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Starkey: Steelers stars trump logic, Packers

| Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas — Logic tells me to pick the Green Bay Packers tonight.

Logic compares the Packers winging it around on an indoor carpet to gasoline spreading on a sheet of fire. Aaron Rodgers is the NFL's best indoor passer over the past three seasons (111.1 rating in 12 games), and in their most recent appearance under a roof, the Packers scorched a very good Atlanta team.

Logic loves Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews in any matchup on the outer edges of the Steelers' blocking schemes and kinda likes freight-train nose tackle B.J. Raji on the inside, too.

Logic believes Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders when he says the Packers' cornerbacks (Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams) can effectively utilize a physical, in-your-face style against the Steelers' receivers.

Logic also is inclined to agree with another Hall of Fame defensive back, Rod Woodson, when he says the Packers have the rare ability to spread out and dice up the Steelers, a la the New England Patriots, and bury them in a barrage of short- and medium-range passes.

Logic has seen enough of Rodgers to know he can take a licking and keep on flicking and, if need be, convert first downs on the run, thereby hurting the Steelers even on plays when Dick LeBeau makes the right call.

Finally, logic argues that the Steelers' experience is countered by the Packers' relative youth and hunger. Green Bay has only one player (ex-Steelers practice-squader John Kuhn) with a Super Bowl ring. Logic points out — with a hint of arrogance, I must say — that the Saints and Giants proved in recent years that championship experience is overrated in the Super Bowl.

So, yes, in many ways the Packers are the logical pick.

And I can't bring myself to pick them.

Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger won't let me.

We could talk all day about the other big-time players in the Steelers' arsenal. We could analyze the importance of obscure role players, as well. But let's be real: Superstars win championships, no matter the sport, and from this vantage point Polamalu and Roethlisberger are the two best players in Super Bowl XLV.

We're talking about a pair of sure-fire Hall of Famers at the height of their powers, still in their 20s (Polamalu for only two more months).

In a game of this magnitude, with legacies on the line, I simply cannot pick against them.

It's amazing, but true, that people remain reluctant to mention Roethlisberger in the same breath as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Just two weeks ago, Rod Woodson said Roethlisberger is not among the top five NFL quarterbacks.

I'm thinking a guy with a 10-2 playoff record probably deserves to be ranked ahead of Philip Rivers.

Thank goodness for Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, one of the most respected team builders in NFL history. He told the Los Angeles Times, "Bottom line, if you ask football people, they're going to put Ben Roethlisberger up there with (Brady and Manning) almost unanimously."

By the way, Roethlisberger has a couple of players who can use the fast indoor track to their advantage, notably Mike Wallace.

"I think he could even run with 'Prime,' " Sanders said, invoking his own famous nickname.

Polamalu, meanwhile, is due for a Super Bowl masterpiece. He was relatively quiet in his first two.

Like Roethlisberger, Polamalu is noted for his improvisational brilliance. But both are preparation freaks. Roethlisberger has slowly evolved into the studious type. Polamalu arrived that way.

"There's a method to Troy's madness," said Packers secondary coach Darren Perry, who had a similar position with the Steelers when Polamalu broke in. "I remember his rookie season he used to sit right next to me in meetings every day and take as good a notes as anybody.

"I'm sure he still does."

Note to world: Even though the Packers will try to keep Polamalu busy in coverage by employing four and five receivers, he will find a way to make plays.

Strike that.

He will find a way to make a play that changes the game. And as with Roethlisberger, his greatest plays often defy logic.

The Steelers will do the same ...

Steelers 27, Packers 24

celebrity super bowl predictions

Marisa Miller, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model

Green Bay, 28-10 — "I have been to six Super Bowls. This year I'm really excited about the game. I think it could go either way. Pittsburgh has a ton of experience, but I'm going with Green Bay."

Jay Mohr, actor/comedian ("Jerry Maguire")

Pittsburgh, 3-0 — "I'm taking the way under. I love Pittsburgh. That's Six-burgh. Hopefully, it will be Sevens-burg."

Robert Wuhl, actor/comedian ("Arli$$")


OK, which team will win?


Ines Sainz, Mexican television reporter

"I think Pittsburgh has a little more chance to win. Actually, it is not going to be a big difference — four or five points, a very close game. I don't believe a lot of points are going to be scored in the game."

Tiki Barber, sports broadcaster and former NFL running back

"It's impossible to predict these games. They are two very strong teams defensively. I like the Steelers because of the experience factor and maybe some sentimental factor because I know a few guys on that squad."

Nolan Ryan, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher and Texas Rangers owner

Pittsburgh, 27-24 — "For some reason I think they are going to win. I don't know why because I think Green Bay is a good, balanced ball club."

Kenny Mayne, ESPN personality and "Dancing With the Stars" contestant

Green Bay, 31-24 — "Sadly, I'm going against your team. I wouldn't be shocked in the least. In fact, I would have made Pittsburgh the favorite if I was setting the line. The difference is Aaron Rodgers. He's playing at a crazy level, and if he is on, they can score 28-31 points."

Phil Simms, former Super Bowl-winning quarterback and CBS sports analyst

Pittsburgh, 24-17 — "I just think they are a little more physical, and that's what the game is all about. But I don't think it will be as high-scoring as people think."

Boomer Esiason, former NFL quarterback and CBS sports analyst

Green Bay, 24-20 or 27-24 — "Aaron Rodgers is a spectacular player. I think Troy (Polamalu) is not 100 percent, and without Maurkice Pouncey it will be a major, major (influence) in this game. B.J. Raji should be able to control the line of scrimmage."

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints quarterback and Super Bowl XLIV MVP

"You've got two great teams, two great offenses and two great defenses. The advantage goes to the Steelers because of experience and who they played before. But if the Packers play their best game, I think they can beat them."

Eric Dickerson, NFL single-season rushing leader

Pittsburgh, 20-14 — "I'm an NFC guy, I love Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' running game, but I'm going with the AFC. Ben (Roethlisberger) has been there before, they have speedy receivers, and (Rashard) Mendenhall has been running the ball great. That defense gets penetration, and that's what it's all about. I don't think it will be a gunslinging match."

Black Eyed Peas —

"We're going to root for the Black Eyed Peas."

Black Eyed Peas — Fergie, a Miami Dolphins fan

"I think we all love that song" (sings) "Black and yellow, black and yellow."

Teresa Scanlan, 2011 Miss America from Nebraska

"I'm going with the Packers. Brandon Jackson is a former Husker, and as a Nebraskan, I've got to be going for the Packers."

Dan Patrick, sportscaster and national talk-show host

"I picked the Packers at the beginning, and I'll stay with my pick. I always get in trouble if I give scores because people will say I'm going with the over or with the under. I like the Packers on a fast track like this. I think Aaron Rodgers will throw for 300 yards, and I think Jordy Nelson could be a big key for this team. I think the Steelers will give up a lot of yards."

Brooklyn Decker, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and actress ("Just Go With It")

Green Bay, 30-24 — "I think Pittsburgh is the stronger team. They have Ben Roethlisberger and a good defense and they've been here before, but my sentiments are with the Packers."

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals receiver and former Pitt star

"I like the Pittsburgh Steelers. They've got experience, and I think that's going to pay dividends for them."

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