Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Steel Lock for the Super Bowl

In a little more than six hours and about 30 minutes from my New Tampa condo, the Pittsburgh Steelers will peel off the top of their can of whup-ass.

By the start of the fourth quarter, the can will be completely open and the Cardinals will be finished. I predict lots of second-half camera shots of Larry Fitzgerald staring off into space, Anquan Boldin silently seething on the bench and lil' Todd Haley throwing temper tantrums all up and down the sideline. I also imagine lots of shots of the Steelers defenders whooping it up after each and every one of Kurt Warner's three interceptions - maybe more.

Honestly, that's what my football brain has been telling me for the past week or so.

I'm going to base my prediction on a very simple idea: I have no clue how a one-dimensional offense (Arizona) will be able to succeed consistently against the league's best defense (Pittsburgh). Most of the people who've sided with the Cardinals base their pick on the relative success of Warner throwing jump balls to Fitzgerald.

That sounds like a Hail Mary strategy to me.

The Cardinals' offensive prowess, to me, has been completely overstated. Unless you truly don't believe the running game isn't a part of a great offense.

In Warner's previous trips to the Super Bowl with the Rams, he was almost always able to mix in a handoff or screen pass to Marshall Faulk - one of the most versatile and unstoppable offensive weapons in NFL history. This relieved him of a lot of pressure, and gave the opposing defense something to think about before they dialed up a blitz. Even then, the solid defenses of the Titans and Patriots were able to significantly slow down St. Louis offenses (in the Super Bowl) that had mostly raced up and down the turf all regular season.

This time Warner is back with rookie Tim Hightower, who averaged 2.8 yards a carry, and the running-on-fumes Edge James, who just cracked 500 yards rushing on the season. You think Dick LeBeau and the Steelers will have any qualms about sending a couple of defenders after Warner on each play given that sort of "production"? Not to mention, the Steelers are a helluva lot more dominant on defense than those teams Warner faced in previous Super Bowls.

And really, that's what it all comes down to for me. I'm not going to make a simple thing too complex. Charles Pierce comes up with more reasons why the Cardinals won't (or shouldn't) win, if you're interested. (If they do pull off the upset, I've got to think Arizona would be the worst Super Bowl champ in league history).

Of course, I could be wrong - I often am when it comes to the art of prognostication. But my football brain (I invented this phrase about, say, three months ago. The First Lady thinks this is silly) has been throbbing a lot this week. I can't ignore it this time.

Not to mention, Pennsylvania is a blue state and Arizona is red. You've got the Rooney family against Bill and the Bidwills. President Obama is backing the Steelers today, while Sen. John McCain is rooting for the Cardinals. I can't stop myself from liking Mike Tomlin.

Michael Tomasky even came up with this nugget:

Add to this the fact that Cardinal QB Kurt Warner lent his name to an anti-stem-cell research campaign in Missouri in 2006. I respect the guy's devout Christianity and all, but jeepers, if anybody ought be for stem-cell research that could help arrest neurological and cephalic deterioration, it's pro football players. Read this.
Yep, it's clear to me who's the favorite in Super Bowl 43. And I don't think it's going to be all that close. I'm not going to give a score, but let's just say that the Steelers will win comfortably this evening.

And after they pop champagne and bathe in confetti, few places are more fun to celebrate than Tampa. To the victors ...

UPDATE: The NFL's best beat writer, imho, notes that the league's No. 1-defense has advanced to the Super Bowl seven times. Their record: 7-0. Look for Pitt to be No. 8.

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