Steelers, Packers have set gold standard
The matchup for Super Bowl XLV serves as a map to the history of the game. The Packers and Steelers have combined for nine Super Bowl titles, with Green Bay winning three and Pittsburgh owning a league-high six Lombardi Trophies. The Steelers return to the game after winning two of the past five Super Bowls. While Ben Roethlisberger looks to join a select few who have won at least three rings, Aaron Rodgers is in search of his first and leads the Packers into the Super Bowl for the first time since they went back-to-back in the 1996 and 1997 seasons.
Steelers: A three-phase game
OFFENSE: Ben Roethlisberger has some new weapons since the last time he went to the Super Bowl. Mike Wallace heads a group of young receivers that gives the passing game a vertical element. Hines Ward is still making tough catches over the middle of the field. Rashard Mendenhall provides the ground game with punch behind a line that has struggled to stay healthy.
DEFENSE: The dynamic unit produced big play after big play. The Steelers finished second in the league at 276.8 yards allowed per game, gave up the fewest rushing yards, had the most sacks with 48 and also picked off 21 passes. Fifteen different players registered at least one sack in coordinator Dick LeBeau's pressure scheme.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Steelers were forced to make a change at kicker during the season, cutting ties with veteran Jeff Reed and opting for Shaun Suisham, who hit 14 of 15 tries after coming to Pittsburgh. When punter Daniel Sepulveda went on IR he was capably replaced by Jeremy Kapinos. Pittsburgh ranked 13th in kickoff returns and last in punt returns.
Packers: A three-phase game
OFFENSE: Aaron Rodgers is the main reason the Packers won three road games to advance to Super Bowl XLV, but the running game has gotten a late-season boost from rookie James Starks, who has added balance, rushing for 263 yards in the three playoff wins. The receiving corps, led by Greg Jennings (76 catches, 1,265 yards, 12 TDs), had four players with 45 or more catches.
DEFENSE: Dom Capers' defense produced across the board, ranking fifth in total yards allowed and second in interceptions (24), sacks (47) and TDs (4). LB Clay Matthews sets the tone in Green Bay's 3-4 pressure scheme. The secondary has three Pro Bowl players in cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon William and safety Nick Collins.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Mason Crosby has converted on 11 of his last 13 FG attempts, but the Packers better hope the Super Bowl doesn't come down to a field goal try; Crosby is just 1-of-4 in game-winning situations in his career. Rookie punter Tim Masthay was a huge factor in the NFC title game. Green Bay ranked in the bottom third in both kickoff and punt returns.
Steelers' leading men
QB Ben Roethlisberger
Beaten and battered, Roethlisberger continued to produce. He went 9-3 after returning from a four-game suspension, and continued to play despite a broken foot and nose. The heart and soul of the offense, Roethlisberger is still capable of making plays with his arm or feet.
LB James Harrison
The former Defensive Player of the Year took a lot of heat for helmet-to-helmet hits, but still managed to reach double-digit sacks for a third straight year. The Steelers are all about being more physical than their opponent and no one exudes that more than Harrison.
S Troy Polamalu
The Steelers are 17-4 with Polamalu on the field over the past two seasons and 6-7 without him. That speaks to the type of production he provides (seven interceptions) as well as the level of leadership he brings. He battled an Achilles' tendon injury late in the season, but two weeks to rest should help.
Packers' leading men
QB Aaron Rodgers
Out of the shadow of Brett Favre, Rodgers is carving out a legacy of his own. In his sixth season (the same one Favre went to his first Super Bowl), Rodgers is in the midst of one of the greatest QB runs of all time, throwing for more than 2,700 yards, 22 TDs and just four INTs since Week 9.
LB Clay Matthews
In only his second season, Matthews is a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He finished with 13.5 sacks on the season, and has added 3.5 in the playoffs, giving him four career postseason sacks; only Reggie White, with eight, has more in Packers history.
CB Tramon Williams
Five years ago, Williams was an undrafted free agent who was cut by the Texans. Now he's one of the top cover corners in the NFL whose presence allows Dom Capers to be creative. Williams led the Packers with six picks in the regular season and he's added three more in the playoffs.