Super Bowl XLV Preview: Steelers – Packers

Red-Hot QB Aaron Rodgers will lead the Green Bay Packers versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.  The Packers will be seeking an NFL-record 13th title

The 2010-11 NFL season will finish it’s oh-too-fast season with Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas as the Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4) and Green Bay Packers (13-6) take center stage in the biggest game in sports. It will be interesting to see if Super Bowl XLV ends the ’10 season with a bang or a blowout, which seems to have happened way too much in Super Bowl history.  All week, the Dallas-Ft. Worth region has been covered in uncharacteristic ice, but you can expect the temperatures around the country and in Cowboys Stadium to be “hot” this Sunday. 

“Super Bowl Sunday” is America’s unofficial holiday filled with fellowship, trash talk, and of course eating.  Everywhere you turn, people are talking about the Steelers and Packers locking horns this Sunday.  Even my 80-year old plus grandmother, who usually is not in front of the television on Sunday’s watching NFL gridiron action, will be attending a Super Bowl party.  She and an expected record television audience of 106 Million plus viewers will be watching this Sunday as the Steelers and Packers take center stage.  But no matter how Super Bowl XLV ends, the 2010 NFL Season should be titled, “One Crazy Season”. 

Sure some will boast that their crystal ball registered this match-up in Super Bowl way back in September — hey what do I know… I picked a match-up of the Ravens over the Cowboys. But majority of folks probably were second-guessing both the NFC and AFC representative teams going into the season., especially around the quarterbacks in the game.  Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was mired in a rocky offseason that led to a 6-game suspension (reduced to 4 games) and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, after a loss in his first playoff start in the 2009 Wildcard Round to the Cardinals, was still stuck in the lengthy shadow of former Green Bay legendary passer Brett Favre. But none the less, both teams and their quaterbacks continued on and now they are on the appex of winning the biggest trophy in team sports, the Lomabardi Trophy.

The majority of fans and media that I have talked to are more than happy and excited to see the two teams that will be meeting in the Big Game.  So expected or unexpected, this is the game that the parity-laden National Football League has handed us for Super Bowl Sunday 2011 (February 6th).  I for one am very excited to see this match-up of two of the NFL’s most-storied franchises and a good portion of the country is also excited as Super Bowl hype is at an all-time high. Especially with the threat of potential CBA-Armadegon and “No Football” after March 4th looming over the heads NFL Universe. ESPN Anlayst Tom Jackson said of the match-up, “We have two of the best teams in the league playing really good football, and we’re thinking that we’re ready to see a pretty darn good football game.”

Once the Conference Championships games were completed with the Steelers 24-19 win over the New York Jets and the Packers 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears, everyone tried to come up with a catchy Don King-esque box office selling theme for Super Bowl XLV.  Some slogans that I have heard bantered about have been “The Tradition Bowl”, “The Golden Game”, “The Dynasty Bowl”, “Lombardi vs. Lambert”, and many others.  But I am going with the “The NFL’s Royalty Rumble”  — BTW: Whatever happened to great titles like the “Thrilla in Manila” and the “Rumble in the Jungle”.   All of the current themes that I have pointed out all touch on the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packer are two of the NFL’s most revered and respected franchises.  Between them these two teams are draped in tradition and have combines for 19 NFL Championships including 9 Super Bowl titles.

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said of the match-up at his recent yearly Super Bowl press conference, “When you look at this match-up, you say ‘Pittsburgh Steelers’ and ‘Green Bay Packers,’ that’s football. There’s no doubt about it, that’s football”.  Goodell added, “These great organizations who have had so much success in the past, it represents the traditions of our game. The fans are tremendous in both of these communities. I lived in western Pennsylvania for five years and those fans, there aren’t any better fans than Steeler fans. Then you look at the Packer fans and they’re the same way. Tremendous passion, they support their team through thick and thin, and it means a lot to these communities. And they’re both national teams. This isn’t just about fans in western Pennsylvania or in Wisconsin, they have national followings, and I think that’s what’s so exciting for this country and our world, to look at this game and say, ‘Wow, that’s real football.’ This is fun. This is celebrating the game that I love and we all love and I think it’s going to be a terrific night.”

The Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s second oldest franchise and are a testament to how the league continuing to thrive in a small-market during the “Big Market” glitz of today’s  media bonanza society.  When you think of the Packers – all-tme record of 664-524-36 in regular season with a league-best postseason record of 28-16 in 44 games — names like Hall of Famers Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Reggie White and Willie Davis instantly come to mind along with that quarterback,No. 4, and the “Frozen Tundra” playing surface at historic Lambeau Field.  Though the Packers have not had the recent “Championship” success like Lombardi’s group from the 1960’s, a new generation of Green Bay players, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, have returned some swagger back to “Title Town”.  Green Bay will be returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since back-to-back appearances in Super Bowl XXXI (January 26, 1997) and XXXII (January 25, 1998).  And Green Bay will attempting to extend their league record NFL Championship number to 13.

The Steelers going back to their inception in 1933 were built by the late Art Rooney, one of the original patriarchs of the NFL, to be a franchise as tough as the blue collar City of Steel that they represent.  And now they are aiming to become the first NFL team in history to win seven Super Bowl titles.  The Steelers all-time record is 541-499-20 with a league-second-best postseason record 33-19 in fifty-one games and they will be making their eighth Super Bowl appearance, tying the Dallas Cowboys for the most all-time. Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney said of the challenge of facing Green Bay in the Super Bowl, “We’re very similar organizations.  We’re similar in the way we operate.  We have great respect for the Packers and we always have.” And the connection continues as the Packers are the first No. 6 seed in the NFC to advance to the Super Bowl since the NFL instituted the current 12-team playoff format in 1990.  The only other No. 6 seed to play in the Super Bowl was the 2005 Steelers, who went on to win Super Bowl XL. 

Ironically Pittsburgh “Home Boy”, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, who grew-up in the town and was a former assistant coach for four seasons at the University of Pittsburgh, will be leading the opposition.  McCarthy (guided Packers to playoffs in 3 of last 4 seasons) said of facing his hometown team, “Pittsburgh is obviously a big part of who I am.  My family is still back there.  This is going to be a very unique experience for everybody.  I was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan growing up and they’re my second favorite team.  But we’re preparing to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a football game and that’s what we need to stay focused on.  McCarthy added, “They’re an excellent football team, obviously.  They’ve had a lot of success.  They’re a veteran team and an experienced team.  They’ve been through this experience before and we have not.  We understand that.  But we’re going to stick to our approach and that’s the way we’re going to face it.  Our goal is to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home.”

So enough already with the continually beaten same-old-tired story that many are selling that one team belongs here and the other is just lucky No. 6 seed.  I believe like many Steelers players, who vividly remember last year’s shootout win over the Packers, that McCarthy’s team is a hungry bunch and that should be respected.  Remember that anything that could happen has happened in this crazy 2010 season where “Any Given Sunday” has rung true week in and week out.  Forget franchise histories, Super Bowl XLV should have the moniker, “The Battle of Teams That Do It the Right Way”.  Plain and simple it is a match-up of two teams that are models for NFL success.  However if I were the Steelers, I would do as Chuck D used to rap “Don’t Believe the Hype”, because the former 10-6 Wilcard Packers have been one of the NFL’s hottest teams since the playoffs started. The key for both remaining teams is focusing on their precious opportunity to win a Super Bowl and forgetting everything else that has transpired in the past 20 weeks leading up to the big game.  

Lloyd’s Leftovers for Super Bowl XLV

Being #1 Seed is not what it used to be – Remember when attaining the No. 1 seed in your conference and home field advantage used to mean something back in the day.  But in today’s parity-laden NFL there are no guarantees to Super Bowl entry and this year is no different as the Patriots and Falcons were out in the divisional round.  Since 1990 only 20 of 40 number one seeds in the playoffs have made it to the Super Bowl with only 9 of those teams winning it all.  The last time two No. 1 seeds faced off was in Super Bowl XLIV (2010) with Indianapolis vs. New Orleans.

Not much Trash Talking at this Super Bowl – With the mutual respect between the Steelers and Packers there has not been the obligatory player trash talking. Remember in Super Bowl XL how then Seattle Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens made some comments about Steelers that got the dander up of then Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.  This time both teams were complimentary and guarded during media day interviews.  Too bad Porter is no longer on the Steelers, because he is always a good for a rousing soundbite. 

Still watch for everyone’s favorite Super Bowl Ads – Every year one of the bigger events of the Super Bowl is watching the ads.  Thirty-second spots during Super Bowl XLV were sold for $2.8-$3 million.  Of course the king of the advertisers, Budweiser, will be all over your television — exclusive beer advertiser for 23 years.  Bud earlier this postseason locked up its position as the only national beer advertiser in the Super Bowl through 2014. “We wouldn’t have done it if the payoff wasn’t there,” said Anheuser-Busch President Dave Peacock.  For everything to do with Super Bowl XLV’s Ads go to www.superbowl-ads.com

Media folks swapping more than stories – Former Super Bowl MVP’s, ESPN analyst Desmond Howard and former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, got into it over comments Howard made about Simms’ son.  For all of Twitter Nation to read, Howard tweeted that Simms said “he wanted 2 take a swing at me” while the two were at the NFL Experience fan festival in downtown Dallas.  Also there was a Philly Twitter Beef between Daily News Writer Paul Domowitch and Radio Personality Howard Eskin over some quotes

Tomlin going for some history — Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, who guided the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XLIII, can become the first head coach in NFL history to win two Super Bowls in his first four seasons.  He is also can become the youngest head coach in league annals to win two Super Bowl titles (38 years old).  And another milestone that no one is talking about –Thankfully – is that Tomlin could once again join NFL legend Tony Dungy as the only African-American head coaches to lead their team to a Super Bowl victory.  Of all the potential accomplishments surrounding Super Bowl XLV, Tomlin said “It’s special.  There are 32 teams that start this journey and there are only two left.  We are fortunate enough to be one of them.  It’s awesome.”

Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4) Vs. Green Bay Packers (13-6), Sunday 6:30 PM, FOX

Broadcasting Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Chris Myers (Field Reporter) and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

The AFC #2 seeded Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFC #6 seeded Green Bay Packers will square off in Super Bowl XLV in Cowboys Stadium and though this may have not been the match-up that everyone had hoped for, I fully expect a good game. 

 The big story going into Super Bowl XLV has been two “hot” quarterbacks squaring off with the Packers led by former Pro Bowler Aaron Rodgers and the Steelers going with Super Bowl XL and XLIII winner Ben Roethlisberger.  In the last meeting between these two teams (December 20, 2009), Roethlisberger (503 yards) and Aaron Rodgers (383) combined for 886 passing yards in the Steelers’ 37-36 win over the Packers.  It marked the highest passing yardage total in NFL history in a game that did not have an interception. 

But the story of the game to me is a classic match-up of the Steelers NFL top-ranked defense versus the Packers high-powered offense.  Though the usual line is “Defense Wins Championships”, you definitely have to go deeper into this match-up than to immediately dismiss the Packers and hand the Lombardi Trophy to the Steelers.  Like any playoff game, the Super Bowl will be won or lost with keys — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, and Limiting Penalties.  So far in the playoffs the Steelers and Packers have lived by the keys mentioned especially running the football.  The Packers have even unveiled rookie James Starks and the Steelers after a year of passing the ball have rooted to their roots as RB Rashard Mendenhall has been running the rock.  The two teams have also lived off turnovers, which we know are instant game turners — turnover margin has been good to the Steelers (+17) and the Cardinals (+10) . 

The Packers are always looking for the big down-the-field play, so the Steelers must stay with their coverage assignments and get pressure on Rodgers. Conversely the Packers will need to continue to mix the run and pass to keep the Steelers attacking defense off-balance. The Steelers — just 14.5 points per game — have done a great job on defense so far this season.   But Rodgers when given time has weapons in receivers Gregg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones. 

The Steelers front seven led by former Defensive MVP James Harrison, stout nose tackle Casey Hampton, and probably the NFL’s most athletic linebacking crew (James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Lamarr Woodley, and Harrison) will need to get pressure so that big play safety Troy Polamulu (2010 NFL Defensive MVP) can make another game changing play.  Pressure is everything to the Steelers, but Jennings is capable of having a huge day so the Steelers will need 22 eyes on him at all times.   Watch for the Steelers’ veteran secondary led by cornerback Ike Taylor and unsung free safety Ryan Clark to help Polamulu in coverage.   The one thing LeBeau (king of the zone blitz) will need to guard against is getting too blitz happy against Rodgers.  As the young triggerman is very dangerous and can recognize defensive schemes and will audible when needed.  

Watch for an improving Packers’ “D”, who were 2nd in total defense during the regular season. The Packer defense led by LB Clay Matthews Jr has thrived on forcing pressure and creating turnovers.  The Packers will need to get to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, so that the he can’t get the ball to Hines Ward and game-changer Mike Wallace.  The Packers will also need to keep an eye on my X-factor, Steelers tight end Heath Miller.

“We’ve got a lot of talent on this team,” said Packers CB Charles Woodson.  He added, “Every week, it’s somebody else stepping up.  The guys on this team have been making plays week in and week out.  We have a ton of guys who can just make plays at any time and at any point in the game.  We know how hard it is to get to the Super Bowl.  You want to be able to get there and win it.  It’s all or nothing now.  Hopefully we can go down there and win it.”

LV’s Pick: Now that all of the hype and talk around Super Bowl XLV is almost finished our attentions can turn to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.  The Steelers have been installed as a slight favorite, but I truly believe that the Packers will make this a game.  I expect the Steelers to dictate the pace of the game early with efficient passing by Big Ben, hard running by Mendenhall, and their attacking defense.  But Rodgers and Jennings will hook-up for a Super Bowl moment and they may even temporarily throw a scare into the Steelers.  But in the end, the Steelers Black-and-Gold nation will leave Dallas happy as the Steelers veterans from Super Bowl XL and XLIII will step up.  The Steelers add another one for their second hand and watch for Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and Troy Polamulu as the difference makers for P-Burgh. — Steelers 27, Packers 24 

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Advertisements

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – WCHE Interview 020211

In his weekly interview on the “Matt Lombardo Show” (1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA), NFL Insider Lloyd Vance breaks-down the news surrounding Super Bowl XLV, including the Philadelphia Eagles surprise choice for Defensive Coordinator, former O-line Coach Juan Castille

After some great action in the 2010 NFL Playoffs first three rounds, Super Bowl XLV in Arlington Texas will take center stage with the Pittsburgh Steelers facing the Green Bay Packers. NFL Insider Lloyd Vance makes his weekly appearance on the “Matt Lombardo Show” on 1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA including breaking down this year’s Super Bowl Match-up featuring two of the league’s brightest quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers)

2010 NFL Playoffs: Conference Championships Round Preview

Everything will be on the line “Championship Sunday” as the Chicago Bears (WR/KR Devin Hester pictured) take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship and the Pittsburgh Steelers square off with the New York Jets in the AFC Championship

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The Conference Championships of the 91st NFL Season, are upon us and for the final four teams (Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears) it is now or never in order to achieve their ultimate goal of winning Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas.  The match-ups  interestingly enough will be  “Back to the Future” moments for NFL Universe as for only the 17th time since 1970 both championship games are rematches from the regular season. 

The AFC Championship Game (NY Jets vs. Steelers ) is a rematch from Week 15 (NY Jets won 22-17 at Heinz Field) and the NFC Championship Game (Bears vs. Packers ) renews the oldest rivalry  — 182nd meeting but only the 2nd time in postseason — in NFL history.  And will serve as a “rubber match” with both the hated NFC North rivals having won during their regular season series (Chicago won 20-17 in Week 3 and Green Bay won 10-3 in Week 17). 

The 2010 NFL Season has truly been a wild rollercoaster type affair, where not even the best prognosticators could have seen the many ups, downs, and strange twists that have flipped the script on NFL history.  Former NFL Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle’s favorite word, “Parity”, has ruled the day once again in the National Football League.  For the second time in the past three postseasons (last time in 2008), the Championship Games will not feature a No. 1 seed. 

Prior to 2008, there was at least one top-seeded team in the Championship Games in 28 consecutive seasons, dating back to 1980.  After a “wacky” divisional round where both #1 Seeds (Patriots and Falcons) were vanquished, the Conference Championships have been left with two #2 Seeds (Pittsburgh and Chicago) and two #6 Seeds (NY Jets and Packers) to fight it out for a ticket to the Super Bowl in two weeks at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. 

I have heard arguments on both sides regarding whether “parity” is helping or hurting the NFL.  Of course I grew-up on perennial Super Bowl contenders like the Steelers, Dolphins, Niners, Cowboys, and Raiders bullying the rest of the teams with road to the Super Bowl running through these prestigious franchises.  However I have to admit I am a fan of the kinder “Anything Can Happen” version of the NFL rather than the ’70s and ’80s Super Team model.  So hold-up,  Wait a minute…as  you have to admit that these improbable match-ups are pretty cool.  It will be league royalty (Steelers – 6 Lombardi Trophies and their 15th Championship Game appearance, the most since 1970) versus Ryan’s Running-at-the-Mouth Rebel J-E-T-S in the AFC Championship and the NFL’s most heated rivalry, the Bears and Packers, playing for the coveted NFC crown. 

Speaking of the NFC match-up, these  two teams locked horns in a Week 17  match-up where Chicago tried to leave their hated Black-and-Blue Division rival dead for the playoffs by not “resting” and playing everyone for a full 60 minutes.  But the red-hot Packers did get in the playoffs and now led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they are a road favorite.  Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who is shooting for his 2nd Super Bowl appearance, said of the upcoming game “It doesn’t get any better than the NFC Championship coming down to the Packers on our turf.  It’s the Packers and Bears to finish it up.”

Make no bones about it… people love gathering around to watch the NFL.  You know, CBS and FOX cannot wait for Sunday’s action as all four Divisional Playoff games averaged more than 30 million viewers for the first time ever and accounted for the four most-watched shows on television last week.  In fact, according to the latest Nielsen ratings, after a record-setting regular season and Wild Card Weekend, an average of 35.1 million viewers watched NFL games last weekend — the most ever for an NFL Divisional Weekend and a six percent increase from the 2009 round (33 million viewers).  The 35.1 million average surpasses the previous Divisional record of 34.2 million in 1993.  And the granddaddy of them all was last Sunday’s New York Jets-New England Patriots game on CBS which drew 43.5 million viewers ranking as the most-watched Divisional Playoff game ever and is the most-watched show since the record-setting Super Bowl XLIV last February. 

Hopefully the four remaining teams will focus on their precious opportunity to move-on to the Super Bowl and everything else that has transpired in the past 18 weeks doesn’t matter anymore.  As brash NY Jets head coach Rex Ryan recently said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “If you can’t get motivated to win an AFC Championship, then you shouldn’t be in the building.”  The NFL is by far the best game going and that is why this time of the year on the league’s calendar is one to savor.  Sadly we all know the season will be over soon, but the next two weeks filled with the Conference Championships and then the hype of the leading to Super Bowl are over the top phenomenal to me – of course ommitting next week’s glorified vacation called the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.  The “big stage” is now alive for the Bears, Packers, Steelers, and NY Jets so now is the time for two teams to “Seize the Moment”.

Whatever happens in this Sunday’s games, this round of the playoffs is truly special as the NFL’s junior prizes — conference championship trophies (George Halas Trophy for the NFC and Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC) — and a trip to the Super Bowl are all on the line.  However players on all four teams better focus on first winning this Sunday before looking ahead to confetti laced on-field celebrations and planning trips to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.  All the prepartion that the players and coaches have been through from OTA’s to training camp to the long grueling 17-week regular season, and two playoff rounds all hangs in the balance.  As Pittsburgh Steelers DE Brett Keisel said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “We’re very excited to be going back to the AFC Championship Game, but it’s all for naught if we can’t take care of it.”

Trust me, as someone that has experienced the ultimate high and low from Championship Sunday while following the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise from a very early age, I can attest to both potential drastic endings.  In terms of winning I can still feel the goose bumps from 1980 when the Eagles exorcised their demons against the hated Dallas Cowboys as running back Wilbert Montgomery, quarterback Ron Jaworski (Jaws), coach Dick Vermeil and the rest of the Birds finally could call themselves a “winner” and were making the ultimate trip to Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans.  And the gut-wrenching pain from 2002 when Philly’s beloved Veterans Stadium’s last football game was a Championship Sunday loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers known as “The Day Gruden, Barber, Sapp, Keyshawn, and the Bucs Drove the Bulldozer Over the Vet”.

Alright that is enough remembrance of the good and bad times of the already on the sidelines Eagles as now is the time for the Packers, Steelers, Bears, and NY Jets to show their mettle. Surprisingly only the Steelers are a home favorite (-3.5) this week by Vegas while the surging Packers (-3.5) are a road favorite over the host underdog Bears. Everyone including yours truly will be pontificating on what will happen, but luckily the games will be played on the field and anything can happen — Any Given Sunday…right?? 

My predictions are soon two follow, but there is no doubting that both games are “Coin Flip” matchups in my opinion.  Plus you can never forget our always talked about playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play (Bears have edge here w/ Hester), Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” still being the key factors as to which teams will move on to Super Bowl XLV.

Some Lloyd’s Leftovers from Championship Sunday include:

Several Hot Teams are left – Over and over we say that it does matter how you start in the NFL, but how you finish.  This has never been more prevalent than this season as since the midseason (5-3 at the time), Green Bay have won seven of their last 10 games; Pittsburgh has won 7 of 10 and and so have the New York Jets; Chicago has won 6 of their last 10. 

Rodgers is ridiculous — Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes (86.1 percent) for 366 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 136.8 passer rating in Green Bay’s 48-21 victory over the Falcons last week.  Rodgers is the 1st player in NFL history to pass for at least 3 TDs in each of his first three postseason starts and his 129.4 career playoff passer rating is the best mark all-time (minimum 100 attempts).  Speaking of Rodgers, receiver Greg Jennings said, “Aaron played absolutely phenomenal.  It was a treat to play with him during that performance.”

Good Quarterback Play is the key this time of the year – We know that quarterbacks get too much praise for wins and too much blame for losses.  But this time of the year, the quarterbacks have to protect the football and be efficient. I hate to pile on Baltimore QB Joe Flacco, but his 16 of 30 for only 125 yards, 1 TD, and 1 huge INT effort last week was probably the major reason the Ravens had significant trouble in the divisional round.  This year’s final four QB’s includes one former Super Bowl participant (Ben Roethlisberger) and three young guns (Rodgers, Cutler, and Sanchez) looking for respect.  The four quarterbacks remaining have been very good at not turning the ball over (No INTs by the group last week) and they will need to continue that trend against a several tough defenses.

Road Warrior Teams in the playoffs – For years, teams fought to get home-field advantage in hopes that they would have an easier road to the Super Bowl.  However the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants showed that teams can get it done in hostile environments on the road to Super Bowl titles.  This year is following the aforementioned model as through the first two rounds, road teams have won 5 of 8 games tying 2005 for most road wins since the NFL went to 12 playoff teams in 1990.

Defenses coming to play – It has been said through out NFL history that defense wins championships and this year is no different.  The conference championship round will feature some good defenses from the regular season– 2nd ranked Steelers (276.8 yards per game), NY Jets (261.1), Packers (309.1).  The Bears, who were 9th in total defense during the regular season (314.3), have picked it up in the playoffs limiting their opponents to an average of 276 yards

Former Champs Abound — All of the teams participating in the Conference Championship round have won at least one Super Bowl title.  Those teams are Pittsburgh (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005, and 2008); Green Bay Packers (1966, 1967, and 1996); Bears (1985) and NY Jets (1968);

One last leftover: On a personal note, I am dedicating this piece to my Mother, Lloyia, who is currently fighting her way through some health issues.

2010 NFL Playoffs Championship Round Games

GREEN BAY PACKERS (12-6) at CHICAGO BEARS (12-5) (Sunday, FOX, 3:00 PM ET)

 

NEW YORK JETS (13-5) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4) (Sunday, CBS, 6:30 PM ET)      

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – Week 13 Preview

In the Taking It to the House NFL Week 13 Preview Podcast This week is a huge Grudge Match weekend in pro football with teams like the Steelers and Ravens meeting in potential playoff battles (receiver Antwaan Randle El pictured)

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – Week 13 Preview

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance and Host Mark Gray give you their “Pick 6” for Week 13 including the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) visiting the Baltimore Ravens (8-3) in a crucial AFC North game on Sunday Night Football with playoff implications

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – Week 8 Preview

In the Taking It to the House NFL Week 8 Preview Podcast — After a turnover filled performance last week, the Super Champion Saints (WR Lance Moore pictured) will be hoping to cure their “hangover” as they take on the resurgent Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1)

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – Week 8 Preview

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance and Host Mark Gray give you their “Pick 6” for Week 8 including the 2009 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints trying to get back on track as they face the surging Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1)

Steelers remain unbeaten without Big Ben after beating Titans

The Steelers (safety Troy Polamalu pictured) continued to show that they are not a one-man gang as they outworked the Titans in a 19-11 win to stay unbeaten

When the NFL announced that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was going to suspended for the first 4 games of the 2010 season, there were a ton of people that immediately predicted demise for the league’s cornerstone franchise.  Well everyone that hit the panic button, you better re-think your thoughts on the Steelers.  With Big Ben only 2 games away, the Steelers have re-emerged as the surprise leader of the AFC North at a perfect 2-0, after a solid thumping of the Tennessee Titans 19-11.

Despite losing backup starter QB Dennis Dixon (left knee injury) in the second quarter, the Steelers stayed the course and played tough blue collar football all-day (ran the ball and played tough D).  Right from the start, the Steelers established themselves against the Titans.  Rookie receiver Antonio Brown scored on an 89-yard kickoff return to open the game, and that play proved to be a catalyst as the Steelers forced seven turnovers (3 INTs and 4 fumble recoveries) on their way to victory.

The seven turnovers were the most allowed by the Titans since 2000 and the Steelers also added four sacks as quarterback Vince Young (7-for-10 for 66 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs and a one fumble lost) was under duress during his time on the field.  After a strong Week 1, V.Y was befuddled and never got in rhythm before Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said he had seen enough and sent in veteran Kerry Collins after Young had his 3rd turnover.

The Steelers defense – ranked in the Top 5 against the run every year since 2004 –also shutdown Tennessee running back Chris Johnson.  Pittsburgh stopped CJ2K’s 100-yard rushing streak at 12 games and the 2009 NFL’s rushing champ finished with just 16 carries for 34 yards — longest carry of the day was 11 yards.  It was the third time the Steelers have held Johnson to less than 100 yards.  In CJ’s defense, he did have an electrifying 75-yard + touchdown run called back on a weak holding penalty.

For most of the game the Steelers were content to protect backup quarterback Charlie Batch – expect the team to bring back QB Byron Leftwich who was cut earlier — by running last week’s hero RB Rashard Mendenhall (69 yards on 23 carries) and letting the Titans turn the ball over.  The player of the game for the Steelers had to be former Defensive MVP LB James Harrison, who had three sacks, forced a fumble and recovered one too.  Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of the win, “You come into a hostile environment versus good people it’s going to require a lot. We were far from perfect today but the guys really hung together and gave an outstanding effort”. 

The charismatic head coach added, “We made enough plays in enough areas to get out of there. I like what the team is doing in terms of working together, fighting the adversity and uplifting each other.”  Tennessee did try to make it interesting at the end of the game by scoring a late touchdown — 58 seconds left in game – and a two-point conversion plus recovering an onside kick.  But in the end, the Steelers stayed tough and finished the job.

Next up the Big Ben-less Steelers are the surprisingly undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) in a game where someone’s “0” has got to go.  Other 2-0 teams after two weeks of play are the Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, and Miami Dolphins.

  

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The NFL Suspends Roethlisberger for Six Games

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger received a 6-game suspension from the NFL for conduct detrimental to the league

After less than one week of thinking it over, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided it was time to give his decision regarding any suspension of troubled Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Goodell informed the Steelers and Roethlisberger that the star quarterback would be suspended for the first six games to start the 2010 NFL Season without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL in violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. A six-game suspension would cost Big Ben $2.841M in base salary or $473,529 per game.

Much like when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was suspended to start the 2009 season, Roethlisberger’s suspension can be shortened — to 4 games — if he meets certain terms set forth by the NFL and the Steelers.  First and foremost, the league wants Big Ben to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals then he must also hit others parameters set worth by the NFL and Steelers to even be considered for his suspension to be reviewed.

One of the biggest caveats that Goodell also placed on Roethlisberger is that Steelers’ star will not be able to attend any team off-season activity until he has completed the medical evaluation. The Commission said the rehabilitation of Big Ben was a two-step approach designed to hold him, “accountable for his conduct and provide him an opportunity to change his behaviour and establish himself as a responsible individual.”

I think after reading the Milledgeville 572-page investigative report, that Goodell and the Rooney Family were disgusted and had no other choice than to “justifiably” put Roethlisberger on the self for what appears to be habitual behavior.  In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell wrote “The personal conduct policy makes clear that I may impose discipline ‘even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime’ as, for example, where the conduct ‘imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person’.

The understandably heated Goodell wrote further, “As the District Attorney concluded, the extensive investigatory record shows that you contributed to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol by purchasing (or facilitating the purchase of) alcoholic beverages for underage college students, at least some of whom were likely already intoxicated. There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk. The personal-conduct policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that ‘undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.’ By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard.”

Goodell closed his letter to Roethlisberger by writing, “Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare…In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.”

I fully support Goodell’s and the Steelers’ decision as Pittsburgh is one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises and a large majority of their fanbase is angered by the actions of one of the stars from their two recent Super Bowl winning squads.  Much like Vick’s case, Goodell will personally be involved in the review of Roethlisberger’s progress. 

I really like the approach that Goodell and the Steelers took in Roethlisberger’s situation.  In the past the Commissioner set precedents with players like Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, and Michael Vick via the player misconduct policy, so he had to come down hard on Roethlisberger and he did.  Fortunately for Roethlisberger, the punishment comes without any charges from the legal community, but it is time for him to heed the words of the Georgia D.A that told him to “Grow Up”.

So where does everyone go from here.  Well… the Steelers are “listening” to offers for Big Ben going into the draft and they have also signed veteran Byron Leftwich through 2011.  Clearly there will need some fence-mending from Roethlisberger with the team and I believe the Steelers will give him, the proverbial, “One Last Strike”.  I don’t believe any team, not even the dysfunctional Oakland Raiders, is ready to take on Big Ben and the problems that he brings right now.  It would take a blockbuster deal for any team to bite and I don’t see that happening.

As for Roethlisberger, it is time for him to understand that playing in the NFL is not a right, but a privilege and if he doesn’t watch it, he can easily become a forgotten footnote – just ask Pacman Jones. 

We will see by September, if Big Ben decides that football is his first priority.  But this story or the salacious details around it are not going away anytime soon.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)