It all comes down to this….

This is what it’s about. The previous 20 weeks of football, the months of training, the years of hard work comes down to this Sunday night, one game, a ridiculous amount of viewers, a halftime show that no-one wants and only one winner. You’ve read our previews on the site, and this sunday is one of the toughest Superbowls to call for a long old time as two of the most famous franchises in the game, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers face off.

Both teams have the ability to rack up a load of points, and both can strangle the opposition to stop them scoring. Both quarterbacks can extend plays with their legs and both have defensive playmakers to turn an entire game on it’s head. You might give the Steelers the edge in the running game, but the Packers sets of recievers and explosivity on defense can balance the scales. The Steelers have experience, the Packers have the joy of youth. The Steelers have  very few friends outside their team and are full of characters that divide opinion, the Packers have a fresh-faced, all- American QB. For two teams to similar, they seem to be the complete opposite of each other.

The UKNFL team is split (as you may have heard on the podcast or picked up from the previews below). David is backing the Steelers, Andy the Packers. I am sitting on the fence. It will be close, very close, and actually, I don’t care. I don’t care about who wins because the Superbowl is all about the winning for those involved, but all about the event for those not. This sunday, I’ll be supporting the game, I’ll be enjoying myself, and shouting at the top of my voice for as many points as possible.

We’ve had an amazing season, in the league and for us at UKNFL so lets hope this season gets the Superbowl it deserves.

GO FOOTBALL!

Jamie Cutteridge

(Ok, Steelers by 3)

Superbowl Preview: The Pittsburgh Steelers.

How They Got Here

Out of the AFC, the Steelers aren’t often left out of most people’s picks at the start of the year, whether to win their division, the conference, or go all the way. This season, the off-season antics of ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger (shown above, and I think the picture says it all) meant they would be without their MVP quarterback for the first four games of the season, and many thought an 0-4 start was on the cards and little more was to follow.
Cue Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch papering over the cracks with a little help from an exceptional running game to start 3-1 and prove all the doubters wrong. Big Ben returned, and the Steelers never really looked back. Defeats followed to the Patriots, Jets, Saints in addition to Batch’s defeat to the Ravens in Week 4, but it could be argued that all four of their losses came to playoff-bound teams during a difficult season.
During the regular season, the Steelers beat the Ravens in a crucial game which essentially decided who would top the AFC North. In the playoffs, it looked like the Ravens would have their revenge, taking a 21-7 lead into half-time.  At the crucial time, however, the difference between a Superbowl-winning quarterback and a shaky one was exposed, as Flacco fell to pieces and the Steelers scored 24 points with little reply to win the game 31-24. In the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets, exactly the opposite applied. The Steelers scored 24 unanswered points to obliterate the Jets in the first half, before failing to score any at all in the second, leaving the Jets to get within inches of a remarkable comeback. The game ended 24-19, with the Steelers advancing to Texas Stadium for the season’s showpiece: Superbowl 45.
The Strengths
Firstly, the experience of the Pittsburgh Steelers cannot be underestimated. Big Ben is a young quarterback in relative terms, but already has two Superbowl rings. Many of this Steelers side return from the team that defeated the Arizona Cardinals two years ago, and some even return from the side that defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl XL. The Packers have little of this experience, with only Charles Woodson playing a big part in a previous season-ender, and on the big stage on Sunday night, this could very well played in the Steelers hands.
There’s no denying that an enormous strength for the Steelers is their…strength! From a quarterback who is one of the biggest and toughest in the league, to a frankly brutal defense, Pittsburgh will see themselves as one of the few teams who can match the Packers pound-for-pound if the game should turn into a dogfight.
The Weaknesses
An issue for the Steelers in any game, and Sunday is no different, is their possible indiscipline. Linebacker James Harrison, outstanding as he is, has been faced with more fines for illegal hits this season than anybody, and isn’t keeping quiet about his indignation at the issue. No matter what Harrison thinks of the rules, they will remain the same against the Packers, and if the Steelers pile up the penalties against a team like Green Bay, they will be punished.
Maurkice Pouncey’s absence from the Steelers offensive line could also present a problem to Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense. Pouncey has a slight ankle sprain and is extremely doubtful to play on Sunday night, and any team leaving a Pro Bowl center out of their side may be prone to slip-ups in a high-pressure environment.
Key Players
You simply cannot look past the afore-mentioned Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Ben’s previous two Superbowls were poles apart in terms of performance, having an uncharacteristic yet successful day against the Seahawks in XL, and a game-winning 256 yard, 93.6 rated day against the Cardinals in the thriller that was Superbowl XLIII. This polarising quality that Roethlisberger displays both on and off the field has been particularly apparent in two particular microcosms against the Jets and the Ravens. Dreadful for one half, great for another, and if he were to put in a performance like the one against the Seahawks against Green Bay on Sunday, the Steelers could very well be in trouble. As the first four games of the season showed, they can survive without Ben, but having him at full-strength makes life a hell of a lot easier.
The figurehead of one of the league’s greatest defensive systems is flaxen-haired Troy Polamalu. With seven interceptions in an injury-blighted season, Polamalu is back, fit and ready to rumble. Superbowl XLIII saw one of the most memorable interceptions in Superbowl history, with the safety intercepting a Kurt Warner pass in his own end-zone, before running it back 97 yards to change the entire momentum of the game going into half-time. Aaron Rodgers began to look shaky after bursting out against the Bears two weeks ago, and if any passes go astray, Polamalu will certainly be around to scoop them up. He is a magnet for the ball, a big-game player and could negate the serious passing threat the Packers possess.
The Steelers Will Win If…
…they can find a way to make Rodgers wobble early on. Considering he’s a relatively young quarterback in his first Superbowl, an early pick or an early roughing-up could see the Steelers take control of the game. Similar mental fortitude will need to be displayed by Roethlisberger in keeping a lead should the Steelers go ahead. They almost let the Seahawks back in in 2006, and the Cardinals were inches away from a fantastic comeback in 2009. After the Jets made everyone in Steel-town nervous two weeks ago, gripping a lead by the scruff of the neck will be vital for Pittsburgh. Finally, variety is required. Whilst Starks and Kuhn have performed for the Packers on the ground in recent weeks, their game remains relatively one-dimensional. If the Steelers can mix it up between the pass and the rush, the Packers will work harder, and a tough Steelers will see the game out.
David Dickson.

The Superbowl Preview – Green Bay Packers

How They Got Here

The packers have had a pretty bumpy ride to the Superbowl, and for a while they were in danger of not even making the playoffs. After starting strong, with wins against Philadelphia & Buffalo, they went on a 4 game losing slide as they seemingly were getting to grips with an injury crisis that saw them lose starters Jermichael Finley (Tight End), Nick Barnett (Linebacker) & Ryan Grant (Running Back) among others.

After a week 6 loss to the Dolphins, the Packers won 7 of their next 10, including a 45-17 demolition of the New York giants (who were competing with Green Bay for the last Wild Card) which ultimately put them in the playoffs.

Going into the post season, the Packers dispatched the Eagles (it still hurts) with a late Tramon Williams pick to seal the game, and then faced the NFC’s best Atlanta Falcons, where Aaron Rogers played a game in what will go down in history as one of the best quarterback performances in the playoffs. Green Bay did not punt once, Rogers completed 31/36 of his passes and accounted for 4 touchdowns in a 48-21 rout.

The Packers completed their journey to the Superbowl with a 21-14 win over division rivals, the Chicago Bears, in a slow, defensive game. Once again though it was Rogers early precision (9/9 on the Packers first drive) that set Green Bay on route to victory, and put the Packers into the Superbowl for the first time since 1998.

The Strengths

The Packers key strength is their potent passing game. Aaron Rogers is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league and at his disposal, even without Jermichael Finley, is perhaps the NFL’s best recieving corps. With Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson & James Jones the Packers can stretch the field as well as anyone.

Its difficult to pick out the specific strengths of the Packers defensive unit, as they are solid everywhere. To pinpoint one aspect, they have a very strong pass defense, ranking 5th in the league during the regular season. Charles Woodson is probably the best ‘do-it-all’ cornerback in the league and Nick Collins is coming off another good season.

The Weaknesses

Picking out weaknesses in a team that has made it to the Superbowl is tricky. The only 2 aspects that raise concerns for the Packers, and both have improved somewhat in the post season, are as follows:

The Run Defence – Green Bay ranked 18th in the regular season in rush defence, allowing an average of 114.9 yards per game. During the post season they’ve brought that down to 69.7 yards per game, but having seen what Rashard Mendenhall did to the Jets a couple of weeks ago, the Packers are going have to keep it very tight.

The Rushing Game – We know Green Bay are a pass first offence, and they do it well. Still, they ranked 24th in the league on rushing yards per game. They can lean on Aaron Rogers and his WR’s to put points up, but balance is key for any offence, and if they cannot get anywhere with their ground attack then it could cause problems for them.

That said, James Starks has come to the fore as the leading rusher in the post season, putting up 263 yards and 1 TD in 3 post season games. He could be a key man on Sunday night.

Key Players

On the offensive side of the ball, perhaps quite obviously, Aaron Rogers is the man. It’s perhaps unoriginal to say a quarterback is the key player, but as the Packers are (likely) going to rely so heavily on their aerial attack, Rogers is going to need to be at his best. After going 14-0 up against Chicago, he struggled to keep the offence moving. However, if the Aaron Rogers that played against the Falcons turns up at the Superbowl, it’s going to be very difficult to stop him.

Defence wise, keep watching Clay Matthews. Even if he doesnt do anything, his hair is wonderful. The outside linebacker, who missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year by 2 votes (out of 50 voters), had 13.5 sacks in the regular season, and has added another 3.5 in the playoffs and is quite simply a dominant edge rusher. I mentioned earlier the Packers less than perfect rush defence, and while Matthews isn’t typically the guy who stops the A-gap runs, if he can stop Mendenhall for a loss a couple of times on outside rushes, that could be enough to swing this game in Green Bay’s favor. He’s also my tip for Superbowl MVP…

The Packers will win if…

They can get an early lead and the running game comes alive to eat the clock when it matters.

Oddly, I actually think theres a better chance for the Packers to win if the Steelers take the lead and Green Bay are forced to throw, then grab the win late in the game. While I’m sure the Packers would want the more standard, safer route to victory I stated first, the latter would be much more fun for us to watch, right?!

Andy Stuart

The First UKNFL Podcast!

Yes, the waiting is over, the time has come. Introduce your ears to the first UKNFL podcast.
On the show we discuss championship weekend (with special guest Iain Macintosh), look at NFL in the UK, reflect on the season as a whole in the UKNFL awards and throw out some Superbowl predictions.
So get your ears ON IT.
Download by right clicking and ‘save target as’ on this link here (THE PODCAST LINK), or you can listen to it by clicking through on the link.
Later this week it will be available on iTunes. So listen, enjoy, and tell your friends!

(Massive thanks to Chris at Twofootedtackle for hosting it, and the guys at Midtown Studios in Sutton for their studio)

Jets/Steelers LiveBlog!

Click Here

The AFC Championship Game Preview: Jets @ Steelers

 

We’re almost there. With only three games, and four teams left in the 2011 NFL season (excluding our favourite trip to Hawaii next weekend), we know our AFC representative in the Superbowl will hail from either Pittsburgh or the green side of the city that never sleeps. So, let us present the Any Given Sunday (Night) guide to the AFC Championship Game.

 

New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers

 

An AFC Championship game at Heinz Field. This has become a bit of a staple in the NFL over the last ten years or so, with this being the fifth occasion that the boys in black and gold have dragged an unsuspecting victim back to Steeltown in the last decade. Twice they have won the match-up, going on to win the Superbowl in the process, whilst twice they have lost, both to the hands of a certain Tom Brady and his band of Patriots (with a little help from Drew Bledsoe). But this year, there is no Brady. There is no Manning. Hell, there’s not even Jake Plummer. There’s just one quarterback who no-one can really work out. Mark Sanchez, of the New York Jets.

 

The Jets emerged from one of the more shocking divisional match-ups in recent years last weekend in beating Superbowl-favourites, the New England Patriots, 28-21 in their own backyard. Prior to the game itself, the Jets resorted to the down-and-dirty tactics for which they and their coach Rex Ryan have become famous for, drawing Patriots WR Wes Welker into similar unsportsmanlike/hilarious behaviour in a press conference that earned him a place on the bench instead of on the field at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots, whilst not out-classed, were out-played and, more importantly, out-psyched by Antonio Cromartie, Ryan and friends. So, how do the Jets approach the hard-playing Steelers?

 

With respect, it seems. Well, respect, that is, from the former-Steeler in their ranks. Earlier this week, Santonio Holmes called Steelers safety Troy Polamalu “… the greatest player I’ve ever played with” and admits the Jets will have to stay away from him with the ball to have any hope of leaving Pittsburgh with a win on Sunday evening. With the Patriots, and in particular coach Bill Billichick, appearing too proud and dignified to resort to a battle in the gutter with New York last week, the Jets appear to have recognised the Steelers are a whole different ball-game; a hornet’s nest that, if disturbed, will likely sting you. Whether this stifles the Jets’ sense of self-belief remains to be seen.

 

So what of the Steelers. As we’ve said, they’ve been here before, and recently too. Their Superbowl-winning MVP Holmes may have moved on to their rivals, but the Steelers still have a veritable array of talent at their disposal, even before we consider the afore mentioned “greatest player in football” at safety. These stars shone through just in the nick of time against the Ravens last week after a series of turnovers put them in at 21-7 down at half-time. Two touchdowns from ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger at the start of the third quarter later, the game was tied, and the rest of the game was tied up by a Rashard Mendenhall rushing TD to punch in a 31-24 winning scoreline. This victory also drew some respect from another previously foul-mouthed member of the Jets camp, with Antonio Cromartie (a week after calling Tom Brady ‘an asshole’) saying “I love Ben, man. Ben’s a competitor”. Praise indeed. Are the Jets worried?

 

Players To Watch

 

The Steelers are favourites to win this game, meaning the Jets may spend a bit of time of the back foot. So this week, we choose Darrelle Revis at cornerback at our player to watch for New York. In recent weeks, Revis outrageous pace and athleticism has taken out some of the most threatening receivers out of the game at key moments. Deion Branch suffered for the Patriots, Reggie Wayne couldn’t get out of the blocks for the Colts, and all this time, the MVP quarterbacks for these respective sides had to resort to a rather shaky plan B. Plan B didn’t work, and the Jets came away with a win. This week, Revis will have his sights set on Mike Wallace, and if he can take away Big Ben’s big play down the field, and his linemen can keep the QB in the pocket, the Jets may just have a shot at the Superbowl.

 

It’s tempting to suggest keeping an eye on the entirety of the Steelers offense and defence, such are the talents they have the potential to burst out with. However, if you saw the Steelers go down 22-17 at Heinz Field to the Jets in Week 15, you may have missed a certain million-dollar haired safety sitting out. Sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole tale, but when Pittsburgh are a quite astonishing 31-8 with Troy Polamalu in the side, and 6-7 without him, the importance of one of the league’s greatest ever defensive players cannot be underestimated. Without Polamalu in Week 15, a sack-shy Steelers side (getting to Sanchez only once) allowed the Jets quarterback to make short, safe passes upon the blitz, leaving the Jets to hold onto the ball for large portions of the game away from home. With Polamalu in the side, that option is gone. If Sanchez wobbles, that balls goes right to the hair, and the Steelers win.

 

Prediction

 

Sorry Jets fans, but it’s the end of the road. Far be it from me to mock a side that has swept aside the Colts and the Patriots in recent weeks, but I think we can all agree that, despite fantastic Jets performances in both, we saw a beaten-up Colts side and a frankly weak Patriots outfit fall victim to Rex Ryan and his merry men. This week, there has been no mention of grudges, no trash-talk, no shouting and balling. The Jets are eerily quiet, and if you listen closely, you can hear that Steel bell tolling. Pittsburgh by 14.

 

David Dickson.

NFC Championship Preview – Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

So here we – championship weekend. And for the first time since 1990, we have a division rivalry game for the NFC championship – the Packers at the Bears. I cant quite believe we’re here already, the season goes far too fast. It does seem to just get better and better the closer you get to the Superbowl though, so strap in this weekend, it’s going to be a screamer. Lets take a look at the NFC side.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

The Green Bay/Chicago rivalry is the longest standing rivalry in the NFL, stretching back to 1921 and after this weekend will stand at 182 games. Honours were even in the regular season, with Chicago winning 20-17 back in September and the Packers getting their revenge (and a ticket to the playoffs) with a scrappy 10-3 win in week 17.

That, of course, will not matter. It is the playoffs after all, whatever we could take from those 2 games about this matchup is ancient history – these are 2 different animals now.

It seems like Green Bay has caught the playoff momentum bug, and they’re looking very tough to stop now. Last week, the Packers brushed aside the Atlanta Falcons (in the Georgia Dome) like they were a fly causing a nuisance. Aaron Rogers was in stunning form, playing what was possibly the best game of his career. Rogers only missed on 5 of his 36 pass attempts and accounted for 4 TDs (3 passing, 1 rushing) in a 48-21 crushing. Rogers definitely seems to have that big game mentality needed for the playoffs. The only thing that kept him from making a longer run in last years post season was being outgunned by the great Kurt Warner.  The big question for the Packers will be if he can maintain that playoff-form going against a Chicago team that knows them very well.

On the Bears side, they must be quite scared as they watch the footage from that Atlanta game, but they will come into this game knowing they have a defence capable of slowing down Rogers & co. What will be vital for Chicago is getting Green Bay’s running game shut down early. Forcing Rogers to pass more doesn’t sound ideal for anyone, but if they can handle the run with their front 4 (defensive line, for those of you still on the jargon learning journey!) and expect the pass, that’ll make life a whole lot easier for them as a defensive unit.

Offensively, the Bears are going to have to be at their absolute best in this game. Jay Cutler has had an up & down year, but the good news is he has got better as the seasons gone on, and last week against the Seahawks he threw for 2 TDs and rushed for 2 more. However, Green Bay, of course, are not the Seahawks. Chicago got the job done last week, but they’re simply going to have to be better this Sunday night.

If its true (and I believe it is) that the Packers offence is at their barnstorming playoff best, then theres every chance this turns into a shootout of the kind we saw last year (Arizona Cardinals & Green Bay Packers), and you just cant shake off the niggling thought that Jay Cutler just wont be able to keep up with that kind of firepower.

Players to Watch

He’s one of our favourite players here at UKNFL. He doesn’t see the ball anywhere near as much as some of your household name running backs (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, etc) but he’s been a key part of a Packers offence that lost their starting RB in week 1. I am of course talking about fullback, John Kuhn. He’s not your typically explosive player, he’s not going to scamper for a 70 yard TD, but he’s such a workhorse in the Packers offensive lineup that none of that matters. As his leading blocker, it was Kuhn that was largely responsible for James Starks 123 rushing yards against Philadelphia. Last week against the Falcons, he touched the ball 4 times (2 carries, 2 catches). 2 of those touches resulted in touchdowns. When the Packers get within 10 yards of the goal line on Sunday, thats when you watch for him. And its likely that not long after you’ll see our Twitter feed loaded with KUUUUUHHHHNNN hash-tags.

I mentioned earlier about the Bears having to stop the run early, preferably using little more than their D-line. A huge part of this will be Julius Peppers. The perennial pro-bowl defensive end is getting on in years a bit now, but he’s still a vicious edge rusher, and plays the run just as well as he can rush the QB. He may have as big a job as anyone this weekend. If Chicago can eliminate whatever rushing game the Packers want to play, Peppers next task is getting after Aaron Rogers, and if he can shake him up a bit that’ll will greatly increase the chances of a Bears win.

Predictions

This is a really difficult one to call. I just can’t tell which Bears team (more specifically, which Jay Cutler) is going to show up. When it comes down to it, I think the Packers will be too much for the Bears in both the offensive & defensive phases of the game.

Green Bay Packers by 10.

 

Andy Stuart