January 30, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII Prediction

Had something come up this week that kept me from writing the piece I'd hoped. Can't let this game go unpredicted, however, so here's a quickie, down and dirty.

The Cardinals surprised me twice--they won't do it again. With Kurt Warner playing at his current level they have a passing game that has shown it can beat anyone. His ability to make quick reads and unload accurately under pressure is the perfect antidote to a Steeler pass rush capable of turning less accomplished passers into pudding. If Anquan Boldin is right and can keep Pittsburgh from loading up on Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona could find enough seams in the Steeler defense to stay with Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals defense is still a question mark for me. Ben Roethlisberger isn't likely to miss as many open receivers as Donovan McNabb did two weeks ago. And if the Steelers are able to convert enough early third downs to extend drives, and start to beat on the Cards a bit, I can see the Pittsburgh physicality wearing them down.

Still ... the Cardinals fooled me twice. They won't fool me again. If they aren't blinded by the Super Bowl lights, come out early playing like they believe they belong there and can keep the game within a possession or two into the third quarter, with the way Warner has been playing I would not be surprised to see them walk away the most unlikely NFL champion since ... well ... you tell me.

I just don't think it's going to happen.

You may have heard this one before, but ... defense wins championships. You know how I feel about Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Quite simply I think he's the best in the game. And he's had two long weeks to dissect the Cardinals offense. I don't expect him to "stop" the high-flying Cardinal offense, but I do expect him to slow it down. And more importantly, I expect him to force it into a couple of mistakes.

Don't be too surprised, though, if as it sometimes happens the matchup that does not get all the headlines proves to be the difference in the game. Come Monday we may all find ourselves talking not about the great Steeler defense (which they are) and soaring Cardinal offense (which they ... might), but about Pittsburgh's Big Ben Roethlisberger becoming a two-time Super Bowl winner, and first-time Super Bowl MVP, in the first five years of a suddenly Cantonesque-looking career.

Yeah, I went there.

As far as who I'm "rooting for" ... strangely, as much as I love a good underdog story, I find myself waffling this year. Maybe it's a function of getting older, but part of me wants to see the team I feel deserves the title win it rather than one that, frankly, I'm not sure I feel has earned its way to the top of the mountain just yet. Not a big fan of perennial afterthoughts crashing the King's Table on the strength of 9-7 seasons that, most years, earns you a road wildcard trip to the number one seed.

Good news, I guess, is either way I'll be able to feel good for the winner. Two interesting teams, some great story lines and two very distinct styles. Should be fun.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27
Arizona Cardinals 17


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Big Redskin Daddy said...

Damn nice handicapping, brother. Very close indeed. If your regular occupation ever grows stale you might want to think about someplace like Bodog.com or another online sports book for a living...


Mark "Om" Steven said...

Thanks, BRD. It was good way to end my first shot at seriously predicting an entire playoff season ... though going 4-3 overall, picking winners only (forget the spread), isn't likely to scare many houses. :)

Looked early on like AZ might simply wilt under the lights, but they kept after it and did themselves proud. One more defensive play--just one--and they would have written one of the great NFL stories in a long time.

As it is ... they more than did their part in giving us as exciting and satisfying an exclamation point on the 2008 season as we could possibly have asked for.

Major ups to both teams.