Many were surprised to find Pittsburgh listed as the favorite, as they were the lowest seeded team in the AFC. Not me. The balance of power has been tilted toward the AFC for several years now, and it would be fair to say if the Steelers were in the NFC North, they would walk away with the division title. If this were Indy or Denver representing the AFC, the line would be way higher than 3 ½, trust me.
Seattle is a bit of an unknown entity. Yes, MVP Shaun Alexander had a record setting season, and Matt Hasselbeck is among the top quarterbacks in the NFC, but other than those two, the average fan would be hard pressed to name more than five starters. Having exorcised their post season demons by winning their first playoff game in 21 years, the Hawks come in, presumably very loose. They’re underdogs, despite being the top seed in the NFC, and most people are picking Pittsburgh on Sunday. Still….I’m getting a “just happy to be here” vibe about them, and that doesn’t bode well. Couple that with the Steelers just seeming to have everything falling into place for once, and I’m taking Cowher’s Crew on Sunday.
Consider what has happened for the Steelers on the road to the Bowl:
Kansas City, which had the tiebreaker advantage over them, somehow forgets how to tackle Tiki Barber on a Saturday game in New York, and finished 10-6, one game behind. During the last six weeks, the Chiefs managed to beat New England, Denver, San Diego and Cincinnati, yet still come up a game short, opening the door for the Steelers. (Can you tell I’m a Chiefs fan?)
Carson Palmer is taken off the field after one throw, a 60 yard completion. The Steelers harass the heck out of John Kitna to advance past Cinicinnati.
Peyton Manning remembered his post season record, and is still seeing Troy Palamolu in his sleep. They then overcome the ridiculous call on the Palamolu interception AND the Bettis goal line fumble and win in Indianapolis. (Nice kick, Idiot).
Jake Plummer reverts to his old self, Champ Bailey drops a pick with nothing but open space between him and the end zone, and Denver is handed its first home loss of the season.
If those facts don’t add up to a team on a roll, I don’t know what does.
Will it be close? Perhaps, but I can see Seattle tightening up and committing either a big special teams mistake, or a critical turnover that leads to big things for Pittsburgh. Defensive guru Dick LeBeau should have something new in his bag of tricks to slow down Alexander and force Hasselbeck out of his rhythm. Offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt is also good for throwing in a gadget play (probably one that he’s been sitting on all season) at just the right time. Ben Rothliesberger has been on a remarkable roll, and I think the running game, which has been somewhat sub-par in the playoffs, will be able to move the ball and grind some clock, and The Bus will ride off into retirement with the Lombardi trophy held high.
The pick: Pittsburgh 31 Seattle 20
Last week: 1-1