Super Bowl XLIII Preview: Five reasons why the ________ will win

If Super Bowl XLII between the Giants and Patriots taught us anything, it’s that regular season records mean nothing and there are no guarantees when it comes to crowning a champion in the NFL.

The 17-0 Patriots looked like a slam-dunk to win the Super Bowl last January. That is, until a rowdy Giants bunch that played perfect football throughout the playoffs shocked most of the world en route to a 17-14 victory. Sound familiar?

No, the Steelers didn’t go 17-0 in the regular season. In fact, they were far from perfect and at times, looked awfully inconsistent. But with their No. 1 defense leading the way, it’s hard to argue that Pittsburgh doesn’t have the better overall talent heading into this year’s Super Bowl against the Cardinals, especially when you consider Arizona finished with a 9-7 record, competed in a crappy division and scored just one more point than they allowed this season.

But as the Giants proved last year, sometimes all it takes is momentum, which the Cards certainly have after soundly defeating the Falcons, Panthers and Eagles to get to Super Bowl XLIII. Arizona has a lot going for itself these days, including a resurgent veteran quarterback in Kurt Warner, a highlight reel playmaker in Larry Fitzgerald, and an underrated defense that is playing its best football of the season.

So who has the edge in Super Bowl XLIII? You can make a case for either team, which is exactly what I did. (Five of them actually.)

Below are five reasons the Cardinals will win on Sunday and five reasons why the Steelers will come away victorious. Contradictory? Sure, but play along – it’ll be more fun that way.

Five reasons the Cardinals win will Super Bowl XLIII:

1. They will put the Steelers back on their heels early.
In each of their three playoff victories, the Cardinals held first quarter leads and in wins over the Panthers and Eagles, Arizona led at halftime. The Cards don’t have the most dominating defense, but it’s a unit that plays well with a lead. Earlier this week, former Steeler Rod Woodson suggested to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Cardinals would come out in their two-minute offense to start the game. While the Steelers wouldn’t necessarily be caught off guard by this tactic, it would nevertheless be hard for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to get into a rhythm of attacking Arizona with his various blitz packages. If the Cards can get on the scoreboard early, it would give them confidence that they can move the ball against the Steelers vaunted defense, as well as give them momentum that could carry them throughout the game.

Adrian Wilson2. They’ll win the turnover battle.
Want to know how a 9-7 team made it to the Super Bowl? Twelve takeaways, that’s how. In their three postseason wins, the Cardinals forced 12 turnovers, including six in a 33-13 victory over the Panthers in the divisional round. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is vastly underrated in many ways, but the biggest knock against his game is that he hangs onto the ball too long. If Arizona defenders Adrian Wilson, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett can crash the pocket and get to Big Ben, they might be able to force a turnover or two and turn the game on its head. In a Week 16 loss to the Titans, Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and fumbled four times, losing two. Big Ben has proven countless times that pressure doesn’t faze him. But if the Cardinal defense can force him into turning the ball over, takeaways might come in bunches.

3. The Cardinals offense is that good.
It’s easy to talk about how good the Steelers defense is because they rank No. 1 in the league in that category. But don’t forget that Arizona ranks fourth in total offense, including second in passing yards per game and tied for third in average points scored. And they racked up those stats in the regular season while their running game finished dead last with just 73.6 yards per contest. Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower have resurrected the team’s running game in the postseason, which has only served to make quarterback Kurt Warner’s job easier. The Cardinals have been more balanced offensively now than they were in the regular season and now that defenses have to honor the run again, they can’t drum up pressure like they want to and Warner has time to pick them apart. The Steelers’ defense is fantastic, but if the Cardinals can stay balanced, there’s no reason to think they won’t be able to move the ball.

4. They have the X-factor in Larry Fitzgerald.
Have you seen Larry Fitzgerald catch a ball? Stop and actually think about it. Have you seen Larry Fitzgerald go up, get the ball at its highest point and snatch it out of the air using only his hands? He’s the best in the game and now that the Cardinals are good, he is finally getting the attention he deserves. Fitzgerald never allows the ball to come close to his body; he has some of the best hands of anyone in the NFL and thanks to his height and speed, he makes life awfully difficult for defensive backs. Having Anquan Boldin on the opposite side and Steve Breaston in the slot helps, as well because defenses usually can’t double Fitz in fear that the other two wideouts will burn them in one-on-one coverage. Football is the ultimate team game, but special players can take over games by themselves and Fitzgerald is certainly one of those players. The Eagles had one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL this year, but they had no answer for Fitz in the NFC Championship Game. He’s at the height of his career and given the chance, he can take over the game on Sunday.

5. They’re a team of destiny.
I hate this one – I truly do. I’d rather talk about the individual matchups or break down the X’s and O’s then cop out and say a team will win because they’re destined to. But the Cardinals really shouldn’t be here. They played poorly heading into the playoffs, had unfavorable matchups against the Falcons and Panthers, and then were fortunate enough that the Eagles beat the Giants so that they could host the NFC Championship Game. But you know what? They also deserve to be here. They deserve it just as much as the Steelers do and sometimes it’s just a team’s year. Kurt Warner’s comeback is a great story, Larry Fitzgerald is finally getting his time in the spotlight and Adrian Wilson is as classy as they come. This is finally the Cardinals’ year and the Steelers’ defense be damned, ‘Zona will finish their fairytale season with a with a Super Bowl win.

Five Reasons the Steelers win will Super Bowl XLIII:

1. To hell with fairytale seasons – the Steelers are just better.
Let’s take a look at some stats, shall we? In addition to leading the league in total defense, the Steelers limited opponents to just 13.9 points, 157 passing yards and 80.3 rushing yards per game this season. The Cardinals also finished just one game above .500, played in a brutal division, lost an average of two games per month and beat just one team (Miami) with a winning record in the regular season. The Steelers had the better record, faced stiffer competition and in a sport where defense usually wins championships, theirs is king. Hey, it’s the postseason – anything can happen. But reality is about to set in for the Cardinals because playing one of the best teams in the AFC is a different animal than beating the best the NFC has to offer.

2. They’re going to pressure Kurt Warner – over, and over, and over again.
The Cardinals have had a ton of success this postseason because they’ve kept Warner upright. The Falcons and Panthers created zero pressure on Warner and the Eagles could only do it for one quarter (the third) in the NFC Championship. But one thing the Steelers’ defense and coordinator Dick LeBeau specialize in is getting to the quarterback. After an entire half of barely laying a finger on Warner, Philly finally started to pressure him in the third quarter and wouldn’t you know it, the Eagles mounted a huge comeback. Warner is having one of the best seasons in his career but he’s still Kurt Warner – pressure him and his play will dramatically suffer. He’s immobile, will take sacks and hates to have defenders in his face. Unfortunately for Warner, he’s about to face immense pressure for not just one quarter, but for the entire game and if he doesn’t react well, the Steelers are going to cruise. Expect Pittsburgh to move the pocket backwards so Warner can’t step into his throws and will have to spend most of his game either on the run or on his back.

Ben Roethlisberger3. All of the Ken Whisenhunt inside information talk is overblown.
Yeah, Ken Whisenhunt used to be the Steelers’ offensive coordinator so there is a remote possibility that he holds all the answers to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday. But the fact of matter is that Whisenhunt is two years removed from Pittsburgh, which oh-by-the-way has a completely different staff than it did when he was their offensive coordinator and for the most part, different personnel, too. Whisenhunt might know Ben Roethlisberger well and therefore might know some of his tendencies, but this isn’t the same situation as it was in 2002 when Jon Gruden helped dismantle the Raiders and Rich Gannon in Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden was just one year removed from Oakland and knew most of the personnel from the season before. Plus a lot of what makes Big Ben so unique and successful is the way he can improvise. How many times have you seen him escape a potential sack and make something happen on a broken play? A defense can’t prepare for that. Besides, Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will design his game plan from things he picked up from this year’s Steeler team – not off of what Whisenhunt remembers from two years ago. So in other words, the fact that Whisenhunt used to coach the Steelers will have little to no impact on the outcome of the game.

4. They have the X-factor in Troy Polamalu.
Simply put, Polamalu is a game-changer. He never takes plays off, he’s a missile in run support and a blanket in pass coverage. Quarterbacks have to account for his whereabouts on every play or else he’s going to make them pay and who better to have in coverage when facing Larry Fitzgerald than Polamalu? His best attributes are his speed and instincts. He always seems to be a step faster than everyone on the field and he’s incredibly versatile. He also has a knack for coming up with the big play and while he can be too aggressive at times, he doesn’t make many mistakes. Polamalu can do it all and he’ll once again this Sunday he’ll prove why having a playmaker at the safety position can often be the difference in what makes a good defense great.

5. If the Steelers start to falter, the refs will step in and ensure victory…
…just like in Super Bowl XL. That’s funny? That’s funny right? Get it, because a lot of non-Pittsburgh fans think that the Steelers’ Super Bowl victory that year was fixed so that Jerome Bettis could retire with a championship win in his hometown? Ah, I’m just f*&king around. Everyone knows Big Ben got the ball across that goal line…

Check back on Friday for a Super Bowl XLIII prediction.

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

Related Posts