The pedigrees, track records and seeding would all seem to point to Pittsburgh. The Packers won two fewer regular season games than the Steelers. The Packers' six losses were to some mediocre teams, like the Redskins and the Lions, whereas the Steelers' four losses all came against playoff teams.
Plus, the Steelers were the second-seeded team in the AFC, while the Packers were the 6-seeded team in the NFC — which, by the way, was seen as the weaker conference all year.
In fact, for much of the season, you could make a Super Bowl futures bet on whichever team represented the AFC to beat whatever team represented the NFC, but you'd have to lay 3 points — which is gambler's jargon for saying that all year the AFC has been favored in the Super Bowl.
But now that the generic AFC and NFC uniforms have been filled with the green and gold of Green Bay and Pittsburgh's black and gold, the Steelers find themselves 2.5-point underdogs. How did that happen?
The first reason is injuries. The Packers were among the preseason favorites to make the Super Bowl, but they were so beset by injuries — in some cases resorting to third- or fourth-string players — that the excellent football stats site, Football Outsiders, estimates their starters lost an 83 combined games this year. What this means is the Packers' six losses might come with an asterisk.
The thinking is, they lost some of those games because of those injuries and found themselves at a 3-3 record early on because the team was constantly changing. Since they've had some time to get the back-ups accustomed to their positions, the Packers' play has improved. In fact, they are currently riding a season-best, five-game winning streak, which brings us to…
Not that the Steelers don't have it, but the Packers have looked very strong in all their playoff games. Their decimation of the top-seeded Falcons in Atlanta showed the football watching (and betting) world the Packers at their most dangerous. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in rhythm and the Packers ran all over the Georgia Dome's artificial turf.
The Super Bowl will similarly take place on turf, and as it happens, under a closed roof. This brings us to the last reason why the Packers are favored:
Good At The Wrong Kind Of Defense
Green Bay's offensive strength is Pittsburgh's defensive weakness. All year the Steelers have shown that they are a good defense, especially with newly named Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu healthy. But the Steelers are really a great run defense — statistically a third better than the next best team in the league. But against the pass, they are a somewhat middling 12th in the league.
The Steelers have specifically struggled against multi-receiver formations, which the Packers love to deploy. The Patriots would routinely eliminate the Steelers from the playoffs using this sort of formation. However…
The Steelers Still Have Some Things In Their Favor
Perception of the Packers' momentum, to my eyes, has been marked by the recency effect, in which what's been happening lately gets disproportionate consideration. Yes, the Packers were tremendous against the Falcons, and sure, they started strong against the Bears — but they're not invincible.
The Packers failed to score an offensive point in the last 40 minutes of the NFC championship game. The Steelers have 25 players on their current roster who have played in the Super Bowl, the Packers only two. The Steelers have a quarterback who wrecks the best-laid game plans of defensive coordinators, and the Steelers have thicker beards, which could come into play in frigid Dallas. That is why I predict the game will be a tie.
Fine, not a tie — but overtime, upon which Jerry Jones will point to a theretofore unnoticed clause written on the back of everyone's ticket that says the entire stadium will have to pay 20 percent of the ticket's face value in order to stay in their seats for any extra football. I am confident in this prediction. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.