Come half past three on Sunday afternoon, the hype ends and we finally kick off Super Bowl XLIII.
Both Pittsburgh and Arizona were rather lightly regarded a year ago. A year ago, Arizona was 40-1 to win the 2009 Super Bowl, while Pittsburgh was somewhat more highly regarded at 25-1. The Steelers were actually the fifth highest regarded team in the AFC, while seven NFC teams were held at shorter odds than Arizona.
At press time, Pittsburgh remained a 7-point favorite over Arizona with the over/under down slightly from a week ago, at 46½. The money line has been slowly creeping downwards towards the underdog Cardinals with Pittsburgh in a range of -230 to -250 with the take back on Arizona at between +180 and +200.
This is an intriguing matchup. The Steelers are making their seventh Super Bowl appearance and their second in four seasons. But that is not to say that the Cardinals bring no experience into this game. In fact, the Cardinals have some key experience edges both on the sidelines and at QB.
Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt and top assistant Russ Grimm were key members of coach Bill Cowher’s staff when Pittsburgh defeated Seattle so they are well aware of how to handle the buildup to the big game. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is just in his second season as head coach, but was on Jon Gruden’s staff in Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers defeated Oakland to win Super Bowl XXXVII.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger quarterbacked the Steelers to their Super Bowl win over Seattle and will start his second Super Bowl. But Arizona QB Kurt Warner is making his third Super Bowl start after appearing twice with St. Louis in Super Bowls XXXIV (defeating Tennessee) and XXXVI (losing to New England.)
Pittsburgh had the league’s top defense over the course of the regular season, allowing just one team to gain over 300 yards. Arizona had the league’s third highest scoring offense, 26.7 points per game. The Steelers led the league in allowing just 13.9 ppg. Arizona had the NFL’s second best passing game. The Steelers? Number one against the pass.
Something’s gotta give.
Arizona is clearly peaking at the right time. During the regular season Arizona passed the football nearly 65 percent of the time. During the playoffs they’ve actually had more rushing plays than passing plays.
For many years the Super Bowl was one sided, punctuated by six straight games in the early to mid 1990’s in which the final margin was double digits. But in the last 11 Super Bowls, six have been decided by a TD or less.
The knowledge Arizona’s coaching staff has on Pittsburgh has already been put to use. Last year in Game 4 at Arizona, the Cardinals won 21-14. Just seven points were scored in the first half and Pittsburgh was held to 282 total yards. They rushed for just 77 yards on 26 carries with Willie Parker gaining just 37 yards on 19 carries.
If the Cardinals can duplicate that effort they will win Super Bowl XLIII, especially given the leadership of QB Kurt Warner and his outstanding pair of receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. The key will be for Arizona, especially Warner, to avoid turning the ball over.
Each of the last four Super Bowls has gone under the total and Super Bowl XLIII should fall right in line with these results.
The line of Pittsburgh -7 is pretty solid and likely to close right there. Many professional bettors may make but a token play, often having much more at stake on some of the college or pro basketball games played that same day.
It’s an old adage that whereas offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. An average offense can often exploit an average defense. But an outstanding defense will much more often than not, stop an outstanding offense.
Here, Arizona has an outstanding offense and an average defense. Pittsburgh has an average offense but an outstanding defense.
The forecast for Super Bowl 43: ARIZONA/UNDER.
And, I like Pittsburgh 23-21.
And now for the props:
In recent seasons the number of prop wagers offered by the books have grown almost exponentially. One property in town has become famous for issuing a heavy package of props offering several hundred possible wagers. One package had over 20 legal size pages!
There are basically two types of props. The first is a "head to head" prop wherein the bettor picks one of two possible outcomes. The second is the "needle in a haystack" type of prop in which the bettor selects one out of several and often many possible outcomes.
Most sports books will not allow you to parlay props because often many of the props are interrelated. To its credit the Las Vegas Hilton does have a set of about 30 or so props that may be parlayed but only in parlays of two props.
My general approach to props has been to look for props that offer a plus price or are "tandem" props that in my estimation and analysis are basically toss ups.
An example of a tandem prop is one I make almost every year – that the first pass by each quarterback will be incomplete rather than complete. The ‘incomplete’ is always the underdog and this season is no exception. Warner’s first pass being incomplete is priced at +170 while Roethlisberger’s is +175. If just one of the passes is incomplete (or intercepted) then I show a profit on the tandem combo.
Another prop worth considering is whether the team that scores first will also win. The "No" is priced at +175. In three of the last four Super Bowls, the team scoring first lost.