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Super Bowl

Super Bowl
SEA vs PIT - 6:30 PM EST - CB
SEA vs PIT - 6:30 PM EST - AD

Seattle (+4) vs. Pittsburgh 6:30 ABC
Well it is time to put the women and children to bed. The big game has arrived and probably the two hottest team in the NFL are there. Each riding their own streak of wins into this match up. You have to hand it to the press; they are really eating this Bettis thing up. Give it to the guy, class acts are not around much in the NFL, or any pro sport for that matter, but Bettis is one of them. He will definitely be up for this one. Cowher probably didn’t think that it would take 11 years to get back to the big dance but better late than never. But I like to look beyond emotion and look at the numbers, as you know. So let’s just do that:

We will start with the favorites. The Steelers really played a solid game against the Broncos and forced the circa 2002 Plummer to come out. As I said in my column last week that was the only chance that had to win on the road. Plummer should be ashamed. Throwing two picks and fumbling twice is no way to get to the big dance. They just got behind early and that is not the theory for success against the Steelers. But, as noted, the running game has been a non-factor for the Steelers through the entire playoffs. I just think that the clock is going to strike on the playoff Cinderella Big Ben at some point. I must give him props. He has played out of his skull in each of the last two games. Particularly stunning last week. The Seahawks defense is opportunistic. If the men of steel find a way to run it more than 30 times for more than 2.2 yards per carry then they have a great chance. Other than that, I think the go down in flames. There hasn’t been a defense yet that has handle Shaun A and the Seahawk running game and I don’t think they will meet there match this week. The Seahawks will be expecting the Steelers to pass early because that has what has been effective in the playoffs. I say change it up and run it right up the gut. You should get on them early and have them guessing. Come out throwing like last week and they will be prepared to handle it and you will see a quick three and out.

Next up is the Hawks. They surprised everyone but me by the way they manhandled the Panthers. Nobody gives the Hawks credit because it is supposed to be a given that the AFC is better than the NFC. I would say that you are correct if we are talking about comparing Top 10 to Top 10. But the folks up at the top of the NFC are just as good as the two teams on top of the AFC. If the Steelers read all the fun-fun articles about themselves they will get a rude awakening on Sunday. It reminds me of the hype machine that is USC and how they were the best “team” of the last 50 years. However they came across a gentlemen named Vince Young who showed them who the best college player on the planet was. Look for Shaun Alexander to have big day and show that same kind a determination and shoulder the load. Alexander is in another world right now and can’t be stopped. He will be the best player on the field Sunday. By they way, don’t discount the Seahawks defense. Any team that can hold Steve Smith to 33 yards on 5 catches can do the job. Steve Smith is the best receiver on the planet right now and they really put the clamps on him. There is nobody on the Steelers that comes close. Ward and El are good players but none of them you have to gameplan your whole defense to stop. Hawks will need to jump out on top to give Alexander the ball to bring home the win. If they are up by more than a TD at halftime you can put this one in the books.

In the end it comes down to weapons and I think the Hawks have more. As one bookie put it to me the other day, “ I think the Steelers lose big….and I mean big, double digits” I will agree. I suppose Joey Porter will scream about disrespect after this one.

Final Score: Seahawks 32, Steelers 21

Seattle (+4) vs. Pittsburgh 6:30 ABC
For over a week now, everybody’s been asking me the big question: Who do you like in the Super Bowl? It’s not an easy question to answer, after watching the performances of both Pittsburgh and Seattle in their respective Championship games.

I’ve been telling people that I want to see a good game. When it’s not your team in the Super Bowl, that’s what you end up rooting for anyway, regardless of what you’ve told people before the game. Let’s face it — about 9 out of every 10 football fans don’t get to see their favorite team in the Super Bowl. Those are made up numbers, of course, based on a hypothesis regarding the occasional waffler who claims to have an AFC favorite and NFC favorite. You know who you are out there, so don’t pretend you don’t exist. Better teams tend to have more fans, also moving the odds of seeing one’s team in the big game past 1 out of 16. Now, even though there’s only one out of 10 fans with actual gut-wrenching butterflies before the game — those making bank-account threatening wagers do not count — hundreds of millions tune in to watch the game, which for many years in the 80s and 90s was almost completely devoid of any semblance of respectable competition.

As parity has swept the NFL like a firestorm, so has the Super Bowl’s intrigue. Games are tighter, more exciting, and at half-time, there’s a chance of a wardrobe malfunction. This year, my hopes for the big game are simple: Lots of scoring, turnovers and a last-minute drive that makes or breaks the legacy of one team... but I don’t need to see Keith Richards’ nipple. As for my game analysis, that’s not quite as simple, but in the efforts of sounding too analytical, I'll make my comments about the upcoming game brief and instead talk about the Super Bowl trends that tend to prevail over matchup analysis anyway.

I think the Steelers will win, based on their ability to shut down opposing offenses with a solid overall scheme. I really like Troy Polamalu, and have said for a few years now he’s the star of that defense. My prediction is that Polamalu makes a big play that turns the game around. Very often defensive backs make big plays in Super Bowls and fade into obscurity following the game. Polamalu won’t have that problem, since he’s already started turning heads. In previous Super Bowl columns, I have pointed out that the quarterback’s ability to cut down on INTs is the main predicator of Super Bowl success. Last year, I talked a lot about the importance of Rodney Harrison and Ty Law on the Patriots. It’s not a coincidence that without those two, the Pats didn’t make it back. Let’s look at some of the past performances of DBs in the big game.

There have been three defensive backs to win Super Bowl MVP awards: Dexter Jackson, Larry Brown, and Jake Scott. In Super Bowl XXX, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown stepped briefly into the nation’s consciousness, but more importantly, right in front of two Neil O’Donnell passes to earn the game’s MVP, and the world met Dexter Jackson, the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXVII, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety intercepted two Rich Gannon passes in the first half -- a Super Bowl record -- as the Bucs rolled to a 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Miami Dolphins safety Jake Scott, in Super Bowl VII, anchored the No-Name Defense, one of the big reasons the team had a perfect record. At the time, many said it was only fitting that one of its members won the Most Valuable Player award in the Super Bowl. Scott had two interceptions, including one in the end zone during the fourth quarter. That pick and his 55-yard return iced the game for the Dolphins. While quarterbacks (20) have dominated the MVP award, there have been seven running backs, five wide receivers, and five non-DB defensive players to win the award. Defensive lineman Harvey Martin and Randy White were co-winners of the award in Super Bowl XII in 1978, joining Super Bowl loser-cum-MVP Cowboys LB Chuck Howley (SB V in 1971) and impact players Richard Dent (XX) and Ray Lewis (XXXV).

Polamalu may follow in those illustrious footsteps, and the one man standing in his way is the NFL MVP, Seattle RB Shaun Alexander. Alexander has compiled impressive career numbers, although that’s not any kind of mandate for Super Bowl success. Great running backs, however, tend to do well in their Super Bowl debuts, especially workhorse backs that eventually get their hole. In 1975, Franco Harris debuted in the big game and won the MVP after rushing 34 times for 158 yards, breaking the record Larry Csonka set one year earlier. John “The Diesel” Riggins is not often considered among the NFL’s elite runners, but as a workhorse back, he turned the tide of SB XVII. Down 17-13 in the fourth quarter and needing a big play, the Redskins turned to Riggins, who had been making big plays for them all season.

Washington faced a fourth-and-1 from the Miami 43, and after taking a handoff, Riggins broke through the line and rumbled all the way for a touchdown to give Washington its first lead of the game. The Redskins went on to win 27-17. The 43-yard run by Riggins was immortalized in one of NFL Films’s most memorable images, and he set a Super Bowl record with 166 yards on 38 carries. Riggins played in the 1982 and 1983 NFC championship games, but made his Super Bowl debut in XVII following the 1982 season, when he rushed 375 times for 1,347 yards and 24 TDs.

Marcus Allen came along the next year for his Super Bowl debut, winning the MVP when he and the Raiders beat Riggins and the Skins. Allen’s 191-yard performance broke Riggins’ Super Bowl rushing record on just 20 carries, and while the Raiders set a temporary Super Bowl record for points and victory margin in their 38-9 win over Washington, it was Allen’s 74-yard touchdown run on the final play of the third quarter that was the highlight of the victory. Walter Payton didn’t win the MVP in his debut, but the Bears defeated the Pats handily, 46-10. The late great has just 61 yards on 22 carries, and QB Jim McMahon, FB Matt Suhey and rookie DL and goalline back sensation William Perry scored the four rushing TDs. It’s a travesty that Payton didn’t get into the end zone during that game.

Ottis Anderson and Terrell Davis also won the MVP awards in their debuts. Emmitt Smith won in his second, since Troy Aikman won the MVP the year before, when he made his debut, breaking the supposed jinx for NFL rushing leaders. Since Davis, no RB has won the MVP, mainly since passing has been at such a premium during those games. With the importance of establishing a ground game essential to this matchup, I think we may see another, that is, if the Seahawks prevail.

Just about every matchup in this game is a push, or close to one. The Steelers are giving four, and they’re considered the home team since the game is in Detroit. If the game was in Pasadena, the Seahawks would be favored. I think that home field advantage, plus their experience in the playoffs being at a slightly higher level than Seattle, will put the Steelers over the top by 3.

Final Score: Steelers 27, Seahawks 24