Front Runners

Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter

Are the Pittsburgh Steelers the favorites to win Super Bowl XLV?

Are the Pittsburgh Steelers the favorites to win Super Bowl XLV?

Are the Steelers the Super Bowl Favorites?

YES

The other 31 teams in the NFL need to call an audible, because Dick LeBeau has an all-out blitz coming off the edges and up the middle. Hair-raising safety Troy Polamalu, quarterback-slamming linebacker James Harrison and the rest of the Steel Curtain defense are headed straight for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and will not be denied.

Unless someone can step up to stop Blitz-burgh’s championship assault, the Rooney family will be celebrating their seventh Super Bowl victory — and their third in the last six years — in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.

All the attention is focused on the return of two-time ringmaster Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended for the first four games of the season. But the real story is the dominance of LeBeau’s 3-4 defense, which was able to carry the team to a 3–1 record with the combination of veteran Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon subbing for Big Ben. The LeBeau-coordinated defense has established itself as the best in the business by leading the league in the two most important categories — points allowed (12.5 ppg) and rushing yards allowed (62.2 ypg) — with its trademark violent swagger.

But coach Mike Tomlin’s team has all three phases of the game covered. An offense that has been powered by running back Rashard Mendenhall (411 yards, four TDs) will evolve into a more dangerous, balanced attack now that Big Ben is back at the helm — with Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Heath Miller providing proven downfield targets. On special teams, kicker Jeff Reed and punter Daniel Sepulveda are two of the best, while returners Antwaan Randle El and Antonio Brown are a threat to go the distance.

The Steel Curtain is stronger than ever, Big Ben is back in the huddle and Pittsburgh is on a mission. Buckle up your chin strap, NFL. The Steelers are coming.

– Nathan Rush

NO

The Steelers navigated their QB-free opening stretch about as well as could be expected, finishing the first quarter of the season with an impressive 3–1 mark that included road wins at Tampa and Tennessee — all with an offense ranked 31st in passing yards per game. Now that Ben Roethlisberger is back in the fold, conventional wisdom has anointed the Steelers the Super Bowl favorites.

Well, there’s nothing conventional about my wisdom, and I’m here to say that the Steelers will not reach the Super Bowl, much less win it. Big Ben is far more caretaker than difference-maker, and this team’s deficiencies, which have been masked thus far by some inept play from their counterparts on the other sidelines, will be exposed over the long grind of the season. As great as the Steeler defense is, the offense simply has to score more points, and that’s far from automatic, even with its starting quarterback in place. Last season, when the team needed Big Ben to shoulder the load, he responded like a fantasy champion but a real-world also-ran. The defending Super Bowl champs limped to 9–7 and missed the playoffs, scoring only 23 points per game even while Roethlisberger was piling up 4,328 passing yards and 26 TDs.

This season, in Roethlisberger’s absence, Rashard Mendenhall has picked up the slack, with 411 yards rushing through four games. But Mendenhall has never been asked to carry the entire rushing load for an entire season, and it’s unlikely that he can survive the pounding intact. AFC North games like the 17–14 war against the Ravens — in which Mendenhall rushed 25 times for only 79 yards as the Ravens picked up a key division win in Pittsburgh — will take a significant physical toll.

Yes, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a genius, and yes, that Steel Curtain defense will keep this team in most games. But in terms of meeting Super Bowl goals, that’s not good enough, and neither are Big Ben and the Steelers offense.

– Rob Doster

 

Two Right Sidebar Images
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 
The Pittsburgh Steelers are aiming for their third Super Bowl win in six seasons. But are they the favorites to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium?

Nathan Rush and Rob Doster