Super predictions for Sunday

A champion will be crowned in Detroit this Sunday and a team of players will walk away losing the biggest game of their lives. A player will become a legend and another will be considered a failure. One coach will be deemed a genius and the other will be bashed and thought of as unable to win the big one.

This is the nature of the Super Bowl and the Pittsburg Steelers and Seattle Seahawks will be prepared to decide all of this at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. Both teams know that the team that walks away from Ford Field victorious will win much more than just the Lombardi Trophy – they will earn their own place in NFL history.

The Steelers have been in this position many times before, winning four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s and establishing themselves as a dynasty behind Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and company. In the Seahawks’ 30 years of existence they have never been to the Super Bowl. They came closest to tasting the big game more than 20 years ago when they lost in the AFC Championship game to the Raiders. While the Terrible Towels have waved at many Super Bowls the “Twelfth Man” has sat at home watching other teams play year after year.

However, the reality is that neither of these current teams’ impact players have appeared on the world’s biggest stage. Not Big Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Hines Ward or even hometown favorite Jerome Bettis. While history may favor the Steelers, they will be the first to admit that history doesn’t mean anything after being the first sixth-seed to appear in a conference championship game and now the Super Bowl.

After winning their last three regular-season games to receive a playoff berth and beating the first, second and third teams in the AFC the Steelers obviously have momentum. Although this tough road could raise some concerns about being too fatigued to win the big game, Pittsburgh isn’t buying into it and rightfully so. The Seahawks certainly had the easier road to Detroit, coasting into the playoffs with a first-round bye and home field, but it still remains to be seen whether or how this will benefit them on Sunday.

The Seahawks are going to need to start the game playing very well because the Steelers are on a roll and have all the confidence in the world, and all of the world’s confidence it seems. Seattle must have a fast and productive start to quiet the critics who consider them the underdog even though they are the number-one seed in their conference. Mike Holmgren usually tries to maintain a good balance of passing and running early in games, but he may attempt a deep pass downfield early to Darrell Jackson to catch the Steelers off guard. Not only would this help sway the momentum Seattle’s way, it would also force Pittsburgh to think twice before blitzing every play like they did against the Colts.

On the other hand, look for the Steelers to establish the run throughout the first quarter. Obviously Roethlisberger can pass the ball but it will be vital to start the Bus up early and let him warm up for a fourth-quarter joy ride. Which is what the Steelers will be doing, joyriding on the Bus throughout the whole game if the Hawks fail to stop the run early. Against the Panthers, Seattle didn’t use the blitz often, instead dropping their linebackers into coverage. Look for more pressure on Big Ben and a more legitimate attempt at stopping the running attack that Bettis and Willy Parker present.

The Steelers employ a running-by-committee mentality, using the speedster Parker mostly on first and second downs and giving the ball to Bettis on third down and late in the game to wear the opponent down. Bill Cowher likes to get an early lead and then rush the ball with the bruising Bettis throughout the second half to secure the lead. If the Seahawks fall behind early, Bettis will limit them by running down the clock with his hardnosed running style.

Seattle, on the other hand, only hands off to one man for the majority of the game. His name is Shaun Alexander and he can also be called by his preferred name – MVP. Alexander scorched defenses all year long, winning the NFL rushing title, scoring a record 28 touchdowns and eventually being presented with the NFL’s Offensive MVP award. Pittsburgh is fully aware of his antics and will focus on shutting him down early with their physical linebackers.

Seattle must remember that this Pittsburgh offense can run the ball and pass the ball, which is a reality they didn’t face against either Washington or Carolina. So they can’t be too concerned with trying to stop either the pass or the run because they will overcompensate and get beat on a devastating play. This means that Seattle will probably only use a couple linebackers at a time to blitz and drop another, most likely athletic rookie Lofa Tatupu, into coverage to hamper the Steelers’ passing game over the middle to Hines Ward.

Although these teams have star players on both sides of the ball and all over the field, the respective quarterbacks will ultimately determine the outcome of the game. However, they will be influenced by many factors, including opponent’s defensive pressure, coverage and the effectiveness of the running game.

Matt Hasselbeck and Ben Roethlisberger are playing the best football of their lives and at a convenient time, to say the least. Big Ben has been very accurate throughout the playoffs so far, picking apart three superb defenses like he was back at Miami (Ohio) and playing against MAC quality defenses. Hasselbeck has simply been playing out of his mind. He controlled the game against Washington and passed for a total of 219 yards and two touchdowns versus Carolina, ending the game with a QB rating of 108.

Wherever Hasselbeck and Roethlisberger go will dictate how far their respective teams go. If Hasselbeck finds himself unable to deal with the swarming and unpredictable pressure of the Steelers like Peyton Manning or Jake Plummer, it is likely that the Seahawks will be watching the post-game festivities from the locker room.

The same goes for Big Ben, who must be able to play better then Jake Delhomme, the Panthers QB who threw three interceptions against Seattle in the NFC Championship game, if the Steelers expect to win. The Seahawks may not have a defense with superstars and big names like Pittsburgh does with Troy Polamalu, James Farrior and Jerry Porter, but they do have a defense that is capable of preventing Bettis, Roethlisberger and Ward from having a successful Super Bowl experience.

Super Bowl XL should be a very competitive match up. However, the Seahawks have a better overall team and should be able to bring the Lombardi Trophy home to Seattle in a nail biter, 31-24. Alexander and Hasselbeck will have huge days against a Pittsburgh team that has really played six playoff-worthy games to even appear in the Super Bowl. Mr. MVP should walk away with the Super Bowl’s most valuable player honors after an impressive performance against Pittsburgh.

The difference in the game will be Roethlisberger’s inability to maintain his composure against the Seahawks supposed “no name” defense. The enormous stage and severity of the game will lead to his demise, just like Dan Marino and John Elway early in their careers. He may be cool, calm and collected but he is also very young and this will ultimately shine through in the end. Seattle will etch their name into the record books and definitely find their place in history after Sunday’s performance.