Super Bowl XLIII will surely go down as “the one with the Cardinals in it” regardless of the result, mostly because one of the more dominant storylines heading into Sunday’s game is “Arizona? Really?” Since the Steelers aren’t the most interesting team (“hard nose defense,” gotcha), all the buzz is being built around the franchise that was never supposed to be here. But look past the stories about Larry Fitzgerald’s journalistically unethical father, and you’ll realize the Cardinals aren’t being given much of a chance in this game. Everyone’s going “awwww, the cute Cardinals made it here, isn’t that precious?” while secretly penning “SIXBURGH” headlines for Monday morning.
Do the Cardinals stand a chance in this game? Or will the Steelers smash them to bits in Tampa? Lets take a look:
Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
How they got here: – Won the AFC North and locked up the second-best record in the AFC to get a first-round bye in the playoffs. Beat the San Diego Chargers 35-24 in the Divisional Round, and then out-slugged the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 in the AFC Championship Game.
How they will win – Defense, to be upfront about it. Pittsburgh posted the top defensive statistics in the entire NFL this season, and have relied heavily on the defensive front of the team to get through these playoffs (especially against Baltimore). The Arizona Cardinals offense has been playing out of its mind this postseason, and if the Steelers want to win they’ll need to plug them up. That means putting lots of pressure on Cardinals QB Kurt Warner and, even more importantly, holding Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald to mere-mortal receiving totals. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, meanwhile, will need to avoid a repeat of his last Super Bowl appearance. Back in 2006, Big Ben threw for 123 yards and two interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks, resulting in the worst QB rating for a winning quarterback in the Super Bowl ever. But hey, he says it won’t happen again!
YouTube video featuring pre-teen fans – Meet The Pop Rocks, a band of youngsters from Harmony, Penn. They love the Steelers so much, they wrote a song about them set to “Heartbreaker.” The only rock song to ever name check Dick LeBeau.
Arizona Cardinals 9-7
How they got here – Had the great fortune of playing in the NFC West, where they clinched the division by Thanksgiving. Beat fellow upstart bird squad the Atlanta Falcons 30-24, and then shocked the world by demolishing heavy favorite Carolina 33-13 on the road. Capped it all off by beating the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 in the NFC Championship game, earning their first trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history.
How they will win – Unlike their opponent, Arizona’s path to the Lombardi Trophy involves smothering Pittsburgh with their offense. The Cardinals have been playing awesome offense this postseason (even Edgerrin James looks OK), and if they can overwhelm the league’s best defense, a win is very possible. Larry Fitzgerald has already broken the single-postseason receiving yards record, and stands to do even more damage in the big game. But don’t discount the presence of fellow receiving monster Anquan Boldin. As long as he’s over his little attention tantrum, he might have enough fire under him to have a huge game.
Northwestern rooting interest – Well, no starting players hail from NU. The best connection I can find is that former NU coach Dennis Green also coached the Cardinals a few seasons back. That kinda works.
YouTube video featuring pre-teen fans – This Cardinals fan is really glad his team made the Super Bowl. And really awkward. Even more awkward? The comments attacking this harmless video because “cardinals sux.” Stay classy, Steelers fans (or bitter Patriots fans).
I really want to find a way to confidently choose the Cardinals. They have an awesome offense, record-breaking players and a good-luck streak. I think they’ll keep it very close. But it’s tough to go with Arizona when Pittsburgh has such a strong defense and a Super Bowl already under their belt. I think Ben Roethlisberger won’t experience another bad game, and actually have a huge game en route to the MVP award. Sorry Cardinals, the dream ends here.