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Monday, January 31, 2011
An AFC East take on Super Bowl matchup

By Tim Graham

Super Bowl week is upon us. Prepare to get bombarded with stats, analysis, anecdotes and obscure storylines about the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.

I won't go out of my way to hammer folks over the head with Super Bowl angles all week, but there's a fitting way to look at ahead to Sunday's showdown in this space.

Regardless of what AFC East team you follow, your boys squared off against both Green Bay and Pittsburgh in the regular season. AFC East cross-divisional opponents for 2010 were the AFC North and NFC North. They played each other nine times.

The Steelers went 3-2 against the AFC East, including their AFC Championship Game victory over the New York Jets. The Packers went 2-2.

The New England Patriots were the only AFC East club to beat both Super Bowl entrants, but the Miami Dolphins came close.

Let's review the games to see if we can find a comfort zone for making a prediction for Super Sunday.

Stevie Johnson
Had Stevie Johnson hauled in this pass, the Bills would have defeated the Steelers in overtime.
Pittsburgh Steelers

Results versus AFC East: Won at Dolphins 23-22; lost to Patriots 39-26; won at Buffalo 19-16 in overtime; lost to Jets 22-17; won over Jets in playoffs 24-19.

What we learned: There are no perfect teams, but the Steelers looked particularly flawed in their games against the AFC East. They Steelers easily could have been swept in the regular season and wouldn't have won the AFC North if not for two lucky breaks against the AFC East's non-playoff teams.

The sloppy Dolphins didn't deserve to win at home in Week 7, but they should have anyway. Ben Roethlisberger appeared to fumble into the end zone in the final minutes and Dolphins outside linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis appeared to recover. But officials prematurely blew the play dead and didn't follow the fumble as they should have. Video evidence didn't help clarify the sequence, so the Steelers maintained possession and kicked a field goal for the victory.

The Steelers, conversely, didn't deserve to beat the Bills in Week 12 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Steelers were shaky and went into sudden death against one of the league's worst teams. In overtime, Bills receiver Steve Johnson infamously dropped a perfectly thrown Ryan Fitzpatrick bomb in the end zone. The Steelers survived to kick a field goal.

The Steelers lost both of their home games against the AFC East. The Patriots thumped them in Week 10, and the Jets pulled out of a potential nosedive with a Heinz Field victory in Week 15.

Of course, the Steelers rebounded in the playoffs to beat the Jets in the conference title game. The Jets sleepwalked through the first half, but outscored the Steelers 16-0 in the third and fourth quarters before falling short.

Green Bay Packers

Results versus AFC East: Won over Bills 34-7; lost to Dolphins 23-20 in overtime; won at Jets 9-0; lost at Patriots 31-27.

What we learned: Green Bay's games against the AFC East went a little more by the book, but not totally. And one of their losses was mitigated by Aaron Rodgers' absence.

Buffalo still had Trent Edwards at quarterback when Green Bay properly cruised in Week 2. The other game that went (mostly) as expected was a Week 15 loss in Gillette Stadium. Rodgers was out with a concussion against New England, but backup quarterback Matt Flynn still drove Green Bay within 15 yards of victory in the closing moments.

The Packers' other games were a tad peculiar. The Packers lost a thriller to the Dolphins at Lambeau Field in Week 6. Rodgers scored on a fourth-down run from the 1-yard line to send the game into overtime. Dan Carpenter's 44-yard field goal won it.

Two weeks later, the Packers went to the Meadowlands and blanked the Jets in one of the biggest head-scratchers of the year. Neither team scored a touchdown. The Jets' shutout was even worse considering they were coming off their bye week.

Prediction

I'm basing my prediction on what I witnessed throughout the season.

All in all, the Packers looked pretty solid against the AFC East and had a shot to beat the Patriots without Rodgers.

But what stands out even more for me is how wobbly the Steelers looked in all four regular-season games and the second half of the AFC Championship Game. Without two fortuitous bounces, the Steelers would have been swept in the regular season and wouldn't have had a first-round bye.

I can't get that out of my mind when I predict the Packers to win 27-20.