Two of the most-storied franchises in NFL history are playing on Super Bowl Sunday, and I cannot wait.
The storylines have sizzle. The matchups are outstanding.
Here’s an early look at some of the juicier angles for Super Bowl Sunday, SCHEIN 9 style
1. Rodgers is forever out of Favre’s shadow
Aaron Rodgers has been nothing short of remarkable since taking over for Brett Favre. Rodgers has passed every test this season, his third as the starter for the Pack. Rodgers spent the offseason poring over film, figuring out how he could do a better job avoiding sacks. It worked. This season, Rodgers met with Mike McCarthy every Thursday for three hours to go over the game plan. Rodgers put together a playoff game for the ages against Atlanta. He carried Green Bay to the ultimate game with his arm and momentum-saving tackle of Brian Urlacher after an ill-advised pick. Rodgers is the classic franchise quarterback.
But there are still some foolish "forever Favre" faithful who long for the days of the old gunslinger.
In three years as a starter, Rodgers has a trip to the Super Bowl. With a win, Rodgers gets a coveted championship ring. Or, the exact same number of Super Bowl trophies Favre has hoisted in the air. Rodgers’ first three years as the Green Bay starter are as good or better than any three-year stretch Favre put together with the Pack.
If Rodgers and the Packers could win, he would not only have his own rightful place in Packers lore, but with his arm, talent, youth and leadership, also would most certainly be en route to eclipsing Favre in Packers history.
2. The on- and off-field legacy of Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben is heading to his third Super Bowl. His game isn’t as crisp as Peyton Manning’s or Tom Brady’s. His decisions, his inability to get rid of the ball, at times are maddening.
Forget style points. Roethlisberger has proved he is one of the most clutch quarterbacks ever. He is 10-2 in the playoffs. It’s a staggering, amazing, Hall of Fame resume record. The game against the Jets was vintage Roethlisberger: a couple of picks, a low quarterback rating and a ridiculous amount of key third-down conversions, including the third-and-6 completion after the two-minute warning to ice the game. If Roethlisberger could get his third Super Bowl ring, it would cement his greatness.
Roethlisberger’s off-the-field behavior has been rather disgusting. In talking to Hines Ward recently, the receiver says the quarterback seems more humble, focused and committed to the team. Roethlisberger is going to have to stay out of trouble forever, especially when it comes to accusations dealing with sexual assault, for some in the public to move past his previous transgressions.
3. Better off Ted
It was Sunday morning, Jan. 9 at 10:22 ET. The morning after the Seahawks’ playoff win, just before the Green Bay game in Philly, I took a call from an angry Packers fan, livid that the Pack didn’t trade for Marshawn Lynch. It was only 16 days ago that Packer Nation was ripping Ted Thompson.
To some, he is the man who chased away Favre or the man who doesn’t spend money in free agency. Those folks are misguided. Thompson is a brilliant general manager who was ahead of his time on Favre. His drafts have been remarkable, ranging from the high picks of B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews and Greg Jennings to late-round finds such as James Starks. And then he finds guys such as Tramon Williams and Sam Shields in obscurity.
Thompson isn’t good. He’s outstanding. And Packers fans should embrace him fully.
4. Mike McCarthy vs. Dick LeBeau
Dick LeBeau is arguably the greatest defensive coordinator in NFL history. McCarthy is regarded as one of the best play callers in the league, putting constant heat on a defense. As Jennings told us last week, “Coach is in a great groove calling plays. We have a lot of confidence.” LeBeau’s defense is loaded with stars. McCarthy’s offense boasts a star quarterback, a solid line and four diverse and dynamic talents at receiver. I cannot wait for the chess match.
5. Ward to the Hall?
I’ve argued for years that Hines Ward is an all-time great. He is in the same sentence as Lynn Swan and John Stallworth in Steelers history. I know the competition, when stacked up against receivers in his era, is stiff. But when you factor in his blocking (best blocking receiver ever?) in the Pittsburgh run-first style under Bill Cowher, and Ward’s knack for the moment, I think he is Canton worthy. It will be tough to deny Ward if he has another big Super Bowl.
6. Can Mendenhall do it again?
Rashard Mendenhall changed the entire complexion of the AFC title game when he gashed the Jets’ defense on a long, sustained touchdown scoring drive on the opening possession. But how much of his success was a credit to Mendenhall and how much was the Jets missing arm tackles? It’s going to be very tough to have a repeat performance against the Green Bay defense.
7. New day, new star for Green Bay defense.
Raji told us Monday on Sirius NFL Radio that on the play where he scored the touchdown on the interception, it was the first time all year that defensive coordinator Dom Capers made that call. Capers has done an amazing job with this red-hot defense, dominant since the must-win Week 16 ball game against the Giants. Raji is a dominant defensive tackle, the player Charles Woodson called the best on the team’s defense. You know about Woodson and Matthews taking over games all year. But how about the emergence of Williams this season? Or the play of Shields against the Bears? Or the play of Eric Walden down the stretch of the season?
8. Offensive-line play
In stunning fashion, the Pittsburgh offensive line did its job against the Jets, even when star center Maurkice Pouncey got hurt. Forget what you thought about the Green Bay line entering the season. The Packers’ line has done a strong job all year. But neither offensive line has the advantage going up against the opposition’s defense. Playing your best game of the year is paramount.
9. Not-so-special teams
So many big games come down to the play on special teams. And, frankly, this has been, unequivocally, the worst and most unreliable unit for both Pittsburgh and Green Bay this season. One major positive for the Packers, punter Tim Masthay had a classic game against the Bears on Championship Sunday. But I don’t trust the special teams on either side, in any area, on Super Bowl Sunday.