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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
The Big Show
February 5, 2005
Season Ticket

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Seattle 27

This is a very interesting match-up of two teams that took vastly different paths to reach the Super Bowl. The Seahawks were the clear #1 seed in the NFC and after two home games easily took the NFC crown. The Steelers have done what no other team ever has - entered as the final wildcard team and translated being the #6 seed into a trip to the Big Show by beating the top three teams in the AFC on the road no less. If you want the definition of the right time to peak, the 2005 Steelers are the epitome of timing.

This should be a great game and it's easy enough to convince yourself of the winner either way you lean. The Steelers are peaking and playing like never before. They are in top form after three huge road wins - or are they tired yet? Seattle has not been as tested and has been playing at home - are they going to be overrun by Pittsburgh or are they just fresh and ready to make all facets work together? Both teams have had very sound defenses this year. Both teams have plenty of passing targets. The Steelers blasted through a tough schedule of historic proportions to get here. While you could reasonably draw a line to how similar these teams are position against position, there is one check box that clearly favors Seattle - running back.

Line: Steelers by 4, Over/Under = 47 (suggests a score of about 21 to 25 in favor of the Steelers)

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
1 34-7 TEN 10 34-21 CLE
2 27-7 @HOU 11 13-16 @BAL
3 20-23 NE 12 7-26 @IND
4 Open Bye 13 31-38 CIN
5 24-22 @SDC 14 21-9 CHI
6 17-23 JAC 15 18-3 @MIN
7 27-13 @CIN 16 41-0 @CLE
8 20-19 BAL 17 35-21 DET
9 20-10 @GBP . MON SAT
PIT Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Ben Roethlisberger 0 0 280,2
RB Jerome Bettis 30,1 0 0
RB Willie Parker 40 20 0
TE Heath Miller 0 40 0
WR Hines Ward 0 80,1 0
WR Cedrick Wilson 0 80,1 0
WR Antwaan Randle El 0 50 0
PK Jeff Reed 1 FG 3 XP -
Pregame Notes: If the Steelers win this game, there is no denying they earned every bit of the prize. While three of the four teams that received byes are now gone, the Steelers have plowed through. While they squeaked past the #1 seed Colts with a three point win, the Steelers blew out both Denver and Cincinnati by more than two touchdowns. The defense has faced some of the very best offenses in the NFL and never allowed more than 18 points - all while visiting a favored team. This game is already being considered the Bettis Bowl, a chance to send off one of the most popular Steelers ever and objectively, one of the truly "good guys" in the league.

Quarterback: Last year, Ben Roethlisberger played amazingly well for a rookie during the regular season but then faltered in the playoffs. Apparently that learning curve is now in the rear view mirror. Roethlisberger only averaged 198 yards and 1.7 touchdowns per game during the regular season and only had two touchdowns in the final four games that he played. During his playoff run, he's averaged 227 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game. Use those numbers over 16 games (3626 yards and 37 touchdowns) and Ben would be a top five quarterback.. True, he did not do that for three games. He's only played that was against the three best teams in the AFC on the road. If there were an MVP for the entire playoffs, it would have to be Big Ben.

Running Backs: For a team that has long prided itself on defense and a dominating rushing game, the Steelers have become Air Pittsburgh during January. For the last three games, Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker have shared carries and neither has gained more than 59 yards individually. Parker scored once via a pass against the Bengals while Bettis has scored once in each game. They are just not rushing as much nor really even as well as earlier in the season but with the passing game and defense more than enough, it doesn't really matter.

Wide Receivers: The passing game during the season was all about Hines Ward catching touchdowns (11) but the yardage was usually minimal outside of Ward if in fact even he had anything significant. Other than Ward, Quincy Morgan had two scores (and now he is gone) and the only other wideout to score the entire regular season was Antwaan Randle El in week 1. Otherwise - just Ward all the time.

However, during the playoffs the passing game has looked more diverse and potent than at any other time. Cedrick Wilson never scored during the year but has two touchdowns in the post season and his 196 yards trails only Steve Smith and Darrell Jackson during January. Right behind him is Hines Ward with two scores and a total of 137 yards. Even Randle El has scored in the post season. Forgetting the regular season, this is the most potent passing attack in the NFL when the games count the most.

Tight Ends: Heath Miller also leads his position in the NFL with 107 receiving yards and one score after the three games. Most of that came in his 61 yards against the Colts and otherwise, he's been hanging around his usual 30 yards a game.

Match Against the Defense: The Seahawks have the #1 defense against running backs this year and only allowed Clinton Portis to gain 41 yards on 17 carries followed by a complete shut down of the Panthers who were without Foster. But that was all in Seattle where the Seahawks have always been better. But - no runner gained 100 yards against them this year nor did any runner have more than one score. Look for more of the same here from Bettis and Parker who have been less effective in the playoffs and actually - less needed.

Roethlisberger will be the key for the fourth time. The Seattle secondary has never allowed more than two passing scores in any game this year but did allow five opponents to throw for more than 300 yards this year. While their last two games were mainly just limiting Santana Moss and then Steve Smith, the Steelers show up with a surprisingly better passing game that has almost defied reason compared to the regular season. With the run likely to be stuffed, Roethlisberger should turn in enough completions to net some nice yardage here and end with two scores. The flanker Wilson is in the most common spot for a score but Ward always seems to get his as well.

This game likely hinges on one aspect - how well the pass rush can reach and disrupt Roethlisberger. And Seattle was tied with Miami for 49 sacks for the NFL lead during the season.

Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
1 14-26 @JAC 10 31-16 STL
2 21-18 ATL 11 27-25 @SFO
3 37-12 ARI 12 24-21 NYG
4 17-20 @WAS 13 42-0 @PHI
5 37-31 @STL 14 41-3 SFO
6 42-10 HOU 15 28-24 @TEN
7 13-10 DAL 16 28-13 IND
8 Open Bye 17 17-23 @GBP
9 33-19 @ARI . MON SAT
SEA Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Matt Hasselbeck 0 0 220,2
RB Shaun Alexander 100,1 30 0
TE Jerramy Stevens 0 40 0
WR Darrell Jackson 0 50,1 0
WR Bobby Engram 0 50 0
WR Joe Jurevicius 0 40,1 0
PK Josh Brown 2 FG 3 XP -

Pregame Notes: Seattle has gone 10-0 at home this year and rarely broke a sweat. But they have not played a meaningful road game for six weeks when they faced the Titans. But the Seahawks ended the season with such a formidable lead that they really had few meaningful games at the end of the year. And while they only scored 20 points against the Redskins in the divisional round, that was without Shaun Alexander (AKA the NFL MVP). When Alexander was healthy again, he tore up the Panthers while Darrell Jackson scored for the second week in a row. This too is a team that could be peaking at the right time and dominated the Panthers last week.

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck threw for 215 yards and one score against the Redskins and then had 219 yards and two scores against the Panthers. He has yet to throw an interception in the playoffs and has been completing 67% of his passes. A new wrinkle has been his rushing. Hasselbeck has ran six times in each game with about 25 yards in each and one touchdown scored against the Skins. He's no Michael Vick, but he's showing the mobility to avoid the sack.

Running Backs: Shaun Alexander missed almost all of the first week with a concussion but returned against the Panthers and ran 34 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns - he's healthy again. Alexander is the most feared runner in the NFL this year and has to be accounted for by the defense. That only leads to a more balanced attack by Seattle and, of course, more touchdowns for Alexander.

Wide Receivers: Darrell Jackson missed most of the regular season due to his meniscus surgery and while he seemingly is on the injury report every week, he has led the team in receptions, receiving yards and scores for the post season in both games. So far both Bobby Engram and Joe Jurevicius have been relatively quiet in the post season with Jackson back but just as significant - Seattle did not need big games from either. Both players have shown to be valued weapons during the regular season and have the confidence of Hasselbeck should Jackson be covered.

Tight Ends: Jerramy Stevens only had two catches for 13 yards against the Skins but then had six receptions for 66 yards and one score last week. Along with the three wideouts, Stevens too is a consistent part of the passing game.

Match Against the Defense: The Steelers allowed Rudi Johnson only 56 yards but he scored once and averaged four yards per carry. They then held Edgerrin James to only 56 yards but he too scored once and also averaged four yards per carry. Last week they held Bell and Anderson to only 67 yards but Anderson scored once and they averaged 4.8 yards per carry. The problem for opponents is that none have had more than 14 rushes against the Steelers because Pittsburgh took big early leads that killed the chance to run. There's no reason to expect Alexander to not score here - all teams have. He is a better runner than the previous three and keeping him quiet will only come by making this the fourth game that Pittsburgh gets a big lead and takes away the running game. If they can stop Alexander, they would be the first and that alone would merit the Steelers winning. This is the league MVP.

No denying that the Steeler secondary has played very well in the post season and matching against the regular season numbers is misleading. They had no problem against Plummer who looked like he was back in Arizona last week. They even held Manning to 290 yards and just one score though he never was intercepted. They held Palmer to just 197 yards and one score while intercepting him twice. One consideration here in the favor of Hasselbeck. The Steelers already had faced the Bengals and Colts this year and clearly had a masterful gameplan against them. Plummer was new but was rattled early and often into making bad throws. Is Hasselbeck that much better? He has been during the season generating wins without his #1 wideout on the field.

Seattle is new to the Super Bowl but so is Pittsburgh for almost all their players. With Alexander there to account for and four viable passing targets, Hasselbeck just has to focus on not making mistakes and taking what the defense gives him. That should result in a decent game for Jerramy Stevens since the Steelers have met very few decent tight ends this season. The flanker (Jackson) has been the most effective against the slightly weaker left side of the defense and he has a better chance of scoring than any other receiver. Look for the passing game here to be more diverse with no player posting big numbers and all needing to contribute.