I have a mixed opinion personally on last week’s results. On the one hand, I went 2-0 and totally nailed who was going to the Super Bowl.
On the other hand, it means that the Super Bowl now consists of two teams that I picked to miss the playoffs and finish either 3rd (Dallas) or last (Pittsburgh) in their own divisions.
In one, minor way, last week validated my awesome predictive powers. In another, deeper way it pointed out just how terrible I am at this. So keep that in mind as we move into prediction mode.
First, last weeks results.
Pittsburgh Steelers 202, Buffalo Bills 183
This game ended up being closer than it seemed. Pittsburgh decisively won the offensive matchup 115-53 behind big games from Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Jarvis Landry, and Markus Wheaton. Buffalo responded with defensive dominance, winning 109-61. With special teams about even, Buffalo’s defensive dominance just wasn’t quite a match for Pittsburgh’s offensive advantage.
The thing that looms largest over this game, though, are the men who didn’t play – Mr. Nicholas Foles and Mr. Julio Jones. The Bills got 4 points from Kyle Orton at the quarterback position, and 4.5 points from Philly Brown at the W/R flex spot. If Foles and Julio Jones both play and get 15 points (league average for a QB and well below Julio’s per game average), The Bills are advancing to the Super Bowl.
Here’s the other thing that looms large, though. ALBERT WILSON. He contributed a key ten points and a million intangibles on the way to a Pittsburgh victory.
I’ll say more about Pittsburgh in predicting the Super Bowl, but want to congratulate Buffalo on an outstanding season and some aggressive trading to put themselves in position to almost make a Super Bowl. Congrats Buffalo! I selfishly hope you’ll regress next year… but kinda doubt it!
Dallas Cowboys 226, Green Bay Packers 159
I didn’t think this one was going to be close. And it wasn’t. Though in this case, it wasn’t really Green Bay’s fault, but a stroke of severe misfortune that Aaron Rodgers was inexplicably stymied for the first time all year by a Buffalo Bills defense that didn’t allow him a single touchdown. It was a game effort by the Packers, but when Aaron Rodgers and Jamaal Charles combine for 11.5 total fantasy points and not a single player scores more than 20, it’s going to be hard to when too many games. Just a bad time of year to suffer an inexplicable dud from their studs.
Dallas, meanwhile, cruised to the win behind a 138 point offensive outburst featuring franchise man Dez Bryant and much maligned off-season trade Devin Hester. Congratulations to Green Bay for waiting until the NFC Championship game of year two to suffer their first ever elimination, and best of luck to the Packers next year – given the stars on this team in their prime, I’m guessing they’ll be back and be a force for a long time to come.
Onto the Super Bowl… For both Pittsburgh and Dallas, these championship games were coronations of sorts. Both teams have been clearly the best teams in their respective conferences going back to week one. Dallas faced some stiff competition from the New York Giants, while Pittsburgh surrendered the #1 seed to the Bills down the stretch, but at the end of the day, both the eye test and the points scored metric labeled these two teams as the best in their conferences. Both squads are loaded with playmakers on both offense and defense, and just as importantly, both teams have risen to play their best fantasy football in big games. This will be a spectacular Super Bowl, and I can’t wait to see how the dust settles.
Onto the predictions… I’ll go position by position and pick my edge…
Tony Romo vs. Ben Roethlisberger
Both of these guys are good, and it is hard to bet against Romo, particularly after what he just did to the Eagles, and particularly with DeMarco Murray out and against a relatively porous Colts pass defense (Roethlisberger, for what it is worth, gets the Chiefs). I think, though, that we encounter a familiar frenemy on Sunday in the old Tony Romo. Consider – he’ll be at home in December with a playoff berth on the line and with DeMarco Murray out. Who really thinks he’s not going to throw a ton of interceptions? I think Big Ben has a tough day in KC throwing downfield, but gets his points on checkdown passes to Le’Veon “I think I might go for 50 again” Bell.
Lamar Miller vs. Le’Veon Bell
Oooof. This should have been a battle of superstar running backs. Le’Veon Bell and DeMarco Murray have been the best RBs in the league all year – and it is not surprising that the two biggest stud backs are the biggest reasons these two teams are here today. But with DeMarco almost certainly out with a screw in his hand, Dallas will have to turn to Lamar Miller, who has been decidedly inconsistent. Miller does not have a 100 yard running game yet this year, and has not broken 20 points a game yet this year. Le’Veon, on the other hand, has broken 20 more often than he has not and has not gone for less than 30 points in a game since LeGarrette Blount was released. Make no mistake, the step down from DeMarco to Lamar is huge, and this is Pittsburgh’s biggest advantage.
Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon, Devin Hester and John Brown vs. Markus Wheaton, Jarvis Landry, Doug Baldwin, and Albert Wilson
Whatever edge Pittsburgh gains from the Running Back spot, Dallas gets back in the passing game, as Bryant, Garcon and Hester are all capable of going off for huge games on any given day. Even John Brown is averaging 10 points a game, and is capable of breaking one deep – though Ryan Lindley will almost certainly prove a giant wet blanket filled with led weights to his value. On the Steeler side of things, these receivers have been some of Pittsburgh’s greatest surprises. Everyone knew that Roethlisberger and Bell were going to be good. But nobody expected (or at least not me!) that Markus Wheaton, Jarvis Landry and Doug “I define unremarkable” Baldwin would do what they have (combined to average over 40 ppg together). And, of course. ALBERT WILSON. He’s the wild card. He affects gravity. Physics and Math stop working when he’s around. Dez Bryant might catch 6 touchdowns and still score fewer fantasy points than Doug Baldwin – even if Baldwin only catches one pass. These are the sorts of things that happen around Albert Wilson.
But, if normalcy holds, the WR position is a big strength for Dallas, who futures current superstars compared to Pittsburgh’s future ones.
Delanie Walker vs. Larry Donnell
Larry Donnell has been a very good Tight End this year. But he has also been a very touchdown dependent tight end this year. More to the point, it has been five full weeks since he has scored in double digit fantasy points – coincidentally, the last time he caught a touchdown. Delanie Walker, meanwhile, has produced whenever he has been healthy, and faces a very nice match-up this week. Once again, I expect the current star to outperform the future one. Of course, Donnell could catch three touchdowns again…
Chris Clemons, DeMarcus Ware, Andre Jones, Sen’Derrick Marks vs. Tyrone Crawford, Datone Jones, Jurrell Casey, and Kyle Williams
Both teams play a 4-3, an interesting point not lost on me as I consider roster construction for next year. And neither team has a tremendously strong front four. Pittsburgh’s squad is very strong in the center with Jurrell Casey and Kyle Williams eating up tackles, but weaker on the sides where Crawford and Jones combine to average only 10 points per game. Dallas is a little bit more well-rounded, but even Sen’Derrick Marks lacks the potential upside and stud potential of Casey and Williams. If Williams plays, that is. Pittsburgh cannot afford another goose egg from him here – he must make his presence felt.
Thomas Davis, Sio Moore and Daryl Smith vs. Alec Ogletree, Prince Shembo and Lawrence Timmons
This is if Sio Moore plays. Dallas very quietly put together a ravenous and rapacious group of tackle mavens who have combined to average 35 fantasy points per game – and combined for 291 tackles. 291. Already. On the other side of the ball, Alec Ogletree and Lawrence Timmons have largely matched them on the outside, though their tackle counts have not been quite impressive. But Prince Shembo does not yet have a starting role, and the 7-8 point drop off between Shembo and Moore gives the edge to the Cowboys – if he plays…
AJ Bouye, Bradley Fletcher, Tony Jefferson and Antrel Rolle vs. Antoine Cason, Darrin Walls, Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu
The Cowboys have hit on the secret to an effective secondary – draft a bunch of crappy cornerbacks who are going to get thrown at a lot – and reap the rewards of the tackles. Then, grab some hard-hitting, fast-talking safeties who can hawk the ball and take off a guy’s head. These guys aren’t the best group in the league, but they are good for 40-45 points per week, and combine with the other parts to give the Cowboys a consistent bajillion tackles a week and 100+ fantasy points. The scary part about the Cowboys defense is that, since it is so tackle-heavy, it is not as subject to the big-play vicissitudes that other defenses encounter. Instead, it is a consistent force for evil in our fallen world.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has a patchwork, bend and hopefully don’t break defense cobbled together from aging veterans like Polamalu. Many of these guys don’t even start, but get sufficient coverage time to log significant points. Antoine Cason is a classic example – listed as a third stringer by Fantrax (well done, Fantrax, well done!), Cason averages ~11 points a game for a league minimum salary. It is on the backs of such plebeians that Pittsburgh has built its empire. But once again… the Steelers are no longer facing the goblins of the AFC – now they face the dragons of the NFC. And the faithful citizens with pitchforks may get eaten alive.
Dan Bailey and Tim Masthay vs. Shaun Suisham and Drew Butler
Both of these teams have similar situations – strong kickers (their teams score a lot) and questionable punting situations. Dallas, in fact, lost one of its few games this year because Masthay dropped a goose egg. And that’s why the edge goes decisively to Pittsburgh here. There are games where Green Bay simply doesn’t punt. And following their humiliating offensive performance against Buffalo, I expect this to be one. And on the other side, I expect the Cardinals to play a field position game (that’s a nice way of saying “play terribly and punt a lot”) with Ryan Lindley getting the start. Butler will simply get more opportunities
PREDICTION: Dallas Cowboys 208 over Pittsburgh Steelers 193
Even without DeMarco Murray, I have the Cowboys. I think they have a decisive edge on the defensive side of the ball and should win that battle by a good 20-25 points over the Steelers patchwork defense. The two teams are evenly matched on offense, but while I see Le’Veon Bell having a very good game against Kansas City, I don’t see him having a great game. And without a 40 pointer, I just don’t think it will be enough to overcome the Dallas defense and passing game.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Albert Wilson can turn the tide of a lot of things, and Murray’s absence makes this a much closer game than I would have predicted. But I think the best team in the league proves it one more time, and the Dallas Cowboys take home a Super Bowl – while the Steelers grab pole position to win it all next year with its young stars one year older.
Good luck to both teams this weekend, and congratulations for making it this far!