Pittsburgh (-7) vs. Arizona
I wasn’t kidding two weeks ago when I said, in essence, that this was the Super Bowl matchup of my nightmares. Look, I’ve got nothing against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, the only negative thing I can say about the team is that it’s quarterbacked by a guy who’s not nearly talented enough to be headed to his second Super Bowl in five years as a pro. And even then, the fact of the matter is that Ben Roethlisberger is a tough goddamned bastard who, in a weird way, has earned every bit of his professional success. I respect him as a football player even if I think he’s only a marginally good QB who happens to be blessed enough to play for a team with one of the most consistently outstanding defenses I’ve ever seen. No, I don’t think this Steelers D is the best the league has seen in any single season. It’s close, though. What I think is that the Steelers D has been better over multiple seasons than one can reasonably expect in the free agency/salary cap era. And that’s enough to get you to a Super Bowl as often as your offense can manage not to screw up too bad and as often as there isn’t an outstanding balanced squad in your conference. The thing that bothers me about Pittsburgh is the damned fans, who are close to as obnoxious a group as I’ve ever witnessed. You know, after Jets fans, who are insufferable and maybe Cowboys fans, though I find it as difficult to take Cowboys fans seriously as I do to take Yankees fans seriously (I know you’re supposed to hate both, but I ultimately just find them silly). If the Steelers win — by which I mostly mean when the Steelers win — I’m pretty much gonna have to turn off Sirius for the next two weeks just so I don’t have to listen to every idiot in Western Pennsylvania (which all evidence suggests is the entire population of the region) call in to crow about an accomplishment they ultimately had nothing to do with — the scientifically established benefits of waving yellow towels notwithstanding.
And there’s my problem. Because, hey, you know it as well as I do: We can talk about Arizona’s chances. We can talk about the Cardinals’ offense and what a great receiver Larry Fitzgerald and how Kurt Warner has played excellent football in two Super Bowls to date (though he won only one of them). We can even talk about how well Arizona’s D has performed in the playoffs. We can jaw about all that stuff all day if that’s what you want. I mean, a lot of other people are doing just that. But it doesn’t change the fact that the only way the Steelers are losing this game is if Roethlisberger loses it for them. And I don’t see that. I mean, seriously, Big Ben can hardly play much worse in this game than he did in Super Bowl XL and the Steelers managed to win that game 21-10. For the Cardinals to win here, Roethlisberger needs to turn the ball over deep in Pittsburgh territory at least two and possibly three times. And the Cards need to capitalize. With touchdowns, not field goals. If by some miracle that happens, Arizona could come out ahead. If not, the Cardinals don’t stand a chance. Here’s the big factor, in my mind: The Steelers D doesn’t need to blitz to pressure a quarterback. They get there with five pass rushers. And that makes them the perfect defense to take on Arizona; they can get into the backfield without sacrificing pass coverage or leaving themselves vulnerable to the run. That’s a hard thing to overcome. It requires perfect execution. And based on what I’ve seen so far this season, I simply don’t believe Warner and his crew have perfection in them.
So, sure, I’ll be rooting for Arizona. Right to the end. But I’m not expecting to walk away happy. I think the Cards make it a game into the fourth quarter, but I’m looking for the Steelers to put up a clinching TD late (quite possibly in the form of a pick six) and to make the final score 24-13.