Archive for Thursday, January 29, 2009

The wild card

January 29, 2009

Sunday is the Super Bowl, and I’m predicting an upset.

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers are a touchdown favorite to beat the Arizona Cardinals, the NFL playoffs this year has been filled with upsets. And on Sunday, Arizona really could shock the world.

Arizona won the NFC West division championship with a 9-7 record, despite losing four of its last six games. The Cardinals were the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs and defeated Atlanta in the wild card round at home, then went to Carolina and embarrassed the Panthers on their home field. No one saw that one coming, except maybe the Cardinals.

In the NFC championship game, Arizona built a big lead at home against the Philadelphia Eagles and later fell behind in the second half. But the Cardinals came back and won and advanced to the Super Bowl.

The Steelers’ journey to the Super Bowl also is a little surprising, but not like Arizona’s. Pittsburgh won the AFC North division with a 12-4 record and was the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Steelers beat the San Diego Chargers, 35-24, a week after the Chargers knocked off Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the first round.

The Steelers then battled the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game and won 23-14. The Ravens had previously beaten Miami and the No. 1 seeded Tennessee Titans on their home fields before they ultimately fell to Pittsburgh.

So the playoffs this year has been ripe with upsets. Even last year’s Super Bowl champion the New York Giants were knocked off at home in their first playoff game. But the two teams that didn’t lose in the playoffs are now in Tampa readying for Sunday’s big show.

The Steelers are considered by many to have a much better team overall than the Cardinals. The Steelers are led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is 7-2 in postseason play, wide receiver Hines Ward and safety Troy Polamalu. Polamalu is considered to be one of the top safeties in the game.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, counter with quarterback Kurt Warner, who has thrown for over 4,000 yards this year. He was also MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV when he was with the Rams. Warner is 8-2 in postseason play for his career and has a unique weapon in wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is 6-foot-3 and 220-pounds, but he is fast enough to run by defensive backs and is physical enough to take on safeties such as Polamalu. Fitzgerald also has soft hands when catching the ball. This season, Fitzgerald racked up 96 receptions for 1,431 yards and caught 12 touchdown passes. And during the playoff he’s caught 23 passes for 419 yards and has scored five touchdowns. Look for he and Polamalu to tangle often during the game.

The Cardinals have been considered losers for a long time around the NFL. The Cardinals lone NFL championship was back in 1947 when they were in Chicago. The Steelers, meanwhile, have a long history as being one of the NFL’s top franchises. The Steelers won the Super Bowl three years ago and are looking to make NFL history by winning a record sixth Super Bowl. But Warner and Fitzgerald will be too tough. My prediction is Arizona 27, Pittsburgh 24.

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