On football: Super Bowl XLIII predictions
It’s almost here! After two long weeks since Championship Weekend, Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner. The Pittsburgh Steelers will enter as a 6 1/2 point favorite over the Arizona Cardinals, who have stunned the entire country with their remarkable run through the NFC and into the Super Bowl. Considering that the Cards lost more regular season games (7) than 11 of the 12 playoff teams this season, the fact that they’ve come this far is almost beyond belief.
Though a home victory over Atlanta was not a tremendous surprise, knocking off Carolina and Philadelphia was nothing short of sensational. Keyed by explosive plays from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald and an opportunistic secondary, Arizona ruined my Super Bowl prediction and prevented an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl (my Week 2 Super Bowl prediction had Philadelphia beating Pittsburgh).
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has taken a more conventional and less surprising route to the big game, winning in two decisive victories at home after earning a much needed first round bye in the wild card week.
While Pittsburgh’s defense has been quite good thus far in the playoffs, it has been their offense, particularly their quarterback, that has carried them. Ben Roethlisberger and company scored 35 points on a moderate San Diego defense and managed 23 last week against the elite defense of the Baltimore Ravens. Willie Parker has been superb, showing no signs of nagging injuries from the regular season and exhibiting tremendous acceleration in and out of gaps on the line. Roethlisberger’s ability to keep plays alive in the pocket has been the biggest key to Pittsburgh’s success, as it has spurred numerous big plays in crucial situations.
The most intriguing matchup of Sunday’s game must certainly be the high-flying passing attack of the Cardinals against the regular season’s best statistical defense of the Steelers. Against Philadelphia, Arizona showed that Warner and Fitzgerald cannot be stopped when Warner has time to throw.
Pittsburgh’s pass rush is phenomenal, led by Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison and counterpart Lamar Woodley rushing from the outside linebacker positions, and playmaking safety Troy Polamalu roaming freely. Though they managed to keep Jim Johnson’s blitzing mostly at bay, I expect the Cardinals to struggle with the Steelers’ pass rush, as Dick LeBeau, with fifty years of experience, is the best defensive mind in football right now.
With Warner’s historical problems with ball security, Pittsburgh’s ability (or lack thereof) to rush the passer will have a remarkable impact on this game, one way or the other.
On the other side of the ball, the key matchup will be Pittsburgh’s ability to run the football. Other than sacking Warner, the easiest way for the Steelers to shut down the Cardinals’ offense will be to keep it on the bench. With Willie Parker at full speed and the Pittsburgh passing attack so dependent on play action, I expect to see a lot of early runs and attempts at big plays off fakes. Arizona has thus far played exceptional run defense, though much of it can be contributed to playing with big leads against Carolina and Philadelphia. If they fall behind by double digits, their ability to come back will be almost entirely dependent on how well they control Willie Parker.
I expect a fairly high scoring game that could be decided anywhere from single digits to 20+ points. If Pittsburgh wins, I expect it will be by a margin of seven to ten points and they will lead comfortably for most, if not all of the game.
However, if Arizona wins, I expect the victory to come by at least 14 points and by way of a big first quarter lead. If the game stays within one possession through to the fourth quarter, I’ve got my money on Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
Ultimately, Pittsburgh’s defensive playmaking will keep Warner and company limited enough for Big Ben to lead his team to its second Super Bowl title in four years.
Winner: Pittsburgh. Projected Score: 31-24
AFC and NFC Championship Predictions: 1-1
Season Predictions Record: 37-29