The big day has finally arrived, and here in Detroit we were greeted with six inches of snow last night. It will have no effect on today's game. The city has been preparing for snow for over a year now, so plows and extra people were on hand to keep downtown Detroit accessible. The game, meanwhile, is being played at Ford Field, a covered stadium.
The only question left today is which team will win the game? Let's take a close look...
Why Seattle Can Win
The Seahawks maybe four point underdogs, but smart bettors know that the line is set to create action above all else. So should we really think of Seattle as underdogs? They have the league's MVP, perhaps the league's best offensive line, a strong quarterback, and one of the better coaches around. They won 13 games, breezed through their two playoff games, and have plenty of momentum.
The trouble is that Seattle has done most of its impressive work at home. On the road, the Seahawks were far less impressive. Technically, this game is being played on a neutral field, but 1) Detroit has turned into Pittsburgh West this week, and 2) it's not so much a hostile environment that may kill Seattle as the rowdy home crowd helped them. They won't have their "12th Man" to scream opponents into submission.
They're still a good football team, and if they execute a good gameplan, they'll have a chance to win. The 'Hawks biggest advantage over Pittsburgh is in the ground game, where their offensive line is better and their running back is better. The key to beating the red hot Steelers is to have long, sustained drives that break the heart of the Steeler defense. The Hawks look like a team that can do that. With Alexander to pace the run game and Hasselbeck behind center to keep drives going in a spread-out, West Coast, ball control passing game, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if the Seahawks had a few six minute scoring drives. That's the way to beat Pittsburgh.
The big story will be watching how the praised Seattle offensive line handles the different defensive packages that the Steelers bring. If Seattle is forced to double-team Casey Hampton inside, it's going to be problematic and free up the other Steeler defenders to do what they do. If they can keep Hampton contained with just one blocker (not easy to do), they'll have a much better chance of executing what they want to do. Watch closely to see how Hampton is being blocked.
Why Pittsburgh Can Win
Has there been a hotter team coming in to a Super Bowl than the Steelers? They look a lot like the Tamba Bay Bucs of 2003 to me. An underrated offense, a ferocious defense, excellent coaching...
The Steelers will win this game if they avoid turnovers on offense and get Seattle into a passing mode. Pittsburgh will want to disrupt what the Seahawks are trying to do by making them one dimensional. That means stopping Alexander. The Steelers can be very stout against the run when they need to be, and they need to today.
Look for Pittsburgh to play lots of run blitzes and leave coverage to one-on-one early in the game. The Seahawks aren't a team that takes a lot of shots down the field, so tight man coverage is less risky. If the Steelers can create havoc in the run game for Alexander and make Hasselbeck go to quick reads on the passes, they'll have accomplished something significant. There have been so many questions about Hasselbeck as a Leader that you have to wonder whether the Hawks can win the game if it all falls on him. Especially with the way the Steelers get after the quarterback.
On offense, the Steelers will try to run more than they have in weeks' past. It's not so much that they will be hesitant to use Big Ben so much as you can expect Seattle to be aggressive in their pass coverage, after watching what happened to Denver and Indianapolis. There should be some running room for the Steelers early in the game, and they'll need to use that to soften the Seahawk defense and open up the passing game.
Offensive Coordinator Ken Wisenhunt has done a marvelous job in the playoffs of not only starting with a great game plan, but also adjusting to the circumstances that develop. Perhaps the most intriguing matchup in the Super Bowl will be Wisenhunt versus Seattle Defensive Coordinator Ray Rhodes.
The Steelers have that Team of Destiny feel to them. From Carson Palmer going down on the second play, to their nemesis (the Patriots) being eliminated, to the Bettis Fumble, to the Hines Ward reception in the 1st quarter against Denver that could have been so different, to the Bus going home to Detroit.... All the storylines point to One For The Thumb.
The only real danger, of course, is that a favorite that seems have so much going for it can sometimes forget that it has to win the game, too. Believe me, a majority of the Steeler fans in Detroit right now have already called this game over. And that's dangerous. The Steelers have a truly great chance to win that fifth Super Bowl, but Seattle will not give it to them.
In fact, these two teams are so evenly matched that a classic Super Bowl not only seems possible, but probable. The 'Hawks and Steelers each do the things you want your team to do well with ease, and the team that cracks and makes mistakes is going to lose. If the Steelers aren't up to the challenge, Seattle will pound them to submission. No doubt about it.
But I don't expect that to happen. I think you're going to see a focused and determined Pittsburgh team. I think that Bill Cowher has learned from his first Super Bowl and is better prepared for the challenges in this one. I think that Ken Wisenhunt is the biggest advantage that either team has. And I'm not sure that Matt Hasselbeck is ready to be a Superbowl Winning Quarterback. A championship team needs either a championship quarterback (a la Tom Brady) or a championship defense (a la Ray Lewis and Baltimore). I'm not sure that Seattle has either, and it's looking more and more like Pittsburgh has both.
So while this came -could- go either way, I think the favorite is the pick here. Pittsburgh Steelers get one for the thumb, 28-20.