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Posts Tagged ‘pittsburgh steelers’

It all comes down to this…after two weeks of preparation for the teams and endless analysis from the NFL community, Super Bowl 45 is almost upon us.  And it should be a great matchup.  Both teams got off to great starts in their championship games and were able to hold off their opponents to advance to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Rings

Will the Packers or Steelers add to the collection?

I can see both teams winning this game.  Here are the key things to watch:

  • Early nerves – Watch how the Packers come out in the first quarter.  Do they look nervous?  Are they a little too pumped?  Or are they settling in quickly?  Having been here before the Steelers might be able to get a quick score.
  • Line of scrimmage battle – B.J. Raji has really taken off for the Packers.  He is an extremely disruptive force in the middle of their defensive line.  The Steelers are at a major disadvantage with Doug Legursky at center in place of the injured Maurkice Pouncey.  Pittsburgh is going to have to contain Raji and prevent him from blowing up their running plays and getting a quick jump on Ben Roethlisberger.
  • The outside edge – The Steelers should have an advantage in getting Rashard Mendenhall to the outside on runs.  Watch Green Bay’s defensive strategy to see if they run blitz outside the tackles to try to crumble the edge before Pittsburgh can establish it.
  • Four and five receiver sets – One of the more interesting story lines should be the offensive formations of the Packers.  Will they even try to run the ball?  Will they attempt to utilize the “Bone” formation at all?  Or will they just start from the get go with four and five receiver sets and try to spread the Steeler defense out?  Green Bay is likely to have a major advantage in multiple receiver sets as their wideouts have favorable matchups against the extended secondary of Pittsburgh.
  • The impact of Polamalu – Troy Polamalu has been kind of quiet in these playoffs.  As he’s still recovering from major bumps and bruises suffered throughout the season this last two weeks of rest should really help him.  Will the Steelers set him loose on blitzes?  Or will they need his help in coverage?

Who do I like: Packers 27-21

Why: Aaron Rodgers was spectacular in the Georgia Dome but struggled in the elements of Soldier Field.  He’ll be back inside for the Super Bowl and I expect him to be sharp.  The Packers should be able to do enough quick read stuff on offense to keep the nasty Steelers pass rushers off of Rodgers. 

I think Raji will play a big role for the Packers.  I think Pittsburgh will struggle to control him the whole game.  I do think the Steelers will have success running the ball and finding Heath Miller in the ball control passing game but I think their receivers will struggle to get open against the excellent Green Bay cornerbacks.  I think the Packers will call on their defense to make a big stop within the last two minutes and that the unit will be up to the task and seal the historical win for this great Green Bay franchise.

Photo source: jdtornow

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Last weekend was not exactly a bright one in my history of picking games.  I was 1-3 with my only successful pick being the Bears.  The most interesting thing to me about last weekend is that each of the four teams that lost the regular season matchup in the stadium where the playoff game was played won the playoff game.  And, as a teaser for my picks, I think that trend will continue this weekend.

I was going to do more extensive write ups on the two championship games, but to be honest, I’ve been much more interested in the work I’m doing over at my NBA blog.  I’m researching and posting my mid-season rankings by position.  I just posted my mid-season point guard rankings.

Back to the NFL – I do think these championship games could be excellent.  Let’s take a look.

NFC Championship
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Sunday, 3:00 pm

The Packers and Bears split their season series, with each team winning on their home turf.  They most recently met in Green Bay in week 17 in a must win for the Packers who held off the Bears 10-3.  It’s almost amazing to me that Green Bay and Chicago have met 181 times but only once in the playoffs.

Key for the Packers: They have to contain the Bears’ return game.  Devin Hester is explosive and their coverage teams have struggled – see the Eric Weems 102-yard kickoff touchdown return from last weekend.

Key for the Bears: They have to get a strong pass rush from their front four.

Who do I like: Packers 20-13

Why: Rodgers is playing better than any other individual player so far in these playoffs and the Packers defense has been vicious. I like what the Bears have done but I think it ends here.

AFC Championship
New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 6:30 pm

Both of these teams scored impressive wins over division rivals last week.  I was especially surprised by the Jets who I expected to get crushed by New England.  Their coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for their tremendously successful game plans.

Key for the Jets: They’ve had success switching to a coverage defensive approach in the last two weeks.  I think they need to go back to the attacking blitz scheme that got them into the Playoffs.  The Steelers offensive line is susceptible to the blitz and the Ravens had success with the blitz.  Baltimore’s switch to a conservative approach is a large part of what did them in.

Key for the Steelers: Stopping the run.  The Jets had over 100 yards rushing when they beat the Steelers in week 15.

Who do I like: Steelers 21-10

Why: It’s important to remember that neither Troy Polamalu nor Heath Miller played in the first matchup.  I think both of those guys make a difference in this game.  Also, the Jets are due for a let down after the huge emotional win over the Patriots.  Ultimately I like the ability of Ben Roethlisberger to make plays more than I like the ability of Mark Sanchez to make plays.

Who do you like in these games?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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This almost had to happen didn’t it?  The Ravens and Steelers battered and bruised their way to identical 12-4 records.  They split their two meetings, with each team winning on the road.  And before, during and after the season many folks had Baltimore and Pittsburgh identified as NFL championship contenders.  On Saturday, they’ll meet one more time to settle the AFC North score for the 2010 season.

Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco's poise under pressure will be a key to the Ravens beating the Steelers on Saturday.

Baltimore comes into the game after an impressive Wild Card win in Kansas City.  The Ravens dominated the time of possession, held the Chiefs to just 161 total yards and forced five turnovers.

Pittsburgh had a bye last week by virtue of winning the AFC North and clinching the two seed in the AFC.  The key to the Steelers success throughout the season was their stellar defense, which was second in the NFL in allowing only 276.8 yards per game. 

The Ravens win if: Joe Flacco makes quick reads and finds the open man.  Flacco showed great poise in the pocket against the Chiefs and had the patience to let the underneath routes develop.  Obviously pass protection will be key as well.

The Steelers win if: The offensive line wins their individual battles.  To stop the Ravens from teeing off on Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh will have to mix the run and pass with success.  The Steelers line will have to drive the Ravens front seven off the line of scrimmage while giving Roethlisberger the time to look for Mike Wallace.

Who do I like: Ravens 14-13

Why: I think you can throw the fact that the Steelers have won the last six matchups against the Ravens with Roethlisberger in the lineup out the window.  What I think this game will come down to is emotion and motivation.  I think the Ravens will rally around the grief that Ed Reed is experiencing right now and be absolutely determined to win this game for him.  I think the game will come down to a last minute defensive stop by the Ravens after they get Ray Rice involved early.

How do you see this brutal battle playing out?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: swiecicki

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Week 15 was critical for a number of teams in the NFL as many were jockeying to stay in the playoff hunt or secure their position.  There were some excellent individual offensive performances and spectacular special teams plays.

Here are the Average Guy NFL Week 15 Awards (with the Packers-Patriots game still being played):

Fireman Ed

Fireman Ed was in Pittsburgh and he was fired up!

Most Impressive Win

New York Jets – 22-17 at Pittsburgh Steelers

Most Important Win

Indianapolis Colts – 34-24 over the Jacksonville Jaguars

Worst Loss

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 20-23 to the Detroit Lions

Biggest Surprise

Baltimore Ravens

Biggest Disappointment

Miami Dolphins

Offensive MVP

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens – 31 carries 153 yards 1 TD 5 receptions 80 yards 1 TD

Defensive MVP

Wallace Gilberry, Kansas City Chiefs – 3 sacks

Special Teams MVP

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles – 65-yard punt return for TD

Most Surprising Performance

Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts – 14 carries 129 yards 1 TD 1 reception 4 yards

Most Disappointing Performance

Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks – 10 completions 17 attempts 71 yards 2 interceptions 28.9 QB rating Lost fumble

Offensive Rookie

Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns – 19 completions 25 attempts 243 yards 2 TDs 132.6 QB rating

Defensive Rookie

Kendrick Lewis, Kansas City Chiefs – 2 interceptions

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Eli Manning, New York Giants – 23 completions 39 attempts 289 yards 4 TDs 1 interception 105.6 QB rating

Quick Takes

  • I was extremely happy to see that we would have a good 1:00 game to watch – the Jaguars at the Colts.  It was one of those games where the scoreboard does not seem to tell the real story.  The Colts dominated the first half but went into the locker room up only 14-10.
  • The Jaguars had plenty of opportunities to make a run and claim the game but they could not.  They looked awful in the first half of the third quarter.
  • Indianapolis was really impressive in two areas where they’ve struggled mightily this season – running the ball and stopping the run.  Donald Brown was their first 100-yard rusher in 36 games.  That’s an astounding stat.
  • The Jags self-destructed every time they got close in the second half – David Garrard threw an interception, Greg Jones got called for a chop block and then they gave up the fluke onside kick return for a touchdown.
  • I also watched much of the Jets-Steelers game.  I gave DeSean Jackson the Special Teams MVP award above but I definitely want to acknowledge the boost that Brad Smith gave the Jets with his kickoff return touchdown to open the game in Pittsburgh.
  • The end of the game was absolutely thrilling.  When Jason Taylor busted through the Pittsburgh line for the safety I thought it was over.  But the Steelers found a way to stay alive until the very last second.  In the end it was a HUGE win for the Jets.
  • The Ravens made a statement in their win over the Saints.  The defense tightened up and the running game was ferocious.  I said that I keep waiting for the Ravens to reach their potential.  Maybe they are getting there.

One BIG Question

Will a team with a record below .500 make the playoffs?  Or will the Rams or Seahawks win their last two games?

Whose performance stuck out to you in week 15?  Let me know by posting a comment below.

Photo source: GMO66

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There’s a lot on the line in the NFL in week 15 including the AFC South and NFC East, as well as the playoff hopes of the Jets and Packers.  Injuries may further complicate things, especially in the cases of Aaron Rodgers and David Garrard.  Here’s a look at the big games, with my picks:

Peyton Manning in the pocket

Peyton Manning will be looking to gain back control of the AFC South.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, 1:00 pm

The Jaguars can clinch the AFC South division title with a win in Indianapolis.  You may think Jacksonville is not capable of pulling off this upset on enemy turf.  But you’d be wrong.  The Jaguars last victory in Indianapolis – just two short years ago.

Key to the game: The Colts’ #1 ranked NFL passing offense against the Jaguars’ 28th ranked passing defense.  Jacksonville is going to have to get some stops.

Who do I like: With a healthy Garrard, I would highly consider taking the Jaguars.  This will be a game of strengths against weaknesses.  I think the Colts strong passing game will exploit the Jaguars bad pass defense more than the Jaguars powerful rushing offense will be able to take advantage of the weak Colts run defense.

New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, 1:00 pm

The defending champions are on a roll having won six in a row.  The Ravens are not nearly as hot but need a win to maintain playoff positioning.

Key to the game: The Ravens pass rush against the Saints pass blocking.  If the Ravens allow Drew Brees to sit back and pick his spots he will light them up, just like Matt Schaub did last week.

Who do I like: I keep waiting for the Ravens to really turn it on.  I think I may be waiting until next season.  I’m going with the Saints and their explosive offensive and solidifying defense.

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Tied atop the NFC East at 9-4 the Eagles and Giants will battle in the New Meadowlands early Sunday afternoon.  They met just four weeks ago with Philly winning at home 27-17.

Key to the game: The Giants fifth ranked rushing defense against the fifth ranked rushing offense of the Eagles.  In the first meeting Philadelphia gained 148 yards on the ground including the game winning 50-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy.

Who do I like: Since losing to the Eagles the Giants have found their running game and have averaged more than 200 yards on the ground in three games.  I think that the Giants will get good yardage in the running game and slow Michael Vick and company down just enough to get the win.

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 4:15 pm

After dropping two in a row, and looking really bad doing it, the Jets appear to be in disarray.  The Steelers haven’t played great but have won four in a row.

Key to the game: Mark Sanchez against the Steelers defense.  Sanchez has to find some magic in Pittsburgh if the Jets are going to have any chance in this one.

Who do I like: The Steelers.  Period.  I don’t expect the Jets to be able to move the ball at all.

Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots
Sunday, 8:20 pm

This game shouldn’t be close because Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t play.  The Patriots have staked their claim as the best team in the NFL.

Key to the game: Whether Rodgers plays or not.  If he doesn’t, I don’t give the Packers any chance to win.  Even if he does, I’d only give them about a 15% chance to win.

Who do I like:  I wish Rodgers was healthy and ready to play because this would be a really interesting matchup.  I’m going with the Patriots for the victory – by a big margin.

Who do you like in these games?  What game are you most looking forward to in week 15?  Let me know by posting a comment below.

Photo source: muohace_dc

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Week 12 in the NFL was highlighted by two huge matchups of NFC contenders.  In week 13 it’s the AFC’s turn.  In divisional rematches from earlier in the season the Steelers invade Baltimore to take on the Ravens and the Jets will battle the Patriots in New England.

Pittsburgh Steelers Gnome

Expect the Steeler Gnome to be partying again on Sunday night

It was back in week four when the Steelers and Ravens first met and Baltimore handed Pittsburgh their first loss of the season.  That was of course while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended.  But since Roethlisberger joined the team the Steelers have not exactly been the juggernaut many expected them to be.  They lost to their two toughest opponents (New Orleans and New England) and they barely beat Miami and Buffalo.

The Ravens had their own close affair with the Bills.  Like Pittsburgh, Baltimore needed overtime to beat Buffalo.  The Ravens have not been the dynamic offensive team I expected them to be in 2010.  They currently rank just 16th in the NFL in passing and 14th in rushing.

The Steelers win if: They can use the short pass to set up the long pass.  Even though the stats say the Ravens have the eighth best pass defense in the NFL there are still many doubts about the quality of their secondary.  Roethlisberger needs to hit the short routes first to get the safeties to creep up and then go deep with Mike Wallace.

The Ravens win if: They give Joe Flacco time in the pocket.  That will not be an easy task.  While Baltimore has done a fair job of protecting the passer, Pittsburgh is tied for the second most sacks in the NFL.  I’ve seen Michael Oher play quite a bit this season and I am not at all confident in his ability to lock down the left side.

Who do I like: Steelers 23-20

Why: In the Steelers’ two losses since the first meeting with the Ravens, both teams have thrown the ball for more than 300 yards, protected their quarterback and gotten to Roethlisberger.  I don’t see Flacco throwing the ball for 300 yards in this game.  He has not taken quite the leap I expected him to so far this season.  I think the Steelers linebackers will be able to hit Flacco early and often.  And rushing the passer is not a strength for the Ravens.  They are currently ranked 26th in the NFL with just 19 sacks.  Knowing they need the win, I expect the Steelers to be supremely motivated and run onto enemy turf to score a victory.

Who do you like in this AFC heavyweight battle?  Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo source: daveynin

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Here in NFL week 10 it is quite clear that the three biggest games all take place in the evening – the spectacular Ravens-Falcons matchup on Thursday night, New England invading Pittsburgh on Sunday night and the Eagles visiting the Redskins on Monday night.  When the Patriots battle the Steelers the winner will have immediate control of the AFC.

Expected to be among the most productive offenses in the NFL, the Patriots have often struggled with the ball.  They come into this game with the 15th ranked running game (not a surprise) and the 17th ranked passing game (definitely a surprise) in the NFL.  They also suffered a shocking loss in Cleveland last Sunday.  Peyton Hillis gouged the New England defense, running for 184 yards on 29 carries.  The Browns D also held the Patriots in check, allowing only 68 yards on 20 carries and limiting Tom Brady to 224 yards and 19 completions on 36 attempts.

Ben Roethlisberger throwing

To win the Patriots will have to beat on Ben Roethlisberger

After the way the Steelers played the first four games without Ben Roethlisberger, I though his addition would lead to them destroying every team they faced.  That has not been the case at all.  They’ve played well enough to win three out of four and they do have the number one rushing defense in the NFL by a wide margin, but two of those three wins were one score margins with one being the controversial victory over Miami.  They have let up quite a few passing yards in their last three games when you factor out the sack yardage – 248 to Cincinnati, 305 to New Orleans and 257 to the now benched Chad Henne and Miami.

The Patriots win if: They blitz early and often and get to Roethlisberger.  New England is way down the NFL sacks ranks with only 13, but they need to get to Big Ben.  If they don’t he will pick them apart.

The Steelers win if: They keep the Patriots passing game in front of them and brutalize the receivers after they catch the ball.  New England does not have an established deep threat and Brady is being forced to dink and dunk his way to the end zone.  He doesn’t mind that, but the receivers will if they get lit up every time they touch the ball.

Who do I like: Steelers 23-13

Why: I think Pittsburgh is a much better team than New England and you can bet Heinz Field is going to be rocking on Sunday night.  I think Belichick will fix some of the deficiencies in the run defense but I expect Rashard Mendenhall to still get some big yardage.  I don’t think the Patriots will get enough of a pass rush to knock Roethlisberger off his game.  The Steelers will be hitting the New England receivers hard and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a ball or two or three bounce out of a receiver’s hands and right to Troy Polamalu.

What are your thoughts on this big matchup?  Do you agree with me that the Steelers will win or do you see the Patriots pulling off the upset?

Photo source: SteelCityHobbies

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