So, something like a billion people are going to watch this games—some sober—so who is going to win? Let's find out.
At first look, the game should be a blowout. The Steelers faced the toughest schedule and went 12-4. The won the Super Bowl just a few years back and have a lot of the same players. They are tested and ready.
The Cardinals on the other hand, shouldn't be here. They went 9-7 in the lowly NFC West, and 6 of their 9 wins came against the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks. They haven't been this deep in the playoffs since......ever.
But look closer and the Cardinals might be a good match for the Steelers. They are getting hot at just the right time. And with the way the Cardinals dismissed the Eagles in the playoffs when the entire world thought they had no chance, it could be that the Cardinals have found the right formula at the right time.
Breaking down the game, the focus will be "Can the Steelers stop Warner and the Cardinals offense?" Everyone will talk about Larry Fitzgerald and his amazing catches, but the truth is, to win, the Cardinals will have to run. Check out these facts (Thanks, CHFF):
- The Cardinals averaged 35 passes and 27 rushes in their nine victories.
- The Cardinals averaged 46 passes and 14 rushes in their seven losses.
All of which means that the Cardinals must run the ball well on first down. Problem with that is, the Steeler defensive line has dominated all season long. Meanwhile the Cardinals have only been averaging 3.3 YPA in the playoffs, and that should only get worse against the stout Steeler front. All this means that the Cardinals will be passing from 2nd and 3rd and long.
And against the blitz—which the Steelers will be doing all day long—Warner had a 103.1 QB rating and had 14 touchdown passes and was sacked only five times in blitzing situations which the Problem is, the Cardinals are one of the few teams that can potentially match up well against the tough Steeler defense in these situations. Against the tough Eagle defense, ranked 5th against the pass, Warner had a passing clinic. it's not that the Cardinal O-line is so great; it's that Warner gets rid of the ball in a hurry and to the right person. The Steeler blitz may not be able to effectively blitz Warner.
On the other side of the ball, it will be up to Big Ben to win the game. Willie Parker, although healthy now, has averaged just 3.1 yards in the playoffs, while the Cardinal front four has held opponents to under 4 YPA on the ground. in the playoffs, Ben has been very meh: an 89 QB rating and just 55 completion rate. however, he has not had an interception. Which will be interesting, because both Cardinals CBs have had two interceptions in the playoffs. Big Ben is susceptible to to the blitz—he was sacked 29 times in blitzing situations during the regular season—and the Cardinal love to blitz. Will Big Ben be able to pass his way out of trouble against a leaky offensive line and not throw interceptions? While the Cardinals have been turnover-handy in the playoffs, they did allow Donovan McNabb to pass for 375 yards and three touchdowns 2 weeks ago.
What does this all mean? The Cardinals are perfectly designed to give the Steelers a tough time, and they could surprise the Steelers with some big plays. but in the end, the Steelers defense is too tough. The Steelers will win a close won, on a late Jeff Reed FG.
Final Score Steelers Win: 20-17.
Enjoy the game.