SB 40 full of firsts

Jan 31, 2006 1:37 AM

So, can the Seahawks win their first championship? Or will the Black and Gold bring back Vince Lombardi Trophy No. 5 to the Steel City?

Back in August, Pittsburgh was 8-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, while the Seahawks were 22-to-1. Most remarkable about this year’s game is that the Steelers were the No. 6 seed going into the playoffs, the first time a seed that low has made it to the Super Bowl. Despite facing the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Pittsburgh is favored.

That shows how much better the best teams in the AFC are, like last year, compared to the top teams in the NFC. It’s almost as if the pendulum has swung. During the 1980s and much of the 90s, the NFC dominated — winning 15 of 16 Super Bowls, including 13 in a row! That changed in 1998 when Denver upset Green Bay, 31-24. Since then, the AFC has won 6 of the last 8.

The Steelers deserve a great deal of respect, as they have really dominated play in the postseason, winning at Cincinnati (31-17), at Indianapolis (21-18) and at Denver (34-17). Only one other team had won three straight postseason road games (1985 New England), so the Steelers’ run has been historic and impressive. Pittsburgh hopes to break one other streak: The underdog has covered the last four Super Bowls, winning twice.

Both coaches like to establish the run, but on paper, it won’t be easy: Both bring fierce defensive line play into this game, with Seattle ranking fifth in the NFL against the run and Pittsburgh third. Seattle is No. 1 in the NFL in scoring. Pittsburgh rides a 7-0 SU/6-1 ATS run the last seven games. The Steelers only allowed one team to top 20 points during the win streak (21 to Detroit).

This game may hinge on the quarterback play. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger (2,385 yards, 62.7 percent, 17 TDs, 9 INTs) has been even better in the playoffs,.

It’s hard to believe Big Ben is only 23 years old. Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck is 30, and off another strong campaign, with 3,459 pass yards, 65.5 percent completions, 24 TDs and 9 INTs.

What Seattle wants: Mike Holmgren likes to control the football and clock. A key will be how they handle Pittsburgh’s aggressive defensive schemes. The Steelers can both stuff the run with their excellent speed at linebacker and surprise opponents on blitzes from all angles. Seattle will need to be prepared to use screens, quick slants and draw plays if the Steelers blitz early.

What Pittsburgh wants: Ball control philosphy is just classic Steelers. Defensively, there’s no need to change what has gotten them here: Attacking zone-blitz schemes baffled and harassed Peyton Manning (five sacks) and forced Jake Plummer into four turnovers in the AFC Championship game.

All of which makes this a terrific cat-and-mouse game. Over the last 30 years, the "over" has gone 19-11 in Super Bowl play.

Enjoy the big game!