In what should shape up to be a fairly decent match-up, Super Bowl XL in Detroit will feature the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams rolled on Sunday and won impressively, boring many a fan hoping for "edge of the seat" excitement in the conference championship games. Hopefully, the Super Bowl will prove to be more entertaining and there are already quite a few story lines for the media to over-analyze. The game will feature 2006 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, aging icon Jerome Bettis returning to his hometown, two of the NFL's best offensive lines, Big Ben Roethlisberger and his ridiculous career winning percentage, two under-rated and aggressive defenses, Lofa Tatupu and Troy Polamalu, Terrible Towels, and of course, two of the game's greatest mustaches.
Incredibly, Bill Cowher led his Steelers to three straight playoff victories on the road. Perhaps even more impressive, those three teams were the 1, 2, and 3 seeds in the AFC (Cincinnatti, Indianapolis, and Denver). As the longest tenured head coach in the league, Cowher's tough love schtick has been working in Pittsburgh for 14 years and he will be making his second Super Bowl appearance. Often in the NFL, it seems that players tire of a coach's approach after a few years but Cowher is still able to connect with his team. Credit has to be given to both Cowher and the Rooney family, who have shown patience and therefore given their franchise great continuity.
On the flipside, the AFC Championship game exposed Bronco QB Jake Plummer. All year, his critics have questioned his ability to win a big game when his team was behind. When he found himself in that situation on Sunday, Plummer choked. Denver had success this year by rolling Plummer out of the pocket, limiting his reads, and simplifying the game for him. I'm no Ron Jaworski, but doesn't that also allow the opposing defense to only cover half the field? Unless the running game gives the Broncos an early lead, defenses can easily force Plummer to make mistakes. He had four turnovers against the Steelers and lost any respect he earned in 2006, at least in the media's eyes. This offseason, pundits will once again constantly question whether or not the Broncos can win big with Plummer under center. This game might be enough to convince Mike Shanahan and the Denver brain trust to go hard after Terrell Owens this offseason.
The Panthers were also exposed on Sunday as a one dimensional team. Already without running backs Deshaun Foster and Stephen Davis, Carolina also lost Nick Goings in the early goings (yeh, I said it) against Seattle. His collision with Tatupu made my head pound just watching it (well it was either that, or just a vicious reminder of a ridiculous Saturday night). Without any semblance of a running game, the Seattle defense contained the Steve Smith show. Perhaps it is also time to give that defense some credit as well. Tatupu is already a game changer in his rookie year; don't forget, a lot of people questioned drafting him in the second round (by the way, I think its officially safe to draft any USC player not named Mike Williams). The secondary is adequate and I like their deep D-line rotation. The difference in the game was Seattle absolutely dominating the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball.
The early line for the Super Bowl has the Steelers as favorites, giving 4 points. While the Steelers faced a more difficult path to XL, the early pick is the Seahawks. It's tough to pick against Big Ben, but I think the Steelers will struggle to run against the Seahawks. Also, the two week break in action benefits Seattle. It will give Darrell Jackson more time to heal up and give Holmgren a chance to come up with blocking schemes for the vaunted Pittsburgh blitzes. Hopefully, he will also use the time to develop a more Super 'stache; Cowher is currently favored in this category as well. At any rate, let's all hope that the game lives up to expectations, unlike Sunday's blowouts.