If I had a little more faith in the Cardinals' defense, I'd pick them to win.
A lot of people are saying Arizona is the worst Super Bowl team ever, and that this is going to be a Steelers rout. Maybe. But I'm not sure the Steelers are really a juggernaut, and I know that the Cardinals, despite their record, have an amazing array of weapons, wielded by the savviest quarterback in the league.
One thing that stood out to me from the Cards' previous three playoff victories (all of which I forecast as losses, of course) was how astutely their coaching staff game-planned for the opponent. The Cardinals aren't just going to wander into Raymond James Stadium and get steamrolled.
Ben Roethlisberger might actually have to do something to help his team win this time, unlike 3 years ago in Super Bowl XL. He ought to be able to throw all day against this Arizona secondary. But it would be a better story if he didn't, and the Cards won.
STEELERS 29, CARDINALS 24
Not a lot of money has been made over the years picking against Kurt Warner, but Pittsburgh's defense is too good to pass up.
The Eagles did a decent job of containing Warner, but only when they figured out they better start covering Larry Fitzgerald. The Steelers' secondary, thanks in part to film footage of the Eagles' missteps in the NFC Championship Game, will fare better.
Throw in the facts that the Cardinals won the league's worst division with a 9-7 record while the Steelers played the toughest schedule and went 12-4, and this has the feel of a blowout.
STEELERS 27, CARDINALS 17
Against the Eagles, Larry Fitzgerald was running crossing patterns that seemed to go sideline to sideline, and the Birds couldn't get a rush going against immobile Kurt Warner. This time the Cardinals veteran will be going against a Steelers defense that is No. 1 in the NFL against the rush, the pass and allowed the fewest points.
In other words, Fitzgerald won't be passing easily through the spaces where fierce linebackers led by James Harrison set the table for a secondary led by interception magnet Troy Polamalu. Arizona's only ray of hope is in erratic QB Ben Roethlisberger and a sputtering Steelers offense. But sprained knee or not, Hines Ward is one of the game's great big-game receivers, and he will produce a game-turning moment.
The Titanium Curtain will do the rest.
STEELERS 17, CARDINALS 3
Can the Cardinals complete their amazing out-of-nowhere story and beat the Steelers on Sunday? Sure. When you have Kurt Warner throwing the ball and Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin catching it, anything's possible.
But I don't think the Steelers' stifling defense is going to let Fitzgerald and Boldin run free on those crossing routes underneath like the Eagles did. When they do catch the ball across the middle, safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu will make them pay.
I also think Dick LeBeau's zone blitzes are going to give Warner a lot more problems than Jim Johnson's blitzes did. I see a fumble or two in Warner's future.
The Steelers' offense hasn't been very good this season. But Willie Parker is healthy, and the offensive line started to come together late in the season. If they can get their ground game going early, they'll be in good shape.
STEELERS 24, CARDINALS 16
When Larry Fitzgerald had a big game against Atlanta in the Arizona Cardinals' first unlikely playoff win, I thought, well that won't happen again. Carolina's highly rated defense will bump him and put pressure on Kurt Warner. So then Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 166 yards.
I wrote that off to Jake Delhomme's worst-ever playoff performance. No way would the Eagles' vaunted coverage group allow that to happen.
They did, of course. Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns against the Birds. So, now I believe. I believe this is the time when Larry Fitzgerald makes himself a household name.
CARDINALS 27, STEELERS 24
Can the most potent postseason offense, playing well and having endured a fine Eagles defense, continue to surge? Let's see.
Anquan Boldin is healthier. Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower have become a consistent one-two. Larry Fitzgerald isn't just the best receiver in the league, or the best offensive player in the league, right now he's simply the best player in the league. And Hines Ward at 70 percent? Please.
You thought you saw Big Ben play awful in the last Super Bowl? You ain't seen nothin' yet.
CARDINALS 28, STEELERS 13
That the Cardinals are in the Super Bowl is somewhere between ridiculous and galling. For a team that rolled over so many times during the regular season to be playing in the last game is a testament to what the NFL has become. That is, a league of the hot and not a league of the great.
That said, they have a real shot here. The issue will be the same as it was against the Eagles: Can the Steelers hit Kurt Warner consistently without blitzing? If they do, they win. But Warner has been excellent, and the Cardinals like the warm weather and the fast track, and Steelers receiver Hines Ward is gimpy, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn't had a great season, and ... I can't believe I'm saying this:
CARDINALS 28, STEELERS 24
I've picked against the Arizona Cardinals during the three playoff rounds it took for them to get to Super Bowl XLIII, so why change now? If the Cardinals' offense continues to perform the way it did during the NFC playoffs, then they have a strong shot at winning this game.
I just don't see how the Cardinals can do that against Pittsburgh's defense. Pittsburgh will get that all-important pressure on Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and force him to become uncomfortable in the pocket. The Steelers then have the playmakers on defense to change mistakes into turnovers. I would expect Pittsburgh to get physical with receiver Larry Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage.
An overlooked aspect will be the Steelers' offense being able to put points on the board against a suspect Arizona defense. Steelers receiver Hines Ward may steal the show from Fitzgerald.