Let’s get to this week’s 20 thoughts, which also have some Patriots flavor.
1. The biggest key for the Steelers’ defense will be protecting the seams, where they are most susceptible against the pass, and that’s where Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a lot of success. The Packers knew the Bears had a weakness on the left side of their secondary, and Rodgers roasted them there for much of the first half of the NFC Championship. Rodgers will target the seams in Pittsburgh’s defense until the Steelers prove they can stop it.
2. The biggest thing for the Packers’ offense will be containing Pittsburgh outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. If Green Bay tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga need tight end help, they’ll have far fewer opportunities to utilize their four-wide sets. After all, if they are empty in the backfield, the Steelers can tee off with their blitzes.
3. Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is the only Super Bowl MVP still alive in the playoffs. Interestingly, the Steelers’ reputation has been built on running the ball and playing dominant defense, but wide receivers have been the MVP recipients in their two Super Bowl wins since 2005 (Santonio Holmes was the other).
4. Former wideout Lynn Swann was also their MVP of Super Bowl X. Pittsburgh’s other three Super Bowl MVP’s were running back Franco Harris (IX) and quarterback Terry Bradshaw (XIII and XIV).
5. There are eight Super Bowl MVP’s who are still active: Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (XXXV), Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (XXXVI and XXXVIII), Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch (XXXIX), Ward (XL), Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (XLI), Giants quarterback Eli Manning (XLII), Holmes (XLIII) and Saints quarterback Drew Brees (XLIV).
6. Eli Manning was the only active Super Bowl MVP who didn’t earn a playoff berth this season. In fact, he’s 0-1 in the postseason since his Super Bowl win, and his only trip to the playoffs since was in 2008.
7. Former Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson (XXXVII) is the only Super Bowl MVP since 2000 who is out of the league. He was also one of the most obscure winners ever.
8. To be fair — like coverage of the presidential election — I feel like I should mention that quarterback Bart Starr (I and II) and wide receiver Desmond Howard (XXXI) were the Packers’ three Super Bowl MVP’s. And no, I did not actually just compare the Super Bowl to the presidential election.
9. While we’re on the subject, linebacker James Harrison should have been the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII for his game-changing 100-yard interception return for a touchdown as time expired in the second half. That was one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history.
10. I always thought Holmes’ right foot never came down on his game-winning catch in that game, but this gallery (photos 10 and 12) shows that I was wrong and should have spent my time thinking about more productive things.
11. Rodgers is my Super Bowl MVP pick this Sunday. He should be able to carve up Pittsburgh’s passing defense.
12. I also find it very interesting that the Steelers and Packers play identical defensive schemes, and the outcome of this game could prove to be significant for each defensive coordinator. If Green Bay wins, Dom Capers might be in the running for the Titans’ newly vacant head coaching gig, but he’ll definitely be in the running for a job next year. If the Steelers win, legend Dick LeBeau could retire. Everyone who questions Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin will be very interested to see how he performs without LeBeau.
13. Check out my new weekly mailbag, which debuted last week. Submit questions here or through the link in my bio. It’s been a fun time, and I’ll have one every Friday to get you through the offseason.
14. Bill Belichick‘s top-four guards on the depth chart this season came from two very different directions. Logan Mankins was a first-round pick, while Stephen Neal, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell went undrafted, though Neal and Connolly each needed years to develop before becoming fulltime starters. If Mankins and Neal don’t return, I wonder if Belichick would prefer to use a first- or second-round pick on a guard like Mike Pouncey, or if he’d opt for another late-round pick or undrafted free agent.
15. Brandon Tate‘s production in kickoff returns took a dive as the season wore on. All parties deserve a share in that, whether it’s Tate, his blockers or opposing teams for improving their strategy in coverage. Through four games, Tate’s 33.4-yard average on 18 returns led the league among players with at least 11 returns. In games 5-16, there were 31 players who returned at least 20 kickoffs, and Tate’s average of 19.8 yards per return ranked 29th.
16. Tate has phenomenal skills as a kick returner, and there’s no reason to think he won’t rediscover that spark. However, this area should rank very high on special teams coordinator Scott O’Brien‘s offseason agenda.
17. I can’t stand the Black Eyed Peas. Just despise their music, and that’s why I’ll pay no attention to the halftime show Sunday. But it’s even more annoying when this week’s Super Bowl preview shows air their music during highlight packages.
18. I found this stat to be interesting: In the 15 Super Bowls from the 1995 season to the 2009 season, there have been nine matchups between one team that played in one of the three previous Super Bowls and another team that hadn’t been in a Super Bowl in at least eight years. In those nine occasions, the more experienced team was 5-4.
19. The lack of effort in the Pro Bowl was most evident in the trenches, where the offensive and defensive linemen stopped shy of hugging. Titans defensive end Jason Babin was the most interesting player to watch because he continuously jumped the snap before slamming on the breaks once he engaged the offensive tackle. Why try so hard for a half-second before easing up?
20. I’ve been saying for a few weeks that I think Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward would be a great fit for the Patriots, but I’m also starting to like California defensive end Cameron Jordan and Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Every Thursday from now until the draft, I’ll run a mock draft, so check for that.