Why it will be a Steelers-Packers matchup in Super Bowl XLV
Packers dominate in the passing game, both offensively and defensively
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers continue to utilize the big plays
Defensive line play is a great indicator of success, as Pittsburgh shows
The Packers will face the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV if things go as I expect, setting up a first-of-its-kind meeting for an NFL championship between the two marquee NFL franchises.
Here are four Cold, Hard Football Facts on why the Packers will maul the Bears, and four more on why the Steelers will fly past the Jets:
1. Aaron Rodgers is about to steal the national spotlight. Green Bay's quarterback quietly entered the record books midseason as the most efficient passer in NFL history (98.4 career passer rating). But quarterbacks earn their reputations in the playoffs, and Rodgers is taking it to the next level here in the 2010 postseason.
In three career playoff games, he's completed 77 of 105 passes (73.3%) for 969 yards, 10 TD, 1 INT and a 129.4 passer rating. If not for the fact his defense got torched last by year Kurt Warner and the Cardinals in a wild-card shootout for the ages (a 51-45 Arizona win), there's no telling what his numbers might look like.
Rodgers was virtually unstoppable last week against the Falcons (366 yards, 3 TD passes, 1 TD run, 136.8 rating). The record for highest career postseason passer rating (min. 150 attempts), by the way, is currently held by Green Bay legend Bart Starr (104.3). Barring a complete reversal of fortunes, Rodgers will soon blow past Starr's record and will easily outgun Jay Cutler on Sunday.
2. The NFL is all about establishing air superiority, and nobody does it better than the Packers. The Cold, Hard Football Facts have long held that winning in the NFL is all about dominance in the passing game.
To demonstrate the importance of air superiority, we look at Passer Rating Differential. You simply subtract a team's Defensive Passer Rating from its Offensive Passer Rating. The result proves a lot about a team's chances for postseason success.
The average NFL champion, dating all the way back to 1940, was +27.4 in Passer Rating Differential (82.1 to 54.7). The Packers this year were No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential, at +31.7 (98.9 to 67.2).
In other words, the Pack moved the ball effectively through the air on offense, as evidenced by Rodgers' incredible numbers, and made life extremely tough for opposing passers. Green Bay was No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating (67.2), our preferred measuring of measuring pass defense.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler knows how tough it is to pass against the Pack: he completed 56 percent of his passes with 1 TD, 3 INT and a dismal 59.5 passer rating in two games.
Green Bay will win Sunday because it'll dominate the battle of passing efficiency.
3. Clay Matthews & Co. will meet for tea in the Chicago backfield. The Packers were also No. 1 in the NFL this year at forcing what ColdHardFootballFacts.com calls Negative Pass Plays (sacks and INTs). Green Bay forced a Negative Pass Play on 12.2 percent of opposing dropbacks this year.
That ability to pressure passers sets up a total mismatch against a Chicago offense that suffered a Negative Pass Play more often than any other team in football: nearly 15 percent of Jay Cutler's dropbacks ended with a sack or INT. He was sacked a league-high 52 times. Green Bay sacked Cutler nine times and nabbed three picks in two games this year.
The Packers will win Sunday because they'll swarm all over Cutler in the Chicago backfield and force him onto the ground and into several errant passes.
4. The Packers are better against Quality Teams. We track how each team performs against opponents with winning records, or what we call Quality Teams. It helps us separate teams who faced tough competition from those who beat up weak opponents.
Green Bay is easily the NFC's best team in this indicator: an impressive 6-3 vs. Quality Teams, including their playoff wins over Philadelphia and Atlanta. They outscored these nine opponents by an average of 24.6 to 16.4 PPG -- far and away the best mark in the NFC.
Green Bay failed to show up for a lot of games this year, including losses to the bad Redskins, Dolphins and Lions. But against Quality competition, they were better than any team in the NFC. They'll be better than the Bears on Sunday.