Official Super Bowl XLIII Prediction Thread

The moment every TSR reader has been waiting for is finally here: It’s time for me to hand out my Super Bowl pick.

I know, I know – you guys have been dying for this blog to come out since the Super Bowl XLIII matchup was set, but I wanted to take my time. I decided to go back and re-watch every single Arizona Cardinal and Pittsburgh Steeler game from this season in order to figure out each teams’ tendencies and therefore make the ultimate prediction.

But when I turned on my DVR to begin re-watching all the games I saw I had a couple of “Reno 911” episodes saved and I got lost in all the hilarity. (That Jim Dangle is one funny S.O.B.)

Needless to say, I didn’t re-watch one game, didn’t find one tendency and therefore my “ultimate prediction” is just going to be a flat out guess. Either way…

This is how I see Sunday’s big game playing out. The game will be tight for almost the entire first quarter, with both defenses playing well earlier on. The Steelers will strike first with a touchdown, then add a field goal to go up 10-0 midway through the second quarter. But thanks to the “don’t prevent the score” defense that every team seems to use right before halftime, Pittsburgh gives up a score right before Bruce Springsteen starts warming up, which in turn gives the Cardinals hope.

Your halftime score: an uneventful 10-7 Pittsburgh lead.

But the second half is where the action starts to heat up. All of a sudden the Steelers begin drumming up pressure and Kurt Warner has zero time to throw. Pittsburgh’s front seven starts suffocating Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, all the while moving the pocket back so Warner can’t step up and deliver passes in a timely manner.

This leads to multiple sacks for the Steelers, which they turn into great field position. The Arizona defense, which in the first half had played damn near perfect football, starts to cave. Willie Parker starts finding open running lanes, which opens up the passing game for Ben Roethlisberger, who converts several third down conversions that essentially takes the life out of the Cards’ defense. Pittsburgh strikes twice for touchdowns in the third quarter, taking a 24-7 lead into the fourth.

Early in the fourth, Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley takes advantage of an overly aggressive Pittsburgh front seven and the Cardinals start attacking the edges and seams of the Steeler defense. All of a sudden, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breatson start to make plays in the open field and Warner gets into a rhythm. The Cards reach paydirt on a 1-yard James touchdown run and with still 11 minutes to play in the game, ‘Zona is still very much alive at 24-14.

Thanks to the offensive resurgence, the Cardinal defense forces a three and out and with the Pittsburgh defense still tired, Warner hits Fitzgerald on a reverse, pitch-back bomb to get the score within a field goal at 24-21 with seven minutes left to play.

But that’s as close as the Cards get to victory. Thanks to Parker, the Steelers drive into Arizona territory, eating up most of the clock. Big Ben then finds Heath Miller in the back of the end zone on a broken 3rd and 7 play to put Arizona away.

Super Bowl XLIII Final: Steelers 31, Cardinals 21.

Not that it matters because everything I just wrote will happen exactly as I laid it out, but feel free to post your score prediction for the game. Remember, only the people who don’t post a prediction are wrong…and those who predict the losing team to win.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

NFC/AFC Championship Preview

Before I wrote my Divisional Preview last week, I gave a jab to all the losing teams from Wild Card Weekend. So I think it’s only fair to the Falcons, Colts, Dolphins and Vikings that I do the same to the losers from the divisional round.

Tennessee Titans: Spend some time this offseason finding another offensive weapon besides Chris Johnson. I swear at one point during the game last week I actually saw Kerry Collins look to dump a pass to the Titan bench because he knew Johnson was sitting there nursing his injured ankle.

Carolina Panthers: Jake, black shirts, silver helmets, bro. Does anyone else wonder if one of the Panthers went up to Delhomme in the locker room after the game, stopped at his locker, looked him dead in the eye and said, “Happy f’ing birthday, Jake. Way to cost us the game”?

New York Giants: Eli, you’ve been playing in New York (New Jersey, actually) for four years now. You’re telling me you still haven’t figured out how to throw with that wind by now? Don’t blame yourself, though. Your coach should have deferred to the second half and put his defense (his strength) on the field first to start the game. Losing to the Eagles at home was a collective effort.

San Diego Chargers: I read that the general feeling out of Chargers’ camp was that Santonio Holmes’ punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter set off a chain of mistakes and miscues leading to San Diego’s loss in Pittsburgh. Yeah that, and the fact that Willie Parker did whatever he wanted, the Chargers only held the ball for 17 seconds in the third quarter and they couldn’t stop the big play. But that was it.

Kurt WarnerPhiladelphia Eagles (9-6-1) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
Sunday, January 18, 3:00PM ET
Current Odds: Eagles –4
Over/Under: 47
Game Outlook:
What the hell do we make of the Cardinals now? They stumbled into the postseason, so everyone (myself included) thought, “Well, this team won’t make it past the first round.” Then they beat the Falcons by shutting down Michael Turner, which happened to be the one thing many pundits said that they would have trouble with. But then everyone (myself included) thought, “Well, now they have to go on the road. And there’s no way they’ll win on the road.” Then they go to Carolina and absolutely crush the Panthers 33-13. Now there seems to be two schools of thought with these Cardinals from Arizona. The first being that the Falcons and Panthers made their job a hell of a lot easier by collectively turning the ball over nine times in two games. The second being that the Cards are for real and that everyone has disrespected them the past two weeks. Personally, I think ‘Zona falls somewhere in between. Do I think they were handed some golden opportunities to win over the past two weeks? Yeah. Do I think that they’re better than what everyone (one more time: myself included) thought they were? Yeah. But the Eagles are playing some damn good football right now and probably won’t make the same glaring mistakes that the Falcons and Panthers did. Philly also measures up well with Arizona given that their secondary is outstanding and that they’re playing with a ton of confidence. This game will come down to three things for both teams: 1) don’t turn the ball over, 2) convert on third downs and 3) play good defense. Whichever team is successful in those three areas of the game will win. And if you think that’s too simple then look at all of the playoff games played so far this season. The losing team turned the ball over more, couldn’t convert on third downs and couldn’t stop their opponent from making the big play.
X-Factor: DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
Jackson has breathed life into Philly’s passing attack and he’s provided a spark in the return game. If Brian Westbrook isn’t 100%, Jackson will have to make plays to give the Eagles a shot at making their second Super Bowl appearance in four years. It’ll also help if Andy Reid can line Jackson up in the “Wildcat” formation and allow him to make plays running the ball, too. Because Donovan McNabb can’t win on his own, even though he’s playing outstanding football right now.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Eagles 21
Why the Cardinals? Because I think they’re destined to win. Nobody thought that they would be here right now and nothing in the NFL has made sense all year (i.e. the Eagles are probably the better overall team, so why should they win, right?). The Cards are also at home (where they play remarkably better than they do on the road) and I can already see the Kurt Warner headlines in the paper Monday morning.

Willie ParkerBaltimore Ravens (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Sunday, January 18, 6:30PM ET
Current Odds: Steelers -6
Over/Under: 34
Game Outlook:
Even though the divisional round essentially provided two duds (I know the Ravens-Titans game was close, but it really wasn’t that good of a game), I’m once again looking forward to what the AFC brings to the table this week. These are the two best defenses in the league (if not the NFL) and it’s going to be great to see how Rex Ryan and Dick LeBeau attack the opposing offense. The Ravens’ game plan has been simple the past two weeks in that they’ve relied on playing great defense and not turning the ball over offensively. Rookie Joe Flacco hasn’t thrown for over 200 yards in either of Baltimore’s two postseason wins, but the key is that he hasn’t turned the ball over. He has taken a couple of big shots down the field (mainly to Derrick Mason in the win last week) and converted, so that could once again play a factor this Sunday. The Ravens aren’t going to do anything different Sunday than they did the past two weeks – they’re going to play things conservative and win this game with defense. For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the picture of perfect health right now, so it’ll be interesting to see what Ryan does to get pressure on Big Ben and force him to make mistakes like the Titans were able to in their Week 16 win over the Steelers. Of course, if Baltimore can’t stop Willie Parker than this game will be over before it starts. Parker had a great game in Pittsburgh’s win over San Diego last week and it forced the Chargers to be less aggressive. San Diego couldn’t get any pressure on Roethlisberger and he was able to hit them for big plays in the passing game. If the Ravens can effectively blitz him, he’s always likely to hold onto the ball too long, take sacks or turn the ball over. How effective Baltimore’s defense is will be what determines whether or not they’ll be playing for a Super Bowl title in two weeks. Pittsburgh’s defense is outstanding, but it’ll be the opportunities that the Ravens force via their defense that will be the determining factor in which team comes out victorious.
X-Factor: Terrell Suggs, LB/DE, Ravens
The Ravens need this guy to play. His status for Sunday is still uncertain as he continues to nurse an injured shoulder, but things don’t look promising. He’s been one of the best edge rushers in the league since he came into the NFL and he’ll be needed to drum up a pass rush against Big Ben. If he doesn’t play, that’s a huge blow to the Baltimore defense.
Prediction: Ravens 13, Steelers 10
It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season and with Big Ben’s injury a concern, I think Baltimore wins this with defense. Either way, this is going to be an outstanding game.

Six Pack of Observations: Chargers at Steelers

Here are six quick-hit observations on the Steelers’ 35-17 playoff victory over the Chargers on Sunday.

1. Welcome back to the party Willie Parker.
In Parker’s final six games of the regular season, he rushed for over 90 yards just once (Week 17 vs. Cleveland). He rushed for 146 yards on Sunday and it completely opened up the Pittsburgh offense. Thanks to Parker’s dominance, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t face much pressure and he was able to produce a couple of big plays in the passing game. It’s no secret that when the Steelers can run the ball, their offense can be as dominant as they were tonight. But when the defense doesn’t have to honor the run or commit extra defenders, that’s when Big Ben gets in trouble and turnovers occur. Parker was easily Pittsburgh’s MVP on Sunday.

2. Mike Tomlin is learning.
Mike Tomlin has come a long way in one year. In the Steelers’ postseason loss last season to the Jaguars, Tomlin made several poor decisions that aided in his team’s demise. Down 7-0 early in the first quarter, the Steelers faced a 4th and 8 from the Chargers’ 34-yard line. Tomlin sent his offense back onto the field in an apparent attempt to go for it, but the Steelers then shifted into punt formation and Ben Roethlisberger pooch-punted the ball, which was downed at the 9-yard line. Sometimes Tomlin forces the action by being overly aggressive. In that situation, there was no reason for Pittsburgh to go for it. The likelihood that they pick up the first down was slim, it would have given San Diego the momentum had they been stopped and it would have taken the home crowd out of it early. Instead, Tomlin wisely punted it and allowed his defense to force a punt, which Santonio Holmes turned into a 67-yard touchdown. Granted, Tomlin’s decisions to run a fake punt in the first half and go for it on 4th and goal in the second half backfired, but hey, you can’t fault the man for being aggressive. At least he’s learning when to take calculated risks.

3. Complete this sentence: Philip Rivers is…
A) A great young quarterback or B) A quarterback who operates by smoke and mirrors. Check out Rivers’ final numbers: 21-35, 308 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. Besides the one pick, those are phenomenal numbers. But you watch him play and you wonder why his stats are so good. Can anyone honestly say that they were greatly impressed with his play tonight? He hung onto the ball too long, he threw into double coverage and threw an interception in the red zone (albeit the ball was batted at the line of scrimmage), which is a cardinal sin for quarterbacks. No disrespect to Rivers, but how did he finish with such great numbers this season? It’s quite the mystery.

4. The Chargers need to do everything in their power to re-sign Darren Sproles.
Even though he only finished with 15 rushing yards on 11 carries, Sproles once again showed his speed and play making ability on returns and in the passing game. It’s clear he’s not an every down back, but the guy is explosive. The Chargers let Michael Turner get away last offseason and it would be wise if they didn’t let Sproles escape without making a huge push to retain his services.

5. Ravens-Steelers is a fantastic AFC Championship matchup.
How good is the AFC Championship matchup? Baltimore and Pittsburgh hate each other and gave fans two great games during the regular season. It’s tough to beat a team three times in one season, which is the challenge the Steelers now face after topping the Ravens twice this year. It’s too early to start breaking down the matchup, but the game will likely come down to which team can run the ball effectively because both offenses rely on creating balance. What a great defensive matchup.

6. Useless, but interesting stat of the weekend…
…the Chargers held onto the ball for just 17 seconds in the third quarter, compared to the Steelers’ 14:43. That’s absolutely crazy.

NFL Week 14 Primer

Marion BarberSunday’s Best: Cowboys (8-4) at Steelers (9-3), 4:15 PM ET FOX
The Cowboys are fighting for their playoff lives while the Steelers are trying to stay ahead of the surprising Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. Dallas could be without running back Marion Barber (toe injury), which would be a massive blow going against the best defenses in the league. If the ‘Boys can’t run the ball, expect Dick Lebeau to dial up plenty of blitzes to force quarterback Tony Romo into mistakes. This essentially is a must-win for the Cowboys, who would be left on the outside looking in if the playoffs started today. A loss coupled with a Falcons win over the Saints and the Cowboys would need some help the rest of the way, with a remaining schedule that looks like this: vs. Giants, vs. Ravens, at Eagles. The Steelers, meanwhile, should be at full strength as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Willie Parker are expected to play. We’ll see what the Cowboys are made of come 4:00 o’clock on Sunday. Steelers are a currently a 3-point favorite.

Upset Watch: Texans (5-7) at Packers (5-7), 1:00 PM ET CBS
Houston welcomes back quarterback Matt Schaub this week but he’s not the reason they could pull off a decent-sized upset in Week 14. Rookie running back Steve Slaton is. Slaton is coming off a 130-yard effort against the Jaguars on Monday night and racked up 156 yards three weeks ago against the Colts. Considering the Packers are allowing a whopping 141.2 yards a game on the ground this year, Slaton could be set up for another huge day. The Texans will need to find a way to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers, however, or else it’s going to be tough to win at Lambeau. The Texans’ pass defense is improving, but Rodgers and company are averaging 228.9 passing yards a game and could find success against a young Houston secondary. If the Texans don’t win outright, I say they cover the 6-point spread.

Gus FrerotteIntriguing Matchup: Vikings (7-5) at Lions (0-12), 1:00 PM ET FOX
There’s nothing intriguing about the winless Detroit Lions, but what is interesting is whether or not Kevin and Pat Williams will play for the Vikings. Minnesota needs a victory to stay at least one-game ahead of the Bears and Packers in the division, but without their interior defensive line, even the Lions are capable of finding some running room. The league suspended the Williamses on Tuesday morning, but a court ruling could change all that and allow the two mammoth d-tackles to play. If they don’t, could Detroit get its first win and turn the NFC North upside down yet again? Can Gus Frerotte keep this team afloat if the defense loses two key players?

Other notable games:

Eagles (6-5-1) at Giants (11-1), 1:00 PM ET FOX
Philly will try and keep its slim playoff hopes alive, while a win would crown the G-Men as NFC East champions and get them one step closer to claiming home field advantage throughout the postseason.

Redskins (7-5) at Ravens (8-4), 8:15 PM ET FOX
This Sunday night matchup is a great one. Both teams desperately need a win to stay within reach of a playoff berth. A loss for the ‘Skins could essentially knock them out of the postseason race.

Buccaneers (9-3) at Panthers (9-3), 8:30 PM ET ESPN
Finally a great Monday Night Football matchup after weeks of utter crap. The winner takes a one-game lead in the NFC South and holds an edge for the second spot in the NFC playoff picture, while the loser gets tossed into the Wild Card mix.

Falcons (8-4) at Saints (6-6), 1:00 PM ET FOX
Atlanta has been a nice story this year, but it can’t relax now. A win would go a long way in securing a playoff spot for the Falcons, who finish with a possibly depleted Vikings and a hapless Rams team in their final two games.

Fantasy Football Podcast: Week 13

Listen in as Anthony Stalter and I discuss Willie Parker, Brady Quinn, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Cassel and Donovan McNabb. We’ll also kick around a few sleeper QBs that have nice matchups this week.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

The opening and closing music is Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You),” which was actually one of the most requested songs of the ’80s on L.A.’s KROQ.

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