Note: Every week, I pick games against the spread on the Michael Irvin Show on ESPN Radio, and I'm putting them on our blog.
It's been a while since a Super Bowl featured two teams of such contrasting styles. Not even Colts-Bears fits the bill; I'd say you have to go back to the Rams-Patriots to find a comparison. Even though Arizona's coach Ken Whisenhunt came from the Steelers, his present team is nothing like the black and gold; The two teams are simply built from different perspectives and philosophies. I have picked the Cardinals to cover each of their playoff games this year. But that trend stops here.
First, I don't believe this sentiment about the Cardinals' defense suddenly being much-improved from the regular season. They allowed 324 yards per game in January, just 7 yards fewer than the regular season. And when they knew the Eagles had to throw the ball, they gave up 375 yards to Donovan McNabb.
Second, whether you want to hear it or not, the Cardinals really lucked out in the playoffs. They got two home games against the two worst seeds in the NFC, and in their game at Carolina they got a sleeping-at-the-wheel quarterback in Jake Delhomme. These are not the Giants of last year, who went on the road three times and knocked people around; They are the Cardinals who got lucky in how their three playoff games transpired.
Third, the Cardinals are just softer than the Steelers. Whisenhunt has done a great job changing the attitude of the Cardinals to an extent, but they're not the Steelers. When the Cardinals played hard-hitting teams this season in the Giants, Jets, Patriots and Vikings, they lost by 8, 40 and 21 twice.
Fourth, for all of the talk about the Cardinals' explosive offense, they've only averaged two more points per game in the playoffs than the Steelers, and the Cardinals have drawn worse defenses and much better weather.
Fifth is experience. Everyone who's been there has talked about how the Super Bowl is a different beast all together. Bill Belichick has talked about how the game is a completely separate season from the regular season and postseason. The Steelers have tons of experience in the playoffs and Super Bowl, and the Cardinals have Kurt Warner. Warner, by the way, hasn't exactly been stellar in Super Bowls: He completed 53% of his passes against the Titans and had a QB rating of 78 against the Patriots.
Finally, the fans. Listening to reports from Tampa this week I have heard over and over how the place is jampacked with Steelers fans; The Cardinals fans are nowhere to be found.
Sorry kids. I know most people want the Cardinals to win. But I don't see it.
Steelers 30, Cardinals 17
Playoffs: 7-3. Regular season: 48-45-2