The Cold, Hard Football Facts real and spectacular picks head into the Super Bowl with our incredible streak intact. We've been .500 or better against the spread, picking every NFL game, every week since Halloween. And Halloween was a long time ago, for those of you keeping score at home.
We nearly nailed perfectly the conference title games, with Green Bay and Pittsburgh emerging victorious, and winning for all the reasons we predicted. However, we were just 1-1 against the spread in those two games.
Still, it's 12 straight weeks of NFL action at .500 or better against the spread picking every game on the schedule. That's awesome in any language, even in the primitive clucks and whistles with which the average CHFF reader speaks.
Super Bowl XLV: Pittsburgh vs. Green Bay (–2.5)
Well, the Big Day on the NFL's calendar is almost here – finally. And it brings together two of the legendary franchises in NFL history; two teams who have combined to win nine Vince Lombardi Trophies and a total of 18 NFL titles overall.
Hell, these teams also are two of the most dominant franchises in the relatively new free agency/salary cap era, too: Sunday's game in Dallas will mark the seventh combined Super Bowl appearance (Pittsburgh's fourth, Green Bay's third) for the teams since the 1995 season.
Needless to say, this is a true "marquee" matchup. In fact, we haven't been this excited since our friend "Raquel" at Centerfold's gave an extra five-minute lap dance after the 2-for-1 happy hour had already ended.
(By the way, that's Kerry, the Chief Troll, with one of Raquel's pals at the leather-and-lace bash. There's no truth to the rumor that, seconds after this photo was taken, he threw the girl over his shoulder, pounded himself in the chest and grunted like a Neanderthal.)
In addition to being a marquee matchup, this game, by the numbers, is nearly too close to call. It's so close, in fact, that we almost brought Bonzo the Idiot Monkey out of retirement to make the pick for us. But after a careful analysis of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, we decided to soldier on and make the pick ourselves.
From a Quality Stats perspective it doesn't get much closer, as you can see in the chart above. Both teams were Quality Stats juggernauts in 2010 and they finished in very close proximity to one another in most of our indicators.
They also finished 1-2 in Bendability, with Green Bay also holding the edge.
In Passing Yards Per Attempt, it was Green Bay at No. 3 and Pittsburgh at No. 5; and in Passer Rating Differential, it was the Packers at No. 1 and Pittsburgh at No. 4.
Heck, even in the category where each team was mediocre in 2010 – the Offensive Hog Index – they finished right near each other on the list, with Pittsburgh at No. 14 and Green Bay at No. 16. Against Quality Opponents, the Steelers were 3-4 and the Packers were 4-3.
Recent history seems to be on Green Bay's side. The 2010 Packers became the third team since 2005 to qualify for the playoffs as the 5th or 6th seed in their conference and then win three post-season games on the road to make it to the Super Bowl. The other two teams were the 2005 Steelers and the 2007 Giants, and both went on to win the Super Bowl.
Of course, Pittsburgh has some history on its side, too, since the team boasts several players with Super Bowl rings that are just two years old.
The case for Green Bay winning this game is a strong one. We often criticized the Packers this season for being a team that puts up all the numbers but couldn't translate their statistical dominance into wins. Dumb penalties, turnovers and overall poor execution held down their win total during the regular season and relegated them to a wildcard spot in the NFC playoffs.
But here in the post-season Green Bay has turned things around and has developed some serious momentum. Aaron Rodgers became the highest-rated passer in NFL history during the regular season and guided Green Bay's playoff ship through foreign waters with a steady hand this January (109.2 postseason passer rating).
So the Packers definitely get the quality play from the quarterback position that is usually necessary for winning a Super Bowl.
Green Bay also brings a fierce set of Defensive Hogs into the game. They were just No. 10 overall on our Defensive Hog Index. However, the group led the NFL in forcing Negative Pass Plays (NPP). And that unit will face a weak Pittsburgh offensive line that ranked just 22nd in preventing NPPs on the season.
Offensively, the ground game was Green Bay's weak link all season. But the Packers finally found a decent option in rookie James Starks, who rushed for more than 100 yards against the Eagles in the wildcard round and had a solid, if unspectacular day in the NFC title game against the Bears (22 carries, 74 yards).
Like we said, the case for Green Bay winning this game is a strong one. But they're hardly unbeatable.
And Pittsburgh was the best top-to-bottom team in the NFL this year, as evidenced by their top overall rank across the board in our Quality Stats.
Most notably, Pittsburgh enters the game with the best Defensive Hogs in the NFL, some of the best run stoppers in NFL history, the NFL's second best pass defense (behind Green Bay) and playmakers up and down the lineup, as evidenced by its No. 2 standing in our Big Play Index.
That collection of strengths could spell a long day for a Green Bay offense that actually struggled against quality pass defenses. In four games against Chicago and the New York Jets, two of the top six pass defenses in the NFL this season, Green Bay scored a grand total of just 57 points, an average of just 14.3 PPG.
Remember, seven of those 57 points came on B.J. Raji's pick-six against the Bears in the NFC championship two weeks ago. The Packers offense struggled to move the ball most of the day.
Given that Pittsburgh's No. 1-ranked Defensive Hogs and historically gifted run stoppers allowed just 3.01 yards per rush this season, Starks and the rejuvenated Green Bay running game will likely be shut down.
So Rodgers and the Packers' air attack may have to win the game on their own, something they were unable to do against the other high-quality pass defenses they faced in 2010.
Naturally, the Steelers have offensive problems of their own, and those problems will be magnified this Sunday by key injuries on their already mediocre offensive line, not to mention a stout Green Bay pass defense and front seven.
That said, the Steelers have shown throughout the season, and especially in these playoffs, that they don't need to play great on offense to win games; they just need to ride their playmaking defense for most of the game and play great on offense when it matters most, something that Ben Roethlisberger has made happen most of the time – especially in big games – during his underrated seven-year career.
The Steelers weren't ranked No. 2 on our Big Play Index this season by accident. Their "Big Play" strategy for success has been on full display during the postseason.
In the divisional playoffs against Baltimore, the Pittsburgh defense sparked a big rally in the third quarter, twice giving Roethlisberger and the offense short fields (25 yards or less) after causing turnovers. Then, with the game tied at 24 late in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger threw his best pass of the day, a 58-yard strike to rookie Antonio Brown on 3rd and 19 with 2:07 left to set up Pittsburgh's game-winning touchdown.
In the AFC title game against the Jets, the Pittsburgh defense strip-sacked Mark Sanchez late in the first half and William Gay returned the fumble 19 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts are big fans of Rodgers and we've been tooting the Packers' horn for a long time now. In fact, we even put our hefty asses on the line and picked Green Bay to win the Super Bowl back in September.
So why are we changing our tune now, with the Packers just 60 minutes away from making us look smart (for once)?
Simply put, we can't bring ourselves to pick against Big Ben in a big game, and Pittsburgh's top-ranked Defensive Hogs have been helping the Steelers win big games for a long time now. And, as we've pointed out many times in the past, teams who've topped our Defensive Hog Index since it was first established in 2007 have compiled a pretty impressive collection of Lombardi Trophies to date (the 2009 Saints were the one anomaly, but their outstanding pass defense made up for their mediocre showing on the Defensive Hog Index).
In the end, we think the deadly combo of Roethlisberger and the big, bad Pittsburgh Defensive Hogs will be just a little too much for Rodgers and the Packers to overcome.
We like the Steelers to claim the franchise's seventh Lombardi Trophy as the black and gold confetti streams down at the Jerry Jones-Mahal late Sunday night.
Pittsburgh 24, Green Bay 21
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