With Super Bowl XLIII now upon us, it's time to bring you the OFFICIAL break down of the Big Game! And don't ya love the title: Big Game? Actually, I'm reluctant to write the words "Super Bowl" for fear of feeling the wrath of the mighty NFL. I'm not sure it's even legal anymore to think "Super Bowl", much less write it or say it. If they're handing out fines for doing so, they can put it on my NFL Network tab. I'm a big shot out in LA if you weren't aware of it.
Now to the nuts and bolts of Sunday's contest. If you're a fan of the award winning "Bears Kickoff Sunday", seen locally on Fox 32 each and every Sunday during the regular season, then you've surely seen the masterpiece that is Matchups. I may be a touch biased, but I consider it the most entertaining and informative three minutes of television, anywhere. If you've been out of the country, or incarcerated in the last decade or so, it's a tirelessly researched examination of the opponents broken down into four categories: offense, defense, special teams and intangibles. Because I like you people, I'm gonna give you some bonus info by dissecting the coaching matchup as well. Without further ado (whatever that means), here's how I break it down.
The Cardinals get the obvious edge on offense. They were explosive throughout the regular season, and are racking up 362 yards and 32 points per game in the post season. Kurt Warner was a legitimate MVP candidate all season, and he's kicked it up a notch in the playoffs. With all due respect to Houston's' Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in the game. He has the best hands in the league, he plays the ball better than any receiver in the league, and he competes as hard as any receiver in the league, except for maybe teammate Anquan Boldin. The blow up with Todd Haley was not his finest moment, but if you wanna know what Boldin is all about, remember, he returned to action three weeks after having his face broken in about 50 pieces. Add Steve Breaston to the mix, and the Cardinals have the most explosive trio in the league. And, after averaging a league worst 74 rushing yards per game in the regular season, the Cardinals are running for 111 in three post season games. If the Arizona O-line continues to protect Warner, the Cards have a great chance to win this game. Keeping Big Ben upright is also a high priority for the Steelers. It wasn't a great season statistically for Roethlisberger, who threw for 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Granted, he was running for his life much of the time, but it wasn't pretty. The lack of a running game didn't help. Hines Ward will gut it out, Santonio Holmes provides a solid deep threat, and Willie Parker is as fresh as he's been all year, but the Steelers just don't have the same type of fire power. The Cardinals get the edge on offense.
The Steelers have the obvious edge on defense. They ranked first in nearly every statistical category and have NO weakness. James Harrison was voted the Defensive Player of the year, and he anchors the Steelers vicious pass rush. At the age of 71, Dick LeBeau is still at the top of his game, and you can bet he'll have a creative plan ready for Kurt Warner and the Cardinals. The grand wizard of the zone blitz, LeBeau knows the risk in coming after Warner, so he'll show a ton of different looks and bring guys from every possible angle. Look for the Steelers to keep a safety over top of Fitzgerald all evening. As for the Cardinals D, they were more than generous in the regular season, allowing 332 yards and 27 points per game. Their saving grace was their ability to pry the ball away from opponents. They created 30 takeaways in the regular season, and have added 12 more in the post season. They do have talent at every level: Bertrand Berry is a high motor, disruptive force up front, Karlos Dansby is a tremendous athlete at linebacker, and Adrian Wilson is an upper echelon safety. The post season transformation has been impressive, but they're not in the same league with these Steelers.
We won't spend a ton of time with the kickers because, well, they're kickers. Neil Rackers and Jeff Reed both had very solid seasons and punters Mitch Berger and Ben Graham are serviceable. A give the Steelers a slight edge because of Santonio Holmes' explosive potential in the return game.
Give Ken Whisenhunt a ton of credit for snapping his team out of the late season funk that had them looking like a "one and done" in the playoffs. Give Clancy Pendergast props for retooling that defense at just the right time. I have nothing bad to say about this Cardinal staff. But, I give the Steelers even higher marks. At 36, Mike Tomlin is wise beyond his years. From day one he has made it clear that he is in charge and is more than happy to drop the hammer if necessary. Having a veteran offensive coordinator in Bruce Arians is a bonus, and the presence of Dick LeBeau is a blessing. As a group, they have blended youth and enthusiasm with experience and wisdom, and are as good as it gets in the NFL.
Experience is a very valuable commodity, especially on the grandest of stages. By no means is this Kurt Warner's first rodeo. In fact, this will be his third start in the Big Game. Big Ben has his own ring thanks to the Steelers Super Bowl XL victory over the Seahawks. He was a mere passenger on that ride, but the experience was invaluable. He and his Steeler teammates are no strangers to the bright lights, and I believe they're more equipped to handle the pressure. As for momentum, the Cardinals are overflowing with "Big Mo". They're feeling 10 foot tall and bullet proof and are living on emotion. But& how will they handle their emotions if things don't go according to plans? What if James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are draped all over Warner from the opening whistle? How will Kurt handle a Steeler style beating? My guess is there will be some panic, which will lead to a few turnovers, which will lead to a couple Steeler touchdowns. I admire what the Cardinals have done, but I keep waiting for the clock to strike midnight. I've picked against them three straight weeks. I've been wrong three straight weeks. But my stubbornness rules the day. Steelers 23, Cardinals 20.
Wear it! And somebody please get the ball to Aaron Gray!
Tom Waddle is a co-host of "Waddle & Silvy," mornings from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1000. Send comments, questions and feedback by clicking here.