Green Bay and Pittsburgh are separated by only two Great Lakes and the state of Michigan, but as they take the field Sunday the differences between the Packers and Steelers are even greater than geography.
Back in early November, not even residents with a Lambeau Field 54307 area code could have predicted that the Packers would be sitting at 9-4 and in prime position to grab one of the NFC’s two wild-card playoff spots. The Packers were going nowhere at 4-4, having somehow managed to give up 38 points in a dreadful loss at Tampa Bay.
A month and change later, the Pack are back.
Credit should go to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who took a lot of early-season heat when the Packers struggled to implement his 3-4 defense. Despite a longer-than-expected learning curve and a rash of injuries, especially on the defensive line, Capers has somehow kept things together. The Packers lead the league in turnover ratio at plus-18, which has helped compensate for spotty special teams play.
The Packers have beaten Dallas, San Francisco, Detroit, Baltimore and Chicago in their surge, which has earned new-found respect for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is now sixth in the league in passing yardage, ahead of such luminaries as Romo, Roethlisberger, Favre, Eli Manning, Warner, McNabb, Palmer and Ryan.
Green Bay has been so busy putting its season back together that it had scant time to pay attention to the Steelers, who were in the adjacent elevator heading in the other direction.
Pittsburgh’s stunning five-game losing streak includes beat downs from, of all people, the Raiders, Chiefs and Browns. A simple money line bet of $10 bet on Kansas City in Week 11, then pressed on Oakland in Week 13 and Cleveland in Week 14 would have put about $1,600 in your pocket.
The team’s 6-7 record heading into Week 15 has shaken the entire city of Pittsburgh, including usually-steady coach Mike Tomlin, who at this point is willing to say or try anything to restore the swagger the team showed in winning six of its first eight games.
Safety Troy Polamalu won’t be back until the season finale on Jan. 3, if at all, and not much has been done to ease the schism that developed a few weeks back when Hines Ward questioned the toughness of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Statistically, the Steelers don’t look like a sub-.500 team. They’re fourth overall in team defense and ninth in team offense. Roethlisberger is among the top passers in the league and running back Rashard Mendenhall averages nearly five yards a carry. But it’s been a case of death by a thousand cuts – poor kickoff coverage, penalties, lack of pocket protection, missed tackles, lack of focus against the league’s worst teams . . . yada yada yada.
With these two teams heading in opposite directions, the line opened at Steelers -3 but was quickly bet down to a pick ’em.
At least they’re still in first place
The sullen selfishness of Randy Moss is destroying the Patriots’ business model. Moss clearly cost the Patriots a cover and nearly cost them the game, with his half-hearted effort against the Panthers Sunday.
He caught only one pass (which he promptly fumbled away), broke off a route which resulted in an interception, dropped another pass and in general went through the motions in an obvious rebuke of Bill Belichick after the dictator sent Moss home several days earlier for not showing up on time for practice on time.
The question now is how to deal with Moss for the rest of the season. If heavy winds in Buffalo this coming Sunday make the vertical passing game problematic, would Belichick consider making Moss a healthy scratch? New England is an early 7-point favorite, with a 40.5-point total.
As if things weren’t bad enough in Foxboro, the guy who wears that Pat Patriot mascot suit at Patriots home game got arrested in a prostitution sting in Rhode Island.
Colts at a crossroads
The Colts have embarked on the longest bye in NFL history, with a full 34 or 35 days between Sunday’s victory over Denver and their first playoff game. If the coaches and players are to be taken at their word, Indy will sit down anyone with even the most minor ailment.
Most books are staying away from the game until more definite signals come out of the Midwest, but the Las Vegas Hilton has dumbed Sunday’s game at Jacksonville down to a pick ’em.
Raiders are stuck with Russell
Looks like the Raiders will have to finish the season with JaMarcus Russell under center, which pretty much guarantees the schizophrenic Raiders a 4-12 record this season and gives a huge boost to the playoff chances of the Broncos and Ravens, who along with Cleveland are still on Oakland’s schedule.
Bruce Gradkowski put some spine in Oakland’s season, but he’s done for the year and the Raiders have little choice but to again turn the team over to Russell, whose poor play Sunday opened the door to Washington’s 34-13 victory.
Russell has shown no indication that he is even an average NFL quarterback and by all accounts, is not willing to put in the time or effort to become one. The players know it, the fans know it and maybe even Al Davis is starting to get it. Denver gives 13.5 points.
Planning to be in Vegas for the Super Bowl?
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We’ll be reporting on all aspects of the game and the line – side wagers, totals, props . . . the works.
We’ll be talking with the folks who made the line and discuss what it takes for a line to move.
We also want to talk to you. We’re planning a get-together (date, time and site not yet determined) for covers readers and we’d like to write about you. Come out from behind that screen name and tell us about yourself. We want to know who you are, who you plan to bet on, and why.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Covers.com will be blogging live before, during and after the game, so if you can’t make it to Vegas, check us out at on Super Sunday and add your voice to the live blog.
Unless you can afford a penthouse suite at the MGM and have commitments from several of Tiger’s closest lady friends, there’s no better place to watch the game than the Hilton. The sportsbook seats several thousand (though you’ll need to get there early), there are plenty of wagering windows and you’re never far from food and drinks.
Speaking of drinks, see us at the Hilton and identify yourself as a Covers.com reader and the drinks are on us (the first one, anyway).
So whether you’re a minnow or a whale, if you plan to be in Vegas on Super Bowl week, we want to connect with you. Send us a message and we’ll get back to you with more details.