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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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Prediction: PIT 20, ARI 23

Improbable? Sure - who would have guessed that the Cardinals would suddenly come together and catch fire at the last minute of the season? Sort of like the Giants last year? Like the Steelers of 2005? There is no major surprise that Pittsburgh made it here with a stifling defense and a slate of home games in the playoffs. The current line has the Steelers winning by seven points and both quarterbacks have played in a Super Bowl. Both of the head coaches have been in a Super Bowl though Ken Whisenhunt came from being the offensive coordinator for the Steelers 2005 championship before taking the reins in Arizona. Mike Tomlin was a defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers won their ring.

Can this be considered like 2003 when Jon Gruden had left the Raiders and went to Tampa Bay only to meet the Raiders in the Super Bowl? Whisenhunt is two years removed from being with the Steelers but the same defense and defensive coaches remain there. The Bucs were the underdog in 2003 by 3.5 points but won 48-21 while the Oakland players insisted that the Bucs defense knew every play and signal used by the Raiders offense. That's less likely an issue this time since there is a new offense in Pittsburgh though Roethlisberger, Ward and Parker all remain from when Whisenhunt was there. Whisenhunt assumed the offensive coordinator role in 2004 when the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger and was a part of shaping Roethlisberger for his first three years in the NFL. It carries at least some significance that one head coach is so familiar with the opposing quarterback.

Willie Parker had his career best season - by a large margin - in 2006 during Whisenhunt's final season in Pittsburgh. Hines Ward has always been consistent and had good seasons in 2004 - 2006. Santonio Holmes was drafted in the final year of Whisenhunt and had 824 yards as a rookie. Nate Washington had his first two seasons with the ex-OC as did Heath Miller. Bottom line - the core of the Steelers offense came together under Whisenhunt's direction for three seasons and has since been controlled by Bruce Arians who was the wide receivers coach in PIT during the Whisenhunt years. Arians had been the OC in Cleveland from 2001 to 2003. So not only do the Cardinals have a far superior offense to the Steelers, they also have at least some intimate knowledge about all the players in the Pittsburgh offense.

Comparing this to the Arizona defense must only take into account the past three games. Comparing to the regular season means that this game draws a line to a big Steeler blowout win. But the Cards defense for the playoff games has been outstanding and resembles the regular season pretty much only by uniforms worn. The best rushing effort allowed was in Carolina when they gained only 75 yards using Williams and Stewart. Michael Turner only ran for 42 yards on 18 carries. Westbrook had 45 yards. Where this game turns worse for the Steelers is in the passing game since the Cardinals defense can have some insider knowledge about the players and have totaled eight interceptions, three fumble recoveries and seven sacks during the playoffs this year. Donovan McNabb did throw for 375 yards and three scores against the Cards in their losing effort but those sort of stats have never been produced by the Steelers offense.

Where this game turns - as do most any Steeler games - is how well Pittsburgh can slow down or even stop the Cardinals offense. The Cardinals are rushing much better but the Steelers are among the best at stopping the run. The Steelers have not played an away game in the playoffs but the defense has been just as good on the road against the run. There is a chance that the Cards could bull in a short score but the run is not going to win the game for the Cards - if in fact they really bother much with it. Most opponents ended with less than 50 rushing yards against the Steelers and the Cardinals run attack is hardly even average.

Where this game is fascinating is that it will pit the most productive quarterback and wide receivers against the defense that allowed the least passing. Something is going to change here and one team is going to be very disappointed. How well the Steelers can reach Warner and cover the wideouts is how this game is lost or won. Larry Fitzgerald is not exactly a secret weapon here since he has already set an NFL playoff record of 419 receiving yards. He has topped 100 yards in every game and went over 150 twice. He has scored five times. The Pittsburgh secondary will be joining hands and playing ring-around-the-rosy with Fitzgerald. Then again so did the last three teams. In Carolina there wasn't even any Boldin to worry about.

The personnel issues for the game:

Anquan Boldin - Appears to be recovered from the hamstring injury that held him out against the Panthers.

J.J. Arrington - Still bothered by his knee injury and is not a lock to play.

Hines Ward - Has a sprained MCL that forced him out of the AFC Championship game. Should play but his effectiveness is not yet known.

Ward is the heart and soul of the offense and would be a big blow to the Steelers if he does not play or is significantly limited. By the same token, a healthy Boldin could make a huge difference for the Cardinals who are unlikely to get away with just throwing to Fitzgerald for the entire game.

Smart money says the Steelers defense win this game and there are plenty of reasons to expect just that. Playing with past stats draws a very straight line to the Steelers win. Whether or not it matters remains to be seen, but there are two reasons why the Cards can win this game.

1. They weren't supposed to beat the Eagles or the Panthers.

2. Whisenhunt knows the Steelers.

It should be a very entertaining game that could end up a blowout by either team.

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Homefield: Heinz Field
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 HOU 38-17 -6.5 43
2 @CLE 10-6 -6 45
3 @PHI 6-15 +3 45
4 BAL 23-20 -6 34.5
5 @JAX 26-21 +4 36
6 BYE - - -
7 @CIN 38-10 -9.5 37
8 NYG 14-21 -2.5 42
9 @WAS 23-6 +1.5 37
10 IND 20-24 -3.5 38.5
11 SD 11-10 -4 43
12 CIN 27-10


13 @NE 33-10 +1 40
14 DAL 20-13 -3 41.5
15 @BAL 13-9 +2 34
16 @TEN 14-31 -2 34.5
17 CLE 31-0 -11 33.5
19 SD 35-24 -6 38
20 BAL 23-14 -6 35
21 ARI   -7 46.5
PIT Rush Catch Pass
QB Ben Roethlisberger     220,2
RB Willie Parker 60 10  
TE Heath Miler   20  
WR Hines Ward   50  
WR Santonio Holmes   60,1  
WR Nate Washington   60,1  
PK Jeff Reed 2 FG 2 XP  
Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
Homefield: University of Phoenix Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 @SF 23-13 -2.5 41.5
2 MIA 31-10 -7 38.5
3 @WAS 17-24 +3 42
4 @NYJ 35-56 +3 45
5 BUF 41-17 -1 45
6 DAL 30-26 +5 50
7 BYE - - -
8 @CAR 23-27 +4.5 43.5
9 @STL 34-13 -3 49
10 SF 29-24 -9.5 47.5
11 @SEA 26-20 -3.5 47.5
12 NYG 29-37 +3 49
13 @PHI 20-48 +3 47
14 STL 34-10 -13.5 49
15 MIN 14-35 -3 48.5
16 @NE 7-47 +7.5 45.5
17 SEA 34-21 -7 46
18 ATL 30-24 -1.5 51.5
19 @CAR 33-13 +10 48.5
20 PHI 32-25 +3.5 47
21 PIT   +7 46.5
ARI Rush Catch Pass
QB Kurt Warner     260,2
RB Edgerrin James 50 10  
RB Tim Hightower 20 30  
WR Anquan Boldin   70,1  
WR Larry Fitzgerald   100,1  
WR Steve Breaston   40  
PK Neil Rackers 3 FG 2 XP  
Gaining Fantasy Points ARI 2 28 1 32 16 11
Preventing Fantasy Points    PIT 1 2 1 8 5 23

Gaining Fantasy Points PIT 14 24 8 21 18 5
Preventing Fantasy Points    ARI 32 23 31 13 15 21
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