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Super Bowl XLV handicapping column

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Recent posts by Mike Wilkening

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Posted Feb. 02, 2011 @ 5:13 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Green Bay (-2½) vs. Pittsburgh

The Super Bowl is unlike any game to handicap. It can feel like a one-and-done, all-in moment for the handicapper. Had a good season picking the games? Botch the Super Bowl and your campaign wasn't quite as good. It's enough to have you shaking your head at the dinner table on Valentine's Day … which is just going to compound your woes.

If you've had a tough season against the spread, picking the big-game winner makes the stomachache/headache exacta feel a little less acute Monday morning. You might have had a subpar season, but you correctly sniffed out the one that mattered. Go on now, have some swagger.

This is the only pro football game some folks will handicap this season. If you fit that bill, welcome to the column, and I wish you well. If this is the 300th game you've picked this season, including the Pro Bowl, some select preseason contests and an action bet on the Grey Cup, a tip of the cap to you, too.

No matter how many games we've broken down, the Super Bowl lends itself to overanalysis. It's the only game on the card on Sunday, and we've had two weeks to handicap. Also, the Super Bowl is a social event. We're all looking to share a fact or anecdote that no one else at the party knows.

This is all fine and good, but in handicapping, materiality matters. You will be the best judge of that. Let's take the ankle injury suffered by Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey in the AFC title game as an example. Pouncey, the Steelers' best offensive lineman, departed early and was replaced by backup Doug Legursky. Save for a poor snap near the Steelers' goal line that resulted in a safety, Legursky — who's the Steelers' best reserve lineman, in my view — played well.

If Pouncey can't go, Legursky will start in the Super Bowl. He'll have the tall order of blocking Packers NT B.J. Raji, an emerging star. There is no doubt Pouncey matches up better with Raji than Legursky. I can't fathom who would argue otherwise. However, would Pouncey's injury be something that would scare me away from picking the Steelers? I'd say no. Legursky is a capable backup. The Steelers didn't fall apart with him in the lineup in what was then their biggest game of the season. Could Raji give him fits? Certainly. But that matchup wouldn't affect my selection, for I can't say for certain that the Packers will gain a material, game-tilting advantage if Pouncey is out.

What I do know is this: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger riddled the Packers' pass defense when the teams met late in the 2009 season, throwing for a franchise-record 503 yards. I also know that Roethlisberger is one of the NFL's best at eluding pressure and stretching the field vertically. He also has a better running game at his disposal than Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has, and this could be no small edge for the Steelers, considering the Packers are committed to the run, what with rookie RB James Starks rushing at least 22 times in all three Green Bay postseason games.

I expect the Steelers to shut down the Packers' ground game, putting Green Bay in some challenging down-and-distance situations. While the Packers have an edge in the passing game, it is not as big as the one they had a season ago, when Rodgers picked apart a struggling Pittsburgh secondary missing SS Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu will be in the lineup, and the Steelers' defense, in better form than it was in the last meeting with Green Bay, is likely to get more stops than it did last year, when the Packers rolled up 36 points. Improved defense will make the Steelers rather tough to beat, for I see the Packers' defense again having problems with Pittsburgh's offensive attack.

I have largely picked favorites in the playoffs, but I'm taking the points in this final game of the 2010 season. Three times I have picked the Steelers as underdogs this season (vs. Atlanta, at Tennessee, at Baltimore), and each time, they have covered. Time to go back to the well one more time.

Wilkening's pick: Pittsburgh

Conference-championship ATS record: 2-0
Playoff ATS record: 9-1
Season-to-date ATS: 46-31-1

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