Las Vegas made Arizona 7-point underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals are just the second team with only nine regular-season wins to reach the NFL's biggest game. Arizona closed the regular season with just two wins in its final six games and allowed at least 35 points in each of those losses.
Still, maybe everyone's been too quick to write off the Cardinals. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. Kurt Warner makes quick decisions
To hang with the Steelers, you need an intelligent quarterback that gets rid of the ball quickly. That’s Kurt Warner in a nutshell. As Warner showed in the NFC Championship, there aren’t many blitzes he hasn’t seen. Immobile 37-year-old quarterbacks only last if they know where pressure is coming from.
Pittsburgh will get their licks in, so you also need a tough quarterback. Perhaps no quarterback delivered more completions this season while getting leveled. Warner always gets up.
2. They can win the turnover battle
Pittsburgh’s defense is historically good, but Arizona actually forced one more regular-season turnover. The Cardinals have turned it up during the playoffs with eleven takeaways in only three games. Pittsburgh also forces lots of mistakes, so Kurt Warner must keep his head on a swivel. He’s had a fumbling problem during his career, but has yet to fumble in the playoffs. If that continues, Arizona should win the most important stat other than the final score.
3. The Cardinals have the most dominant player in the game
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Larry Fitzgerald is changing the way we think about wide receivers. Traditional football logic says the further away you are from the ball, the less valuable you are. But Fitzgerald is dominating the playoffs like no one else. How can you defend Fitzgerald if he’s doesn’t need to be open to pull down catches?
The other great players in this Super Bowl rely on their teammates more than Fitzgerald. Troy Polamalu’s awesome instincts are possible because of his mind-meld with free safety Ryan Clark, who lets him roam free. James Harrison is a great pass rusher, but his linemen do much of his dirty work.
Fitzgerald, on the other hand, is practically doing it all on his own. Try to stop him.
4. They have speed over the middle
Honestly, it’s hard to find a flaw in the Pittsburgh defense. But squint hard and you can see they occasionally look slow in the middle of the field. Opposing teams have done well when isolating players on Steelers inside linebackers, especially 33-year-old James Farrior. Running backs Kevin Faulk, Tashard Choice, Chris Johnson, and Ray Rice have all made key plays against the Steelers by out-running Farrior.
5. The Steelers aren’t unbeatable with a lead
These are not your father’s Steelers on offense. The lack of a consistent running game hampers their ability to pull away from teams. They have won decisively in the playoffs, but Pittsburgh made their reputation in the regular season out of knuckle-scraping wins. They have won fewer than half their games by more than one score. Why expect it in the biggest game of the year?
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