Super Bowl Betting: Five Keys to the Game
by Trevor Whenham - 01/29/2009
We have so much time on our hands before the Super Bowl that we can afford the luxury of breaking this game down from a million different angles. It also means, unfortunately, that we have more than enough time to become very sick of talking about some aspects of the game. Yes, I'm talking about you, Anquan Boldin. That aside, the more I look at this game, the more I think that it is going to come down to just a handful of aspects. Here's a look at five factors that I think will be key to this game:
1. The pass rush. The stats here are stunning - the team that has had the most sacks has won 12 of the last 13 Super Bowls and has gone 8-3-2 ATS. It goes without saying, then, that we can't overstate the importance of the pass rush in this game. Because Pittsburgh is such a good defensive team while Arizona wasn't in the regular season, it would be the assumption of many that Pittsburgh would have an edge here. That's not actually the case. The teams were fairly well matched in the regular season, with Arizona securing just one more net sack. The teams have also been virtually identical in the playoffs - the Steelers are +3 in sacks in two games, and the Cardinals are +4 in three games. It's really a coin toss, and a really important one.
The importance of this matchup goes beyond the numbers, though. Kurt Warner handles the blitz so well that Pittsburgh might be hesitant to test him if they can't get to him early and often. Ben Roethlisberger isn't as good when facing pressure, and he isn't as healthy as Warner right now, so Arizona may be interested in taking more risks in the effort to get at Big Ben.
2. Red zone efficiency. Pretty much regardless of how this game plays out, the play in the red zone will be crucial. If Arizona's offense is running at full throttle, Pittsburgh's offense, which can be pokey at times, will have to be especially effective when they get close. If the Pittsburgh defense has a good day then the Arizona offense will have to capitalize on whatever chances it does get. Arizona's red zone offense wasn't as good as the offense was elsewhere on the field - it ranked just ninth. That's better than Pittsburgh's, which was 15th. Defensively, though, the gap is huge. Pittsburgh was tops in the league, allowing touchdowns in just one third of red zone possessions. Arizona was much worse, allowing seven points in nearly two thirds of the opportunities.
3. Effectiveness of Arizona's offense. This may seem overly simplified, but it really is the essence of this game - can Arizona score against the best defense in the league? If they can consistently find a way to connect with their ridiculously deep stable of receivers then they probably have the ability to put up more points than the Steelers can deal with. If the Steelers defense asserts itself early, though, then the Arizona defense could struggle to keep up with their counterparts. It's not as easy to figure out as it could be - both units for the Cardinals are overachieving somewhat in the playoffs, and while both units for Pittsburgh are a touch below what we came to expect in the regular season. How the four units will react in this game is a bit of a mystery.
4. Resilience of teams when they get in trouble. It's almost certain that one of these teams is going to find themselves in trouble at some point in this game. How the teams will react when that happens will determine what happens in the game. The Cardinals haven't had to deal with being far behind in the playoffs, but they have twice quickly given up big leads, and both times they have found the strength to fight back again. The Steelers were never behind against the Ravens, and only slightly a couple of times against the Chargers. If a team panics when they get behind it will be over.
5. Quarterbacks. The public almost always gives the quarterbacks far too much credit in the NFL. In this case, though, the quarterbacks need to be considered in a serious way. Both guys are key leaders of their teams, and both guys have the playoff experience that teams usually need to win. Both guys have the ability to be truly exceptional, but both can also be terrible. It's too simple to say that the player who plays best will win, but you can safely say that the player who best executes the team's plan is going to win. Now all you have to figure out is which on that is likely to be.