This is one Super Bowl where the commercials won't be the most eagerly anticipated viewing. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV is a football feast with all the trimmings.
It's a game that belongs on the History Channel and not Fox.
The Steelers, seeking their third Super Bowl title in six seasons, have won more Super Bowls (six) than any franchise in league history and are making a record eighth appearance in the Big Game. Pittsburgh is tied with Dallas for the most postseason victories in NFL history with 33 and Green Bay is next with 28.
We'll be reading stories about the storied pasts of the Packers and Steelers for two weeks and rightfully so. But even if you stripped both teams' lore of names like Starr and Bradshaw, Lombardi and Noll, Rooney and Lambeau and subtracted the Terrible Towel and the Styrofoam cheesehead, you would still have an intriguing matchup.
You have two of the game's best improvisational quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers), two of its keenest defensive minds (Pittsburgh's Dick LeBeau and Green Bay's Dom Capers) and two of its most passionate fanbases.
The quarterbacks, among two of the best not named Brady or Manning, are going to get the hype and the headlines, but this game is going to be about defense. The Packers and Steelers are proof that defense is not a dying art in the NFL.
Both teams have top five defenses. The Steelers were second in total defense and the Packers were fifth. They were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in points allowed. Pittsburgh led the league at 14.5 points per game. The Packers were just behind at 15. They're also No. 1 and No. 2 in sacks. Are you listening, Patriots? Pass-rush is important. The Steelers led the league with 48 sacks, and the Packers were in a three-way tie for second place with the Chargers and the Raiders at 47 each.
These teams like to harass opposing offenses with all manner of exotic blitz schemes. There will be blitzers coming out of the stands of Cowboys Stadium, or possibly that bogus attendance-padding plaza outside it to chase Roethlisberger and Rodgers.
Can someone explain again why Capers, who took a 20th-ranked defense in Green Bay and has put it in the top two each of the last two seasons, was allowed to leave Foxborough after just one season as a do-nothing coach with the title of special assistant-secondary? Seems like Capers could have aided the young Patriots defense in some way, no?
By the way, it was Capers's brilliant zone-blitz call that led to the game-winning touchdown for the Pack in the NFC title game, an interception return for a score by nose tackle/Boston College alum B.J. Raji.
You're also looking at the top two rushing defenses in these playoffs. Pittsburgh, which hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and has gone 16 straight postseason games without allowing one, is first at 52.5 yards per game. Green Bay is next at 69.7 yards per game.
Due to the somewhat provincial bent of this region's sporting sentiment the obvious question is who should Patriots loyalists be backing in Super Bowl XLV? The answer is as apparent as the difference in difficulty of spelling Rodgers and Roethlisberger.
Pull for the Packers, Patriots fans. Familiarize yourselves with the words "Go, Pack, Go!" Forget about that little matter of Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI because Green Bay is all that stands between Black and Gold preeminence. If you thought Jets fans were insufferable in their gloating after their playoff victory in Foxborough, wait until Steelers fans have more hardware to hold over your head.
If Big Ben and the men from the Steel City win their third Super Bowl in six seasons then the Patriots can no longer proclaim to be the league's gold standard for excellence. They'll be the Microsoft to Pittsburgh's Google. It will be a double playoff stomach-punch. Not only did the Patriots lose to the despised Jets and squander a 14-2 season and home-field throughout the AFC playoffs, but they opened the door to be usurped by Pittsburgh, a team they own, as the league's model franchise.
The Team of the Decade title was wrapped up by the Patriots. No one can take that from Bill Belichick or Tom Brady, but if the Steelers lug the Lombardi Trophy back to the former Fort Duquesne for the second time in three seasons it would be three titles for them since the last time the Patriots won one and two Super Bowls since New England last won...a playoff game. Those facts hurt worse than a James Harrison headshot.
Adding further insult would be that Roethlisberger, for all of his off-field faults and questionable conduct, would tie Brady in Super Bowl wins at three apiece, joining the exclusive club of three-time winners that includes four-time champions Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana and Troy Aikman, who also netted three titles with the Cowboys.
Roethlisberger resembles a young Brady in that other quarterbacks rack up bigger stats and more fawning media attention, but all he does is make plays and win when it matters most. See Super Bowl XLIII.
Vegas has already installed the Packers as favorites. Patriots fans better hope the wiseguys are more accurate than Jay Cutler was yesterday.
Start the hype and cue the hyperbole. The Super Bowl is set and it's a super matchup.
The two weeks between the AFC and NFC championship games and the Super Bowl usually constitute an interminable football-free period (Pro Bowl? Please), but this time it should be worth the wait.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.