Some quarterback is going to get his second Super Bowl ring this weekend.
Ben Roethlisberger got one four years ago, while 37-year old Kurt Warner got one following the 1999 season. Back in August, Pittsburgh was 20-1 to win the Super Bowl. The Cardinals were 50-1, with nine NFC teams ahead of them (Redskins, Bucs, Seahawks, Packers, Eagles, Saints, Vikings, Giants and Cowboys).
For the second straight year the NFC’s No. 1 seed didn’t make it and the fifth time in six years that the top seed in the AFC fell short. We are in a golden age for the AFC, favored again to win it. It’s almost as if the pendulum has swung.
During the 1980s and much of the 90s, the NFC dominated, winning 15 of 16 Super Bowls, including 13 in a row. That changed in 1998 when Denver upset Green Bay, 31-24. Since then, the AFC has won 8 of the last 11.
The Cardinals hope to continue a Super Bowl trend: The underdog is 5-2 ATS the last seven Super Bowls, winning three times. Here’s a look at what to expect this weekend as America’s unofficial national holiday, the Super Bowl, kicks off.
What Cards want to do:
First, they don’t want to panic. Many of the players haven’t been on the big stage, just as the organization has never come close to sniffing the Super Bowl. Second, they want to contain Pittsburgh’s running game.
The Arizona defense ranked just 19th during the regular season, but has improved in the playoffs. The Cardinals faced two of the top three running teams in the NFL in the postseason and shut both of them down. Atlanta, second in the league with an average of 152.7 yards a game, had 60 against Arizona. Carolina, third in the NFL with a 152.3 average, gained 75 yards.
Much of the success of the Arizona defense in stopping the run lately has been the direct result of the play from the defensive line. Darnell Dockett, DE Bertrand Berry, DE Antonio Smith and nose tackle Bryan Robinson have taken turns at drawing double-team blocks. That has opened up gaps for the linebackers to zero in on the ball carrier.
Arizona is unlikely to have much success running the football, so they can’t be afraid to try and ride Warner’s arm for the upset. The great passing offense/average defense is why Arizona is on a 12-4 run over the total.
What Steelers want to do: Pittsburgh prefers a balanced, ball control offense, even though the running game has struggled because of injuries. RB Willie Parker has been healthy for the playoffs and rolled up 146 yards on the Chargers.
While not as heralded as the Cardinals, the Steelers have excellent targets for QB Roethlisberger (17 TDs, 15 picks) in WR Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward (1,043 yds) and TE Heath Miller. If you try and take away the run, they are more than capable of doing damage through the air.
Defensively, the Steelers are relentless, with run-stuffers, great linebackers, and an attacking, zone-blitz under DC Dick LeBeau. They attacked San Diego in the playoffs, then dared the Ravens to run the football in the AFC Championship. They likely won’t pay much attention to the Arizona running game, instead focusing on blitzing Warner and forcing errant passes. Warner has been prone to turnovers at times.
These offenses are averaging 31 ppg (Arizona) and 29 ppg (Steelers) in the postseason. Over the last 32 years, the over has gone 19-14 in Super Bowl play, though the under has ruled the last four years. Enjoy the big game!