I can’t say this is the official Packergeeks pick because I’m not sure who Brother Steve thinks will win.
While my playoff fantasy picks might lead people to believe I’ve been on the Steeler bandwagon from the start of the playoffs, they are not my pick to win the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has one of the best defenses…ever. With Polamalu back there in particular, the momentum of any game can be flipped in an instant. I think he may be the best player in football right now. Their LBs are a very disruptive group. Their D-Line is staunch and solid. Their D-Coordinator right now, is the best in football. On the other side, we all know how the AZ offense can really get things going. Fitzgerald could be triple-teamed and still make plays. Edgerrin James is running very angry and running well too (I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a bigger game than most folks are expecting). And importantly, this Cardinal team is one that scored over 30 points on a Jim Johnson defense in the playoffs. This offense is for real (#4 in the regular season for yards per game and #3 for points scored per game – and leading post-season teams with 31.7 points per game).
But there are 3 main reasons why the Cardinals will not only win this game, but win by at least a touchdown:
- Arizona’s defense has been the surprise of the playoffs. They have some high level talent that is peaking at the right time. They are playing confidently right now. Players like Adrian Wilson, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett are all major talents. Even rookie Rogers-Comrartie has stepped up his game. When I woke up this morning, for some reason I was thinking about the Super Bowl and I just couldn’t shake the thought Big Ben and the Steelers’ offense is going to struggle. If the Steelers’ offense gets it going and puts up a bunch of points, I will be very surprised. I tried to see if any stats might back up this hunch and did find some support. Big Ben, during the regular season, was sacked more than any QB in the NFL (46) other than Matt Cassel (47). In 2 post-season games, Big Ben has been sacked 5 times already – 4 times by Balt. Arizona has the second most sacks in the post-season (7) behind Balt. Also, AZ has caused more turnovers in the post-season than anyone, including the turnover crazy Ravens. Roeth can sometimes hang onto the ball too long which can leads to sacks, fumbles and ill-advised throws. I think he may end up turning it over 2-3 times. As the former offensive coordinator of Big Ben and the Steelers, Ken Whisenhunt knows how Big Ben ticks and his strengths and weaknesses. Look for the Cardinals to do well exploiting these weaknesses.
- Anquan Boldin. Earlier this year, I lobbied for the Packers to make a move to trade for the disgruntled Boldin. Though I knew we already had a good receiving corps, I became somewhat obsessed with the thought of how dangerous our offense would be with Boldin, Jennings, Driver and Jones lining-up side by side. My grandmother, who just turned 100, could have been an effective QB with this group. Boldin and Jennings alone would have been a brutal match-up for defenses. Anyway, while Fitzgerald deservedly gets a lot of attention (and is probably the 2nd best WR in the NFL behind Andre Johnson), Boldin’s stats from the 2008 season were as good or better because Boldin produced the following stats in just 12 games: 89 receptions, 11 TDs, 1038 yards. Impressive. Look for the Cardinals to go with a heavy dose of Boldin in this game until Pittsburgh adjusts the coverage to better account for him. Then, look for AZ to go to Fitzgerald. Mix in there a bunch of screens and TE check down passes, some long runs by Edgerrin and even the unflummoxable (if you will) Dick LeBeau will be flummoxed.
- I don’t trust Ben Roethlisberger. I will admit, he may be one of the best QBs out there in the clutch – he tends to rise up for big games or at least for big moments in big games. But he and the Pittsburgh offense have been so uneven this year. And perhaps most importantly, Big Ben for years, has had the luxury of staying in games because of his defense. Pittsburgh, due largely to playing in a crappy offensive division, has not had to play hardly any offensively explosive teams this year (except really Indy, to whom they lost 24-20). If the Cardinals can do some damage against the Pitt D early (which I expect), I’m not so sure the Steelers’ offense will do well at all playing from behind.
Possible factors that could undo this pick? If Willie Parker gets going or if someone like Hines Ward, Heath Miller or Santonio Holmes gets hot – especially if Holmes does some kick/punt returning damage. I also think AZ could struggle if Whisenhunt gets too cute (likes calling 70% running plays or something) and gets away from what works, which is Warner to Boldin/Fitzgerald. Outside of these factors, once again, I think the Arizona Cardinals are the better team right now and will win this game 31-21.