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Super Bowl Preview

   by Al McMordie - 01/23/2006

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Steelers in a Super Bowl (10 years). And we’ve never seen the Seahawks in the big game. Both teams have two weeks to prepare and come off relatively easy wins in the Championship games. This game is at a neutral site indoors (Detroit), but does anything stand out as far as how these teams fared on the road this season? The Steelers are playing their best football at the right time of the year, riding a 7-0 SU, 6-1 ATS run the last 7 games. Most impressive is that they were the No. 6 seed in the AFC and come off wins against the Bengals, Colts and Broncos – all on the road! That makes Pittsburgh 8-2 SU/ATS on the road this season! Seattle is only 5-3 SU, 4-4 ATS on the road, although they did average an impressive 27 ppg away from home. Edge to the Steelers.

Philosophically, both teams are similar. Coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Holmgren are veteran coaches who’ve taken their teams to the Super Bowl before. Holmgren makes his third trip, winning once and losing once with the Packers. Both coaches have built their teams with a philosophy around ball control and balanced offenses. Each team has a bruising running back and strong offensive line play.

It was interesting that the last few weeks both teams didn’t play conservative, which has been their reputation. Pittsburgh came out throwing the ball often against the Colts and Broncos, and threw several trick plays at the Bengals. In the past, Cowher has leaned more toward running the football, critics say too much, but that hasn’t been the case in this playoffs. Don’t be surprised if both teams come out throwing the ball and mixing up the plays. The difference this season for Pittsburgh is probably that Cowher has a talented young quarterback who is an excellent decision-maker. Cowher clearly has trust in letting Big Ben Roethlisberger throw the football. That wasn’t the case over the last ten years when he was stuck with below-average QBs such as Bubby Brister and Kordell Stewart.

Think back to last year’s Super Bowl when two fine QBs squared off in Donovan McNabb and Tom Brady. Brady was calm the whole game because he was playing in his third Super Bowl in four years. McNabb, on the other hand, was erratic, especially early on, overthrowing several receivers and tossing too many lollipop passes, one of which Rodney Harrison intercepted in the end zone in the first quarter. Nerves can get to QBs playing in their first Super Bowl with the whole world watching!

The fact that the game is indoors is probably a wash, favoring neither team. Experience is another factor to consider. Even though neither team has Super Bowl experience of late, I’d give an edge to the Steelers. Pittsburgh was 16-2 last season and hosted the AFC Championship game, losing to the Patriots. That experience factor has helped this postseason, especially since they played three games on the road in hostile environments in Cincinnati, Indy and Denver. And they played smart, mistake-free football. Seattlemade the playoffs last season, but flamed out in the first round against the Rams. Then, this year, they had an edge with home field, but played two playoff games against teams with several flaws in Washington (little offense) and Carolina (too many injuries, down to their third string back). Also, Seattle doesn’t have a lot of big-game experience away from home.

Looking back on this season, Seattle barely won on the road at St. Louis and Tennessee. And the Seahawks lost 23-17 at Green Bay (their last road game), 20-17 at Washington and 26-14 at Jacksonville to open the season. Also note that Seattle’s defense allowed 21 ppg on the road where they are 7-1 'Over' the total. Pittsburgh has opened up the offense more in the second half of the season and carries a 5-2-1 run 'Over' the total into the Super Bowl. The Steelers also have more experience playing indoors: since Thanksgiving, they’ve played three games indoors, one at Minnesota and two at Indianapolis, going 2-1 SU/ATS.

Finally, games are often won and lost via turnovers and in the trenches. I can’t predict turnovers, but I can point out that in the trenches, both teams were outstanding at stopping the run this season, and each ranked in the Top 5 in the NFL. On paper, it’s a wash in the trenches, which possibly means turnovers will be the “la difference,â€쳌 as the French say! Super Bowl 40 should be a fun one to dissect over the next two weeks and watch. Good luck as always...Al McMordie.

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