
Prediction– Suisham misses one 56-yarder before halftime and nearly botches an extra point, but everything else goes smoothly through the uprights for him as he scores eight points on two field goals and two extra points.