Eric Mack
Thursday February 3rd, 2011

The NFL seems to reset itself every year. After a shootout Super Bowl of NFL record-setting passers Peyton Manning against Drew Brees, we get the old "Defense wins championships" matchup of the Steelers and the Packers. The two teams which allowed the fewest points are playing for the title in a classic matchup.

The Packers might have the more potent fantasy QB in Aaron Rodgers, but the Steelers have the better run defense. And, as we learned this postseason, the best run defenses win. It was the case throughout the playoffs.

Fantasy's top four D/STs vs. RBs this season made up the final four -- and in both cases the higher-ranked team advanced to the Super Bowl:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers 2. New York Jets 3. Green Bay Packers 4. Chicago Bears

In fact, only one of the 10 playoffs games saw the team with the higher ranking against RBs lose. That was Seahawks' upset of the Saints. Let's chalk that up to an outdoors/weather, home-field advantage fluke against a dome team.

It should lead you to pick the underdog in this Super Bowl. The Packers are a two-point favorite, but the Steelers are a value because they were clearly the best run defense in the NFL. It certainly helps that the Packers have piecemealed a running game together this season.

Like the adage defense wins championships, the winning rule of thumb is "run and stop the run." The Steelers do that better than anyone.

This principal guides these Super Bowl projections and fantasy rankings.

Notice, the Packers' turnover rate is higher, due to the Steelers defense. Like defense -- specifically stopping the run -- usually deciding games, so too do turnovers.

If you assume most of those projections hold, this is how a Super Bowl fantasy draft should go:

The only real out-of-place ranking is that of the surprise rookie playoff star Starks. He has the toughest matchup of all, but you need to select him before receivers, D/STs and kickers simply because he is a running back. We gave him poor numbers, though, because that Steelers front seven is just a brick wall.

Defense and stopping the run wins games. Expect it to hold in this one, like it has all postseason.

We have dealt with the hype of playoff stars becoming fantasy busts. The Steelers' Mendenhall will be the most difficult one to apply this rule to. He has become a top 10, if not a top-five, fantasy pick for next season.

If he reaches the numbers we laid out above, he could be the Super Bowl MVP, too. That should be enough hype to get him moved up a couple more spots in the first round.

The problem will be the workload, though. If you're familiar with the 400-plus carry fantasy breakdown theory, Mendenhall is squarely in the danger zone.

Shaun Alexander is the biggest historical example. He was a fantasy star in 2005 with 370 regular-season carries and another 60 in the postseason (getting battered by the Steel Curtain in the Super Bowl, by the way). Then in '06, he went in the first couple of picks en route to being a complete bust. In fact, his career was never the same.

The added hits of the postseason, and just high carry totals in general, can take a lot out of good backs. Mendenhall rushed a career-high 324 times in the regular season and has another 47 carries in two playoffs games thus far. A heavy workload of 29-plus this Sunday could get him to 400.

Or, the damage might already have been done.

Shonn Greene was this season's example of a postseason hero gone fantasy bust, as we outlined last month. But this postseason was modest for him, and he might actually come out of the shadow of a veteran starter and be the go-to man next fall.

First it was Thomas Jones, then came LaDainian Tomlinson. If we don't get a lockout by the NFL, the Jets are reportedly weighing cutting Tomlinson. L.T. said this week, though, if that happens, he would just retire.

Regardless, L.T. showed, after a hot start, he is done being capable of toting the load. That will be Green's job next year, no matter who the Jets bring in to complement him.

Green could wind up being a steal in the late second round as the Jets' feature back in '11.

If a postseason hero is going to be drafted too early next fall, you have to assume a postseason goat will slip too far. That will definitely be the case for maligned Bears QB Jay Cutler.

It isn't just enemy fans that hate him now. Bears fans hate him. Casual fans call him Jay Quitler. Everyone hates him.

But, we in fantasy should actually love him.

The stigma of his MCL injury and departure in the NFC Championship game will cause him to slip out of the top 12 QBs picked on draft day. If the Bears retain Mike Martz as offensive coordinator and add the sorely needed go-to wide receiver, Cutler could throw for a career-high 30-plus TDs and perhaps 4,000 yards.

That is great return for a QB that is going to be drafted as a fantasy backup after Round 8. He just might make you a championship team, even if he couldn't do it for the Bears this season.

(For those of you looking for another trio of baseball team capsules, they will restart next Tuesday. There are just nine teams left to get through all 30 before pitchers and catchers report the week of Feb. 14. Spring is almost here!)

Eric Mack writes bi-weekly for You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

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