While most think the Super Bowl comes two weeks after the conference championship games for the hype value, I've always thought it was for the healing value. The biggest game of the year shouldn't be decided by injuries, but by talent. (I"fm told that the real reason is travel, which makes sense.) This year's game should be filled with talent, leaving execution and game plan the real difference makers. There are some injuries, new and old, that will have some effect on the game, so let's take a look:
The Steelers could have Maurkice Pouncey back at center for the big game. If you Steelers fans are feeling deja vu, you should. Pouncey is coming back in much the same way as Hines Ward did a few years ago and both credit the same kind of treatment. They had a therapy called PRP -- platelet rich plasma therapy. In this, the patient's blood is removed, run through a centrifuge, and then injected back into the body to induce healing. PRP is controversial, with many studies saying that it has no effect beyond the placebo and none of them being able to pinpoint the exact way in which it stimulates healing. Anecdotally, the results are great, especially for the Steelers, who seem true believers in the procedure. Ward was able to come back from an MCL sprain and played well in the Super Bowl, which gives some hope for Pouncey.
Pouncey's severe ankle sprain is a Grade II+, meaning it's an almost complete tear of at least one of the major ligaments in the ankle. Reports that he also had a fracture indicate that there was some sort of avulsion, where the ligament tears away a piece of bone due to the trauma. The mechanism for Pouncey's injury was about as bad as it could be, having a player fall on his leg, forcibly turning the ankle in. The chance that he could play alone is a testament to the hard work of the medical staff and to Pouncey's fortitude. Pouncey will try to practice on Friday, but he'll be the Super Bowl equivalent of a game time decision on Sunday.
The other major Steelers injury is to Troy Polamalu. The guy with the hair is playing on a strained Achilles tendon, so even though he's shown no issues since coming back for the playoffs, there's still the chance it could pop. The rest and treatment have worked and he's had a lot of rest. He missed the last couple games of the regular season, then had the bye week, then had the off week before the Super Bowl. Polamalu's not very risky, but it's worth testing him on some deep routes if you're the Packers.
The Steelers don't think Aaron Smith will be back, though they'll give him every chance to prove that he could play. His arm just hasn't healed enough to safely put him out there and expect him to perform, even on a limited basis. This is hardly a surprise, as he's still at the extreme front end of the normal timeframe. The Steelers are also keeping their eye on speedster WR Emanuel Sanders. While he's not a big part of their offense -- admit it, you didn't know who he was before that big TD -- he is a weapon that Ben Roethlisberger can use. His foot didn't keep him out of practice and shows once again that the extra time off really is useful, even if the hype machine does get a bit grating by this time of the week.
So Aaron Rodgers thinks that helmets prevent concussions. No, not exactly, Aaron, but switching to the newer model might have made that one you might have suffered against the Bears mild enough so that it's really not an issue. Look, there's no such thing as a "mild" concussion, since a brain injury is a brain injury, but one thing that nearly every respected researcher in the field agrees upon is that once a player is asymptomatic, they're relatively safe to return. The "second impact syndrome" we often hear about is exceptionally rare and has never occurred in someone over 21 -- highlighting the increased danger at lower levels, where there's less monitoring and usually worse equipment.
One advantage the NFL has is money and manpower. Each week, helmets are checked, cleaned, repainted, and in some cases, repaired. It amounts to the same kind of reconditioning done at other levels, but every week. That's a big plus that they should be playing up. Rodgers is fine to play, cleared at every level, but will remain a big symbol of the issues that the NFL still has to deal with going forward. Rodgers also seems fine in regards to his shoulder, which also took the brunt of some Bears hits.
The Packers are otherwise healthy. They could get LB Frank Zombo back, after missing a significant portion of the season with a knee injury. He'll get a close look in practice as his return could free up Clay Matthews a bit more. Charles Woodson looks ready to go as well, giving the ballhawk secondary all of its pieces.
The story of Super Bowl week so far in Dallas has been the weather. Ice and snow has turned Dallas into a skating rink, fouling up transportation across the cities. As the parties get started this weekend and more people arrive, we can only hope it gets better.
The storm has raised a lot of questions for next year, which will see the Super Bowl in my city, Indianapolis. Let me tell you now that the weather here hasn't been ideal, either, but it's been little worse than Dallas. We had ice that locked down the city for a day, but we're much better prepared for something like this than Dallas, for obvious reasons. The other big difference is that Indy is a "walking city." The game we locate in "Dallas" is actually taking place all over the metro area. The stadium is in Arlington, the Packers are staying in Irving (home of the old Texas Stadium), while the media is in Dallas. Shuttles are nice, but in Indy, those places will all be within walking distance of Lucas Oil Field. The new J.W. Marriott, which will be showcased next February, is a five-minute stroll from the stadium. The same holds true for both team hotels. This city has done playoff games, hosts the Combine each year, and does the Final Four and Indy 500. The weather isn't going to remind anyone of Tampa or Pasadena, but there's one key thing to remember: We have a roof. If you're going to worry, worry about New York in '14.