Super Bowl XLV Preview: The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. The Green Bay Packers

On Sunday, February 6, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will meet in Super Bowl XLV (6:00 PM ET, FOX) at Cowboys Stadium in North Texas. The game features two of the most storied franchises in NFL history. The Steelers have won an NFL-best six Super Bowls and the Packers own 12 NFL championships (three Super Bowls), the most all-time.

At 28-16 (.636), Green Bay has the league’s best postseason record. Pittsburgh is second with a 33-19 (.635) mark.

“We’re very similar organizations,” says Steelers chairman emeritus DAN ROONEY. “We’re similar in the way we operate. We have great respect for the Packers and we always have.”

The Steelers are back in the Super Bowl for the third time in the past six years. Pittsburgh defeated Seattle in Super Bowl XL (February 5, 2006) and knocked off Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII (February 1, 2009). The Steelers will make their eighth Super Bowl appearance, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the most all-time.

“This is Pittsburgh,” says Steelers linebacker LARRY FOOTE. “If you don’t win the Super Bowl, it’s a bust. The guys in the 1970s created that mentality. You have to do your best to follow suit. Our defensive meeting room is right next to the Lombardi Trophies. Everyone is expected to do their part to win. The standards don’t change.”

Green Bay returns to the Super Bowl for the first time since back-to-back appearances in Super Bowl XXXI (January 26, 1997) and XXXII (January 25, 1998). The Packers beat New England in Super Bowl XXXI and lost to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII. Green Bay will make its fourth Super Bowl appearance, including victories in Super Bowl I and II.

“To me, this means everything,” says Packers veteran wide receiver DONALD DRIVER, who will play in his first Super Bowl. “When you play in this league a long time, the ultimate goal is to first get to the Super Bowl and then the ultimate goal is to win it. I’m excited about it. The biggest thing for me now is to put that ring on my finger and have it be part of my legacy that I’ve been to the Super Bowl and won it.”

In the AFC Championship Game, the Steelers knocked off the New York Jets 24-19 at Heinz Field. Running back RASHARD MENDENHALL rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown and quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER notched his 10th career postseason victory. Roethlisberger, who is in his seventh year, is one of only three quarterbacks (Pro Football Hall of Famer TROY AIKMAN and TOM BRADY) in NFL history to win at least 10 postseason games by the end of their seventh season.

“Ben does things that nobody else does,” says NFL Network analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer MICHAEL IRVIN about Roethlisberger. “If you win Super Bowls, you belong among the best to ever play this game.”

Roethlisberger has already won two Super Bowls in his career and with a win on Sunday would join Pro Football Hall of Famers TERRY BRADSHAW (four), JOE MONTANA (four) and Aikman (three) and Brady (three) as the only starting quarterbacks in NFL history to win at least three Super Bowls.

Green Bay punched its ticket to North Texas with a 21-14 win at Soldier Field over the Chicago Bears. The defense led the way with three interceptions. Rookie cornerback SAM SHIELDS, an undrafted free agent, had two interceptions and a sack, becoming the first NFL rookie and the first Packer to record two interceptions and a sack in a playoff game. Defensive tackle B.J. RAJI added a key fourth-quarter interception that he returned 18 yards for a touchdown. Raji is the first defensive lineman in franchise history to return an interception for a touchdown in the postseason.

The Packers are the first No. 6 seed in the NFC to advance to the Super Bowl since the NFL instituted the current 12-team playoff format in 1990. The only other No. 6 seed to play in the Super Bowl was the 2005 Steelers, who went on to win Super Bowl XL.

Green Bay has not trailed by more than seven points in any game this season, the first team to accomplish the feat since the 1962 Detroit Lions.

“This team has great character,” says Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS, who has a 113.0 career postseason passer rating, the highest in NFL history (minimum 100 attempts). “If you look at the roster right now, there are a number of guys who were either not with us at the beginning of the season or were not counted on to play a big role. To have guys step up says a lot about our character. We just believe in each other.”

Pittsburgh head coach MIKE TOMLIN, who guided the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XLIII, can become the first head coach in NFL history to win two Super Bowls in his first four seasons. He is also aiming to become the youngest head coach in league annals to win two Super Bowl titles (38 years old).

“It’s special,” says Tomlin about moving on to Super Bowl XLV. “There are 32 teams that start this journey and there are only two left. We are fortunate enough to be one of them. It’s awesome.”

On the opposite sideline will be Green Bay’s MIKE MC CARTHY, who grew up in Pittsburgh and spent four seasons at the University of Pittsburgh as an assistant coach.

“Pittsburgh is obviously a big part of who I am,” says McCarthy, who has guided the Packers to the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. “My family is still back there. This is going to be a very unique experience for everybody. I was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan growing up and they’re my second favorite team. But we’re preparing to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a football game and that’s what we need to stay focused on.

“They’re an excellent football team, obviously. They’ve had a lot of success. They’re a veteran team and an experienced team. They’ve been through this experience before and we have not. We understand that. But we’re going to stick to our approach and that’s the way we’re going to face it. Our goal is to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home.”

Both teams can attribute some of their success this season to stellar defensive play. The Steelers, led by defensive coordinator and Pro Football Hall of Famer DICK LE BEAU topped the NFL allowing just 14.5 points per game. Green Bay defensive coordinator DOM CAPERS, who held the same title with the Steelers from 1992-94, and the Packers ranked second (15.0 points per game).

The two teams also ranked one-two in opponent passer rating (Green Bay 67.2, Pittsburgh 73.1) and sacks (Pittsburgh 48, Green Bay 47 – tied for second).

“I’ve got as much respect for Dick Lebeau as anybody in the business,” says Capers. “I consider him a good friend. We roomed together back in 1992 when BILL COWHER took the job and we worked there together for three years. Anybody who has been in the league for more than 50 years as a player and a coach has to have something special. I don’t think anybody can compare with him.”

These two talented defenses combined for seven Pro Bowl selections this year: linebacker JAMES HARRISON, defensive end BRETT KEISEL and safety TROY POLAMALU for Pittsburgh and safety NICK COLLINS, linebacker CLAY MATTHEWS and cornerbacks TRAMON WILLIAMS and CHARLES WOODSON for Green Bay.

“We’ve got a lot of talent on this team,” says Woodson. “Every week, it’s somebody else stepping up. The guys on this team have been making plays week in and week out. We have a ton of guys who can just make plays at any time and at any point in the game. We know how hard it is to get to the Super Bowl. You want to be able to get there and win it. It’s all or nothing now. Hopefully we can go down there and win it.”

In the last meeting between these two teams (December 20, 2009), Pittsburgh QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER (503 yards) and Green Bay QB AARON RODGERS (383) combined for 886 passing yards in the Steelers’ 37-36 win over the Packers. It marked the highest passing yardage total in NFL history in a game that did not have an interception.