It's a game like no other.
The Superbowl is finally here. Savor it because the wait for the next one may be much longer.
The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers have had different but similar journeys to this point. The only thing left to do is to find out who's adversity filled season ends on a high and who will have to suffer through the long wait for Superbowl XLVI, whenever that may be.
Ben Roethlisberger v Aaron Rodgers
Roethlisberger has all the experience as far as Superbowls go but Rodgers has not faltered in the face of any new situation this year. There is not much to choose between the two; Both overcome offensive line deficiencies with awe inspiring elusion, Both can beat you with their feet, Both are clutch.
Even where Rodgers is obviously better than Roethlisberger. his accuracy is vastly superior, Roethlisberger can counter with his ability to extend plays and earn big gains from broken plays.
Ultimately the Steelers have the edge with Roethlisberger because he has been here before, twice, and shown us that he can make the final throw when the biggest game of them all is on the line.
Steelers 1 v 0 Packers
Rashard Mendenhall v James Starks
James Starks is still an unproven commodity still even though he has performed well in the playoffs while Mendenhall is proving to be a star for the Steelers.
Mendenhall is one of the few feature backs left in the league. He shows great explosion and agility for such a big back. His biggest problem coming into the season was holding onto the football but he has seemingly solved that issue this year. Mendenhall has been brilliant in the playoffs and will be a pivotal player to the Steelers' gameplan.
While the Steelers will look to Mendenhall to win them the game, the Packers will look for Starks to simply not lose it for them. The Packers basically abandoned the run once Ryan Grant went down early in the season. Their non-existent running game will be further diminished by the historically good Steelers defense. Starks will get some carries but only for the sake of balance.
Steelers 2 v 0 Packers
The Packers offensive line features a rookie right tackle who will need to have a huge game against the Steelers outside linebackers this week if they have any chance of winning the game. They won't be afforded much chances to run block as the Packers more often than not will execute their gameplan out of a shotgun formation. Watch out for Josh Sitton at right guard who will now easily be the best offensive lineman after Pouncey was ruled out.
Steelers 2 v 1 Packers
Receivers and Tight Ends
Finley's loss just means that the Packers will look to their receiving corp more. The Packers receivers are the best unit in the league.
Jordy Nelson and James Jones are good enough to be starters for most teams yet they remain the third and fourth choice receivers on the Packers' depth chart behind the dominant Donald Driver and mercurial Greg Jennings. Jennings and Driver are very similar as they have the physique of running backs with soft hands. They both use their upper body strength to manhandle their opposition.
The Steelers' receivers are a very contrasting quartet to the Packers group. Outside of stall-worth Hines Ward, they feature a trio of speedsters. Rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders can make big plays from anywhere on the field while second year pro Mike Wallace is possibly the fastest player in the league.
Both sets of receivers are among the best in the league.
Steelers 2 v 2 Packers
Raji anchors his teams running game while also making plays pressuring the quarterback. Hampton is a gap filler who completely destroys offensive linemen on a regular basis. Hampton may not be as much use in this game as the Packers do not run the ball often but his presence consuming blockers always makes him valuable to the Steelers. Raji's stamina and versatility means that he will not leave the field often. He should be able to have a big game against Doug Legursky.
While Raji just shades it for the Packers as a defensive tackle, the Steelers' defensive ends set them apart. Brett Keisel and Evander'Ziggy'Hood are outstanding ends. They can both dominate the running game and make big plays in the passing game. Their huge frames don't take away from their agility and speed over short distances. The Packers' ends Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett are better pass rushers as a pair but can be exposed by a strong running game.
Steelers 3 v 2 Packers
Matthews has been the only constant in the Packers linebacking corp as it has been decimated by injuries throughout the season. The replacements that are currently starting are all solid but unspectacular; AJ Hawk, Des Bishop and Eric Waldon. None of the three show great explosion as game changers. The unit will rely heavily on Matthews but the outside linebacker himself can be exposed when teams run directly at him.
The Steelers on the other hand have 4 studs. James Harrison is a former defensive player of the year, James Farrior has been the captain of the team for years and owns 2 Superbowl rings, Lawrence Timmons is a former first round pick that has arguably been their best player this year, LaMarr Woodley has 39 sacks in his first 4 seasons as a Steeler; the great Lawrence Taylor had 41 in that time.
The Packers have a good Linebacking unit. The Steelers have a great one.
Steelers 4 v 2 Packers
The biggest difference between the two teams lies in the back end of the defense.
The Packers have a trio of cornerbacks who can turn the game in their favor as well as all pro talent Nick Collins at safety. The Steelers must rely on Troy Polamalu to keep their secondary in tact. Polamalu changes the whole game for the Steelers as it is almost impossible to tell where he will be on the field. Polamalu's knack for coming up with the big play makes up for their lack of talent around him. Ike Taylor in the past has been a shutdown corner and is still a good cornerback however the depth behind him is frail. Bryant McFadden is a good cornerback who has been struggling with injury for most of the season while William Gay is an inconsistent nickle corner. Anthony Madison will get extended playing time for the Steelers as the Packers are likely to spread the defense often, but he has made his name over the years as a special teams player.
The Packers trio of corners Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson have only one worry. It's a worry that any corner has palying the Steelers. How to deal with Mike Wallace. Not one of those corners can take Wallace out of the game on their own so expect safety help. This means that Woodson and Shields in all probability will match up in single coverage against the other receivers. Charles Woodson is similar to Polamalu as you never know what he is going to do, he blitzes an awful lot for a cornerback and routinely makes big plays to change the game in his team's favor.
Steelers 4 v 3 Packers
The Packers are not an outstanding unit either but their average numbers will be made to look even stronger against the Steelers.
Sean Suisham has been a fantastic addition to the Steelers' kicking game this year but has lost his job in the past for not being a reliable clutch kicker. Crosby hasn't had much to do during the playoffs, only kicking field goals in 1 game, hitting 2 of 3 against the Atlanta Falcons.
Steelers 4 v 4 Packers
This game is going to be a close one no matter what. The crucial difference is likely to be the Steelers frailties in the secondary. They do not match up well against Aaron Rodgers and his flurry of receivers so expect Dick Lebeau to be putting in overtime this week.
In a toss up game, I'm going with the Packers.