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Seahawks Will Win Super Bowl XL

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The Feb. 1 sports column “Seahawks Will Win Super Bowl XL” misspelled a running back’s name. It should have been Shaun Alexander, not Sean Alexander. Also, Super Bowl XL is the first of Jerome Bettis’s career, not the second.

By Shreyes Seshasai
STAFF COLUMNIST

After a weekend without football, we approach the greatest television event of the year. The Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers will face off in Super Bowl XL on Sunday night, completing a playoff season full of upsets.

Seattle’s offense has been in complete control throughout the playoffs, as Matt Hasselbeck continues to prove himself one of the top quarterbacks in the league. His quarterback rating, the best in the NFC this year over the regular season, has been even better in the playoffs.

Much of the credit for Hasselbeck’s success should be given to head coach Mike Holmgren, who has been teaching him the ways of the West Coast offense. During the past five years the two have been together, Hasselbeck’s confidence has improved steadily, despite early playoff losses in each of the past two seasons. Now with a more confident receiving corps, Hasselbeck feels comfortable going for the big plays, and his numbers prove it.

Seattle’s other weapon on offense is runningback and league MVP Sean Alexander. Bouncing back from a concussion against the Redskins, Alexander ran all over the Panthers last weekend, although his strong performance could have easily been due to the weak Panthers defense. Alexander must be a presence on offense to allow Hasselbeck to open up the passing game.

This is especially important in the red zone. Even though Seattle has led the league in red zone offense this year, they have to be able to overcome the strong pressure of the Pittsburgh defense, led by safety Troy Polamalu (the guy with the hair) and linebacker James Farrior.

The Pittsburgh offense has mirrored that of the Seahawks lately, building a foundation around their running game complemented by passing. But coach Bill Cower and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt showed little restraint in their play calling against the Broncos, one reason their offense was able to pick apart one of the top defenses in the league.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stole the show in the AFC Championship game, playing efficient football and making big plays on third downs, especially in the first half. Despite only playing his second year in the league, he already has more playoff experience than many hope to have in a career, and should the Steelers win, he would become the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl.

While Roethlisberger hopes to make the plays down the field, he’ll have to rely on running backs Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. Bettis returns home to Detroit to play in his second Super Bowl, and while he’s given most of the work over to Parker this year, they both continue to provide support to Big Ben, especially late in games after the Steelers take the lead.

Controlling the ball has been Bettis’ strength throughout his career, and it’ll be difficult for Seattle’s defensive line to stop the physical runner who could be playing his final game.

Overall, the teams are eerily alike on paper, using similar playing styles to roll through opposing teams with surprising ease. Both teams faced few challenges in their last outing, dominating early to take quick leads and using ball control to wear out their opponentd.

Attribute much of this success to the schemes created by head coaches Holmgren and Cower, who with their long tenures are two of the most respected coaches in the league. I look forward to seeing what they will come up with to try to outwit each other after having had two weeks to prepare.

With such evenly matched teams, the eventual winner will be the one that makes the fewest mistakes and is able to impose its will in the passing game. Both quarterbacks are making debut Super Bowl trips, so there’s no guessing how they’ll perform.

Pittsburgh has proven itself strong over the course of the playoffs, but the Steelers have to hit the wall eventually. Though they have already played three of the top teams in the league, Seattle’s got the defense (and offense) to stop them. Hasselbeck has been too good over the past month, even without Alexander, for the Steelers to win.

My pick: Seattle over Pittsburgh to win Super Bowl XL.