Ian's Super Bowl preview
Posted Feb. 03 at 02:21 PM
A couple of brief fantasy thoughts on Sunday’s game, which to me looks like one of the more compelling Super Bowl matchups ever. Both teams have great defenses and great quarterbacks, and the point spread is the closest in almost 30 years.
When these teams met last year, the Steelers won a 37-36 shootout, with Ben Roethlisberger hitting Mike Wallace for the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the game. I don’t think this game will be that high-scoring (how often do we see both teams scoring in the 30s?). These teams ranked 1st and 2nd in scoring defense in the regular season, and note that the Steelers didn’t have Troy Polamalu in that earlier meeting – they’re not nearly as good when he’s not playing.
On the flip side, the weather conditions will be ideal, and both teams use the same kind of defensive system (Dom Capers began his coaching career in Pittsburgh under Dick LeBeau). That gives the offenses a better chance of being prepared for the blitzes and coverages they will see, and that could make for a fairly offensive game. Note that in the championship games, the Bears and Jets were far more effective in the second halves – after they had a chance to adjust to the defenses they were facing.
so the offenses should be more familiar with it.
That’s an argument worth looking at in more detail. From practicing against their own defenses, these quarterbacks and offenses should have a head start in beginning to understand how to break down these defenses – how to pick up and adjust to the blitzes and complex coverages they’ll see. The over-under on this game is 44.5 points. While these teams allowed a combined 29 points per game in the regular season, I think we’re more likely to go over than under.
Aaron Rodgers, I think, makes more sense than Ben Roethlisberger. Rodgers definitely is a more productive runner (in yards, carries and touchdowns), and he’ll probably be a more productive passer in this game as well. He’s been more productive passing the ball, and he’s facing the defense that’s allowed more passing production (both yards and touchdowns).
Look at just the last 12 games for each team (forgetting about September, when Roethlisberger was sitting out). The Packers in their last 12 games have averaged 275 passing yards, with 25 TD passes in those games (just over 2 per game). The Steelers in the same 12 games have 18 fewer passing yards per game and are down at 16 TD passes (so almost a full touchdown fewer per game). Similarly, note that in those last 12 games, the Pittsburgh defense has allowed 8 more passing yards per game than Green Bay (216 per game) and 3 more TD passes.
The Packers won’t be able to run the ball, so they’ll probably try to spread the field and have Rodgers passing on almost every down. And if they fall behind, he’s sure to be winging it. My one concern is that in the last Pittsburgh game, Rodgers completed only 26 of 48 passes – so that’s down at 54 percent, even with Polamalu not playing. And note that while the Pittsburgh secondary got ripped up by Brees and Brady earlier in the year, it’s been playing better recently. It held Joe Flacco, who’s not chopped liver, to 125 yards.
I will go with Rodgers, but I don’t think it’s a cakewalk.
Rashard Mendenhall is the easy No. 1. He’s the top running back, and I think he’s the guy you take No. 1 overall if you’re in some kind of one-on-one fantasy challenge (guaranteeing that you’ll get the starting quarterback that the other guy doesn’t want). There’s a much bigger difference between Mendenhall and James Starks than there is between the two quarterbacks.
I don’t think Mendenhall is a great back, and I also worry about the absence of Maurkice Pouncey. I think that injury will allow Cullen Jenkins and B.J. Raji to successfully clog up the middle of the field. But Mendenhall has been playing well recently. He’s scored in five straight games, and he’s scored 2 TDs in each of his last three games. Two of those were against defenses (Ravens, Jets) that were a lot better against the run than the Jets in the regular season.
Starks has played well in the three playoff games, running for 123, 66 and 74 yards, with 1 TD. But this is a tough defense he’ll run against. The Steelers have allowed only 1 of 18 opponents to rush for 100 yards (not individuals – but teams), and they’ve allowed only 6 rushing touchdowns. Starks won’t be much of a factor in the passing game, and he’s unlikely to score a touchdown. Aaron Rodgers runs in a lot of touchdowns on his own, and the Packers are just almost as likely to use John Kuhn in any goal-line situations. With his goal-line potential and receiving production, Kuhn looks like the No. 3 running back on the board, just as ahead of Isaac Redman.
If you average what the offenses and defenses have done in their last 12 games (that is, the Pittsburgh offense against the Green Bay defense, and the Packers offense against the Steelers defense), it works out to 233 passing yards and 1.1 TD passes (27 in 24 games) for the Steelers, and 246 yards and 1.6 TDs (39 in 24) for the Packers.
I will go slightly higher than that. I will give both offenses credit for facing defenses they are somewhat familiar against, and also will weigh in that wind and weather won’t be an issue. Operating under the assumption that both teams will score about 24 points, I will go with 250 yards and 1.45 TD passes for the Steelers, and 265 yards and 1.8 TDs for the Packers. When I plug in those numbers and divide them amongst the pass catchers, it works out this way (with yards and touchdowns for each guy).
72 .51 Greg Jennings
66 .38 Mike Wallace
47 .30 Heath Miller
46 .27 James Jones
42 .29 Hines Ward
42 .27 Donald Driver
37 .25 Jordy Nelson
34 .20 Emmanuel Sanders
24 .12 Andrew Quarless
15 .09 Antonio Brown
11 .03 Antwaan Randle El
That’s the order I would stick them him. Jennings is definitely No. 1. Wallace hasn’t made much of an impact in the playoffs, but he’s my clear No. 2. Miller has heated up recently; I think he could play a role. And both teams could make extensive use of multiple-receiver sets, so I think those third and fourth receivers have some value – Jones, Nelson, Sanders and Brown. Sanders and Brown have come on in recent weeks; I wouldn’t underestimate them.
Jermichael Finley was Green Bay’s leading receiver in the previous meeting, catching 9 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown, which seemingly bodes well for Andrew Quarless, but I just don’t think he’s quite there yet as a player.
Take your pick between Mason Crosby and Shaun Suisham. In the regular season, the Packers were much better at finishing drives with touchdowns rather than field goals (that works in Suisham’s favor). But Pittsburgh’s defense was much better at forcing field goals, which helps Crosby. Crosby has more range. Suisham has been more accurate this year. It’s a coin-flip type deal.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
This also looks like kind of a wash. These teams finished with 48 and 47 sacks in the regular season; not much difference there. Pittsburgh has allowed more sacks, but only slightly. The Packers have intercepted a few more passes, but Roethlisberger has been slightly better than Rodgers at avoiding picks, so slight edge to the Steelers there. Roethlisberger has played in two of these games, which could be a sizeable advantage, but Green Bay’s secondary has been awfully hot recently, so it’s another too-close-to-call position. Neither team is likely to return a kick for a touchdown, and I don’t care much about fumbles.
They’re playing with the revised overtime rule, with both teams guaranteed a possession in overtime (making you wonder whether you should kick or receive in overtime). That wasn’t used in any of the regular playoff games, but it could debut in a gigantic way on Sunday. It’s possible this game will finish regulation tied 24-24, then feature three more touchdowns in overtime. I will go for that kind of game – both teams scoring in the mid-20s, and maybe we’ll see the revised overtime.
Posted by MICHAEL LONG | Feb. 04 at 01:22 AM
Am I missing something? In OT, if the team that receives scores a TD, the game is over. The kicking team is not guaranteed a possession...they get the ball if the receiving team doesn't score or only kicks a FG. How could 3 TD's be scored in OT?
Posted by IAN ALLAN | Feb. 04 at 01:25 AM
Michael: yep, you're right. We can get two field goals and a touchdown in overtime, but we can't get multiple touchdowns. It would still, however, be cool to see this new overtime format debut in this game. Maybe not quite on par with Colts-Giants in the Greatest Game Ever Played, but cool.
Posted by PETER DEBIASE | Feb. 04 at 11:52 PM
Ian: Do you have an opinion on total net rush yards for both teams?
Posted by IAN ALLAN | Feb. 05 at 12:11 AM
Peter: It will be a poor running game. With Pouncey out, I think the Steelers will have trouble controlling the middle of the line of scrimmage; that's a big loss. And Pittsburgh just has an awesome run defense; only two teams all year have run for more than 75 yards against them (though I will point out that Green Bay has improved running the ball recently). So I will estimate that Pittsburgh will finish with 110 rushing yards in this game, and I'm putting the Packers down for 70 (about 20 of which should be Aaron Rodgers). 180 yards -- that's my two-team total. If that's being offered as a prop bet by a casino, I would expect the over-under to be in that area.
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