Sunday’s Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Fla., will feature the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the final teams left standing at the end of a long, exhausting NFL season.
The Steelers, a team that won Super Bowl XL just three seasons ago, are aiming to cement their position as the franchise with the most championships in the history of the league. With a win, the team would collect its sixth Lombardi Trophy — a total that would give the team more than any other. Pittsburgh, Dallas and San Francisco currently have five Lombardi Trophies apiece.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the unquestioned leader of the Steelers’ offense. He led the team to a 12-4 record in the AFC North, good enough for the division title. In the postseason, Roethlisberger’s steady play has helped his team top the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round and then the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.
Wide receiver Hines Ward, Super Bowl XL MVP, suffered a knee injury against the Ravens and has been limited in practice leading up to the big game, but he is expected to play.
Look for Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, perhaps the best defensive player in football, to make big plays all over the field when the Cardinals have the ball. Polamalu’s defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game all but sealed the win for the Steelers.
With a win on Sunday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, at just 36 years of age, would become the youngest head coach to ever win a Super Bowl.
The Cardinals rise to prominence this season has come as a surprise to many people who follow pro football. The team had seen little success in recent years and its last playoff appearance came in 1998.
But things have quickly changed under second-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who happened to be the Steelers’ offensive coordinator when they won the big one in Detroit in 2006.
Whisenhunt’s squad won the NFC West this season after posting a 9-7 record. Struggles late in the season, including a 47-7 loss to the New England Patriots, led people to believe the team would quickly be dispatched in the playoffs. But that hasn’t been the case.
The Cardinals have downed three talented teams in the playoffs in the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles. The offense has been explosive and the defense has played surprisingly well at times.
The combination of quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been absolutely unstoppable thus far in the playoffs. Fitzgerald has erupted for 419 yards and 5 touchdowns, including a three-touchdown effort against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. Warner, a two-time NFL MVP and the Super Bowl XXXIV MVP, would become the first player in NFL history to win a Super Bowl as the starting quarterback of two different teams if the Cardinals can find a way to win on Sunday.
I could really see this game going either way, but in the end I believe experience will be the deciding factor. Aside from Warner and Whisenhunt, the Cardinals have very little of it. Fiztergerald will certainly do his damage, but will it be enough?
The Steelers, on the other hand, have a team full of players with Super Bowl experience. They are likely to be unaffected by the spectacle of the scene in Tampa Bay and they know what it takes to win on Super Sunday.
Current forecasts for Sunday in Tampa Bay call for partly cloudy skies and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, so weather doesn’t appear to be a factor at this time.
I don’t see this game being one that is decided by a last-second touchdown or field goal. I expect the Steelers to gain an early advantage and then lean on their defense to withstand any attempt at a late comeback. The Cardinals unanticipated run should finally come to an end.
Whatever happens, the NFL season is sure to conclude in dramatic fashion on Sunday evening.
Prediction: Steelers 31-21