We are almost done with the hype and the talk. It is time to separate the men from the boys. Who will surprise? Who will choke? And who will shine?
We will see two types of performances on Super Bowl Sunday: boom and bust.
After talking to players and coaches on the Steelers and Packers, it is time to give you strong takes on who is ready for the moment, SCHEIN 9 style. We give you the key names and whether or not they will be a boom or a bust in Super Bowl XLV (FOX pregame at 2 p.m. ET, game time at 6). Some of the results will shock you.
1. Aaron Rodgers
This is a boom. And it is to the level of game MVP. I fully anticipate the Packers will eschew the run, spread Pittsburgh out, and Rodgers will throw for more than 300 yards with three touchdowns.
By now you should know my man-crush on Rodgers is out of this world. But it is for all of the right reasons. We talked to Rodgers on Sirius NFL Radio on Wednesday morning in a revealing interview. I’ve always enjoyed my time interviewing Rodgers but this was something special; a conversation that showed his eagerness to deliver a championship to Green Bay.
Rodgers told us he asked head coach Mike McCarthy in Week 6 if the two of them could start meeting every Thursday to game plan. He wanted to be as prepared as he could while carrying an intimate knowledge of every play and why it would be a called in a certain spot. Rodgers told us that he said to McCarthy at the time, "We could have something special here this season and I’m not playing my best. I need to change that now." It’s that dedication that put Rodgers and McCarthy in a great rhythm and flow with play calls and execution since Week 16.
Rodgers is further fueled by Championship Sunday, where he found his play to be unacceptable, saying "I didn’t make a play in the second half. I didn’t hit a receiver. And I threw a pick in the red zone. That’s unacceptable and won’t happen again."
And while Rodgers says he will consider his legacy at another time, he was both reflective on 2008 when his teammates and organization stood by him as some fans still longed for Lord Favre. He knows what a championship would do to cement his legacy in Packer history. The experience in 2008, Rodgers said, helped him become the player he is today. If he could handle the post-Favre situation with aplomb, he could handle anything, including early losses to Miami and Washington, a concussion, five straight win-or-go-home games, and eventually Super Bowl Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers won’t feel the heat Sunday. He has grown battle-tested in a short period of time. Rodgers will pick apart the sub-par corners for Pittsburgh.
2. Troy Polamalu
He’s a fantastic player. Ronnie Lott told me this week that Polamalu could go down in history as the best safety of all time, and that says something. But I think his Super Bowl will be a bust. (I just got the shakes typing that.)
I don’t believe the Defensive Player of the Year is 100 percent healthy. He missed tackles against Baltimore in the playoffs and wasn’t really a factor against the Jets in the AFC title game. Rodgers, when he is cooking like he was against Atlanta, can spot a wounded cat like Polamalu.
3. Ben Roethlisberger
I have way too much respect for Ben in the big spot to say anything else but boom.
I think Roethlisberger will have a stat line similar to what he put up against New York, which frankly wasn’t that good. He will complete about 10-14 passes, throw a couple of picks and take some unfortunate sacks. But he will also make huge plays on third down with his legs and arm.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told us he thought Ben played great against the Jets and thought the stat line was wrong when he saw the page before his postgame news conference. It will look strangely similar, but on the losing end.
4. James Starks
I think his Super Bowl will be a bust.
I’m a Starks fan. I liked him back at the University of Buffalo under Turner Gill. But nobody runs on Pittsburgh. I think he gets 10-12 very unsuccessful carries.
5. Rashard Mendenhall
In talking to both Tomlin and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Arians this week, they both acknowledged that Mendenhall set the tone and tempo for the Steelers against the Jets. I don’t see any such luck on Super Bowl Sunday, making him a bust. B.J. Raji, Desmond Bishop, Clay Matthews and Co. are too good. And the Pittsburgh offensive line is in shambles. And with that said . . .
6. Doug Legursky
Tomlin, Arians and all the players rave about the backup center’s toughness. Nose tackle Casey Hampton told us on Wednesday that if Legursky was taller, he would be entrenched somewhere as a starter. But he’s no Maurkice Pouncey, who is 99.9 percent certain to miss the Super Bowl. Raji vs. Legursky is not a fair fight. BUST!
7. Dom Capers over Dick LeBeau
The Packers defensive coordinator will have a better Super Bowl Sunday than his Steelers counterpart. This is a boom.
LeBeau’s defense will struggle with McCarthy’s aggressive play calls and what Rodgers calls "most improved element of the team from 2009" — the Green Bay offensive line. And Capers will bring the heat against the Steelers’ patchwork line. Charles Woodson will make at least two impact plays. He’s the staple. And every week there’s a new hero. Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Cullen Jenkins and Desmond Bishop will make big plays and be the unsung heroes.
8. Heath Miller
How great was this cat in the game that sent Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl? Miller will be asked to help with the blocking. He will make a big play on third down or in the red zone. Tomlin raved about how he leads by example. Miller is a tough, clutch ball player who defines Steeler football. It’s a boom.
9. Mark Murphy
He made the decision to cut Favre loose in 2008 very early in his tenure as Packers president after replacing Bob Harlan. The Packers president and CEO told us this week it was so important for everyone in the brass to be unified, especially when the public reaction was "split down the middle," as Murphy recalls.
Frankly, it was much worse than that. But Murphy, general manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy knew exactly what they were doing. Their vision will be on full display Sunday. BOOM!