Roethlisberger gets the edge over his counterpart Aaron Rodgers because of his last Superbowl. Roethlisberger showed that he is unfazed by the big occasion leading his team on a game winning drive. Everyone knows how talented a player he is and how unorthodox he performs his job and these are the games in which Roethlisberger earns his reputation as the most clutch quarterback in the league.
Rodgers loses out on the top spot by a process of hair splitting(look a hair reference without Clay Matthews or Troy Polamalu). He is an elusive quarterback who has performed brilliantly in every playoff game that he has played in. Rodgers' is in my view the most accurate quarterback in the league with the arm strength to show it off, as Roethlisberger said "he could throw a football through a car wash and it wouldn't get wet."
It's really hard to have the defensive player of the year only third on this list but the two quarterbacks are deserving of their places. Polamalu is the most important player for the Steelers and his worth is immeasurable to a defense that relies heavily on his big plays during the big occasions. By his standards he has had a quiet playoff series this year but don't be shocked to see him getting his hands on the ball this Sunday.
Surprised? You really shouldn't be. Clay Matthews is an outstanding linebacker who will feature on this list sooner rather than later but Hampton is the better player. Hampton plays nose tackle for a 3-4 defense that gave up 62 yards per game during the regular season(3rd best of all time over that span). The nose tackle in the Steelers defense is responsible for both A-gaps against the run. Hampton is a hall of fame player who may never get their because of the unsung nature of his position.
Harrison has had a monstrous year amid his fines. He is arguably more deserving of the defensive player of the year than his teammate Polamalu. He earned his reputation as one of the best players in the league by sacking the quarter, which he did an excellent job of this year with 13.5 sacks overall while constantly being held by opposing tackles, but Harrison is one of the most well rounded players in the league. Like his teammate LaMarr Woodley Harrison is outstanding against the run when setting the edge but notably he is able to drop into coverage seamlessly and make plays in space.
The 34 year old cornerback may be waining in some peoples eyes but ask any Steeler fan and the biggest worry they have going against the Packers defense is not Clay Matthews but Woodson. Woodson is as unpredictable as Polamalu with great instincts. He is the best ball tackler in the league as he looks to force fumbles without risking broken tackles, yes the best even though he's a corner. Woodson may be losing a step in man to man coverage giving up 12 penalties on the year but he is still playing at an elite level.
7. BJ Raji.
Raji is a dominating force to overcome. He brings a an almost unique skill set to the defensive tackle position as he can rush the passer and stuff the running game while not often having to leave the field. Raji is huge but can move like a linebacker when he has to. He is a physical specimen that will create a great matchup with All Pro Maurkice Pouncey should the Steelers' center be able to play.
Why exactly has Matthews fallen to 8? It's simple really. He's not that good. Don't get me wrong any team in the league would take him and he has the potential to take over a football game but he is not an elite all around player. Matthews is a sack merchant who had 16.5 sacks on the year. However much of this got overblown as he recorded 6 sacks in his first 2 games(against the Eagles with Kolb and a rusty Vick, and the Buffalo Bills) Matthews did not have a double sack performance again until the Atlanta Falcons playoff game. The young linebacker is not very good against the run. If you check out this blog's recent piece on Flozell Adams(tinyurl.com/658jqnh)you will find that the Packers give up a huge 5.2 yards per carry to his side.
Williams has emerged this season as a standout cornerback. He was initially a huge snub for the Pro Bowl before subsequently making it as an alternate. Williams is not a shutdown corner but he plays excellent coverage and knows how to locate and catch the ball recording 9 overall interceptions on the season. At 27 years of age Williams is not exactly young but could be considered as the breakout player of the year in the whole league.
Mendenhall has had a great season. Rushing behind an offensive line that has been chopping and changing since before training camp, he amassed over 1'000 yards in the regular season while running hard in the playoffs. Mendenhall had huge games against the tough Ravens and Jets defenses putting up huge yards against the Jets and making big plays against the Ravens. For such a big back Mendenhall is surprisingly agile and explosive. He offers the team options as a receiver and strong blocker also.
Jennings is undoubtedly Aaron Rodgers favorite target. He stepped up his game after the loss early of Jermichael Finley and never looked back. Jennings upper body strength is running back like and his hands are as soft as any other player on the field this sunday. He can run any route and will scare defensive backs when he gets the ball in his hands whether it be on a drag route or deep post.
Woodley loves the playoffs recording at least 1 sack in each of his first 6 playoff games. Up until the AFC Championship Woodley had at least 2 in every game settling for one on Mark Sanchez. Woodley is known as a sack master but may be even better against the run. His one need to improve is when he drops in coverage. Being that he converted from a defensive end in college Woodley is a heavy set Linebacker who bullies blockers more often than not.
This list of linebackers for the Steelers appears endless. Timmons has maybe had the best season of any Steeler linebacker. His speed and strength has allowed him to have 135 tackles this year without losing his playmaking ability. Timmons is a ferocious hitter that forced 2 fumbles this year to go with 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. He is an all around linebacker that possesses safety speed.
Collins is the Packers safety blanket. He can seemingly do it all. He is a fantastic reader of the game which allows him to pick off any deep passes from the opposing quarterback while he has the ability to lay out a running back with his hard hits.
The possibility of Pouncey playing in this game is up to 75% according to the player himself. His potential matchup with Raji would be hugely entertaining to football purists. Pouncey is one of the most athletic linemen in the league. He is a mauler in the running game that regularly gets down the field to block linebackers. He is a good pass protector who has been unfazed calling out the protection for the team as a rookie. One thing you will always notice about Pouncey is that he is always near the ball at the end of the play, his motor never stops.
Wallace is renowned as a deep threat but he can run any route asked of him and possesses silk hands. He runs accurate routes and is not afraid to extend going over the middle. Watch out for Wallace in the running game too as he has improved vastly as a blocker. Wallace speed is obvious to anyone that has seen him play as he can outrun a ten yard cushion from the fastest of cornerbacks.
Jenkins will not play every snap but his versatility on the field makes him one of the most valuable players to the Packers. He has a huge impact on the defense as he can get after the quarterback in any given situation and can also be trusted in the running game. Jenkins had a ludicrous 7 sacks in 13 regular season games from the 3-4 defensive end position(the 3-4 defensive end is predominantly a run stuffer who more often than not faces double teams).
Keisel's beard has brought him some attention that has never really been there before but it should have been. With the absence of Aaron Smith for the majority of the season Keisel's form did not waiver. He is first and foremost a run stuffer but offers versatility in the passing game. Whether it be freeing up a defender by penetrating through a double team or dropping into coverage for a linebacker Keisel will continue to make plays no matter the offensive play call.
The Packers offensive line is not great but guard Josh Sitton is one of the best in the league. He is a premiere run blocker who at times excels in pass protection. It is tough to decide who is the best offensive linemen in this game between he and Pouncey but for sure both players are lightyears ahead of the competition.
Keeping Miller down this far speaks more to the quality of players on show rather than his talent. Miller is one of the best two way tight ends in the league. He is the best blocking tight end in the league while also being a very very reliable target for Ben Roethlisberger as a receiver. Miller's presence gives the whole offense a huge lift and he is a vital cog in this team's success.
*Defensive End Aaron Smith is not likely to play in this game therefore he was not considered. However if Smith were to play and be at 100%(which he won't be) he would rank as the 4th best player in the game and subsequently each other player would drop one position. Smith is the best 3-4 defensive end to EVER play the game.