I Have Underestimated the Arizona Cardinals.
Well, here we are, media day, and I'm still in disbelief about this year's Super Bowl matchup.
As frequent readers of this blog are aware, I've predicted the Cardinals to lose every single playoff game, and the only team I gave them a remote chance of winning against was Atlanta.
Yet, here they are, facing my Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl.
One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong. The Arizona Cardinals? In the SUPER BOWL?
I'm still in shock. Yet, for the first time since the playoffs started, I feel like the Cardinals are a legitimate Super Bowl threat and could shock the world against Pittsburgh.
Sometime before the game I plan on posting a more detailed game breakdown, but for right now, I will say simply this: I have underestimated the Buzzsaw.
It's not as if I didn't know this team was capable of big things. I knew from the start of this season that Arizona was going to have a powerful offense. I knew that wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin would both have big years.
I thought that the team made the right choice by benching quarterback Matt Leinart in favor of Kurt Warner, but that may have been my bias as Warner is one of my favorite quarterbacks of all time.
I predicted a return to superstardom for Edgerrin James, but that completely failed to materialize except in a few playoff games.
But this? I don't know if anyone predicted this.
However, am I surprised enough about the Cardinals that I think they'll win? Not in the slightest. I think they'll lose the game. I'm almost positive of this, but I'm not predicting a blowout like I did when I posted my final playoff predictions blog.
So wait—if I've underestimated this team, how am I so sure they're going to lose?
Quite frankly, the reason I'm surprised they're in the Super Bowl isn't because they're the Cardinals. It's because they're just not a very dynamic football team.
The Cardinals have one of the best aerial attacks in football, hands down, but that's about all they've got. They have next to no running game between James and Tim Hightower, and even in the playoffs most of James' big plays came off of dump-off passes from Warner.
The Cardinals can't grind the ball for a first down, so instead they have to throw for it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as anything that moves the ball is good enough, but it does make the team one-dimensional, and their one dimension is going against the No. 1 pass defense in the league.
The big thing is I don't think the Cardinals have the defense to win it. I don't think they can stop Pittsburgh's offensive attack. Arizona’s defense has looked good these playoffs, but that's a small sample, and they finished the regular season ranked 22nd in pass defense, 16th in run defense, 19th in total defense, and 28th in total defense.
Of course, yards-based stats aren't the best, but it does illustrate a point here that Arizona's defense has been playing outside of themselves in the playoffs. Pittsburgh doesn't have the best offense in the NFL, but I can see a big game coming from running back Willie Parker and I can almost guarantee one from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Compare this defense with Pittsburgh's, who have been lauded for being the best in the NFL this year, and ranking among such elite defenses as the '85 Bears, 2000 Ravens, and '70s Steel Curtain defenses by sports analysts.
They finished the regular season ranked first in pass defense, second in run defense (by a razor-thin margin), first in total defense, and first in scoring defense. If defense wins championships, Pittsburgh wins this one easily.
I'll give the Cardinals their due. They've shocked the world, and performed better than even I, someone who has been predicting them as "this year's surprise team" for a good three to fur years, would have ever guessed.
However, it ends Sunday.
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