Peter King of Sports Illustrated is picking the Steelers to beat the Green Bay Packers 33-27 in Super Bowl XLV in this week's issue of SI. This would be cause for optimism if it hadn't been 16 years since King last predicted a Super Bowl Champion.
From a logical perspective, it's an interesting pick. If you compare the Steelers' roster today to what it was in Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona, the roster is substantially similar (albeit with the conspicuous absence of the MVP of that game). The Steelers are slightly under the radar this year with the suspension of Roethlisberger and the fact that the team went only 9-7 last year. If recent history is any guide, rarely have the preseason "consensus" top teams actually won the Super Bowl (so let's count out the Ravens, please). So can it be done? Of course it can, but we wouldn't be making that prediction. As a teaser to our NFL Preview coming out either this weekend or some other time when we feel like it, here are 3 keys to making it happen:
1) Mike Wallace. Hines is going to decline at some point, but even if he still produces his 1000 yards and 6TDs, the Steelers will need Wallace to make some big plays. The road to the Steelers' two most recent Super Bowls was marked with big play after big play (not necessarily in yardage, but in skill + importance) despite the Steelers not having that reputation (Randel El to Hines in SBXL, Santonio punt return versus SD, Santonio catch versus Baltimore, etc...).
2) Health. This one is obvious, but the Steelers are very susceptible to injuries at a lot of positions. The offensive line is Kate Moss-thin, Troy can't be replaced, the starting CB's suck so I can only imagine how bad the backups are, and the Leftwich/Dixon combo isn't scaring anyone. The Steelers can beat anyone in the league at 100% full strength...but with the age of the defense and some of the injury history of those guys (Troy, Aaron Smith, etc.) how likely is that to actually happen?
3) Mike Tomlin. GTOG is a big fan of Tomlin, but his schtick got a little stale last season (Ex. "unleash hell"). He should finally be getting to the point where he is comfortable seizing total control of the team. In his first couple of years he was, understandably, very deferential to his assistants and to veteran players probably because he was still a little unsure of how to handle himself as a coach (to his credit, he did win a Super Bowl this way). If and when he puts his stamp on this team this season, will it be for better or worse? We think it will be for the best, but it will require guys like Ward, Hampton, Farrior, Roethlisberger, etc. to lose some of their sense of entitlement and get with the program. Maybe Tomlin just needs to motivate Ward by telling Ward that no one believed in him (despite the fact that he was drafted in the 3rd round).