Super Bowl Handicapping: Overrated Storylines
by Trevor Whenham - 01/29/2009
The biggest problem with the Super Bowl is the two-week gap between it and the previous game. That gives the media and fans far too much time to get themselves worked into a frenzy talking about things that just don't really matter. If you're not careful then you can get sucked in by those things and let them affect your decision-making process more than they should. Here's a look at four storylines that are more seductive than meaningful that have been overplayed in the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIII.
1. Anquan Boldin. By now we have all heard all about what happened in the NFC Championship. Boldin was upset that he wasn't getting action in the Arizona offense down the stretch, so he had some poorly timed words with offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the dying minutes of the game while the cameras were directed at him. After the game, he left the dressing room quickly instead of sticking around to celebrate his team's win. Since then he and his teammates have denied that there is a problem. Boldin can't seem to escape the issue, though. It's still the first question any Cardinal is asked, and further questions have arisen about his desire or willingness to stay in Arizona and so on.
The angle that the stories take is that this is going to be a distraction for the team. I don't buy it. I can't deny that it has taken up far more time so far than it probably should have, or that the Cardinals all probably wish that none of it had happened. I just can't really see it being much of a distraction when the game comes around. One thing we know about Boldin is that he is a pro. He got his face caved in, and he was back three games later. He is a competitor who comes through when he is needed. He's not the type of guy to do anything to jeopardize his team in the Super Bowl. Neither is Larry Fitzgerald or any of the other receivers. Todd Haley cares about one thing in this case - winning. He'll do whatever it takes to do that regardless of the feeling of his players. He' shown that already. In short, there is no reason to believe that this situation will have any lasting impact whatsoever on Sunday. In fact, the bigger thing to remember with Boldin is that his hamstring is probably the healthiest right now that it has been in six weeks. Both he and Fotzgerald will be more dangerous if the secondary can't focus on just one of them.
2. The Cardinals on the road. The Cardinals weren't very good on the road in the regular season. They never won outside of their lousy division, and they were particularly weak in the Eastern Time Zone. Who cares? I don't, and I have at least six reasons why. First, this isn't a road game, it's a neutral site game. Pittsburgh won't have a significant fan edge over the Cards in Tampa. Next, it's going to be mild. The Cardinals are a good team when the temperature is above 60 degrees - 10-5 ATS on the season. Third, they are coming off a huge road win in Carolina in the playoffs as 10-point underdogs, so their recent form is good. Fourth, to treat this like any other road game is just plain stupid. The team has had longer to prepare, longer to acclimatize, and faces far more pressures than any other game. The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl. Period. Fifth, the Steelers were blown out by the Titans in their last road game even though they were favored, so that has happened before. Sixth, if the last two seasons in the playoffs have taught us anything it's that the regular season doesn't mean anything. The Cardinals were the worst division winner in the NFC and then hosted two playoff games. Last year, the Giants were just 4-4 down the stretch, and they rolled through the playoffs. The Patriots were undefeated until the Super Bowl and that meant nothing. It all boils down to the same thing - the last four weeks matter a whole lot more than the last 21 do.
3. First-time appearance for the Cardinals. Arizona is in their first Super Bowl, and history tells us that that doesn't bode well for them. First-time teams are just 8-18 straight up, and 9-17 ATS. That can't be totally discounted, but it does need to be put into perspective. The Cards are led by Kurt Warner, a guy with the two best passing performances in Super Bowl history. He won't be scared. Both head coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm were key members of the coaching staff when Pittsburgh won their last Super Bowl. In other words, Arizona has more than enough experience to keep the troops grounded. On the other side, head coach Mike Tomlin is in virgin territory. A first appearance might be ideal, but teams like Baltimore and Tampa Bay in recent times have shown that the inexperience isn't insurmountable.
4. Roethlisberger's Super Bowl record. We've heard a lot about this, too - no winning QB has ever had a worse QB rating than Big Ben. He was 9-of-21 in the Super Bowl, and his QB rating was just 22.9. That's so irrelevant that it's ridiculous. Let me count the ways - he's three years older than wiser than he was then, he has a different team around him, he's playing a different opponent in a different stadium, and, most significantly, he did what his team needed in order to win. Handily. His struggles in a game that happened three years ago is only marginally more relevant than the fact that he had an even worse game against Washington this year. His rating was 15.1 that day, and they won that game, too. Roethlisberger is far better than he was in his last Super Bowl, and anyone with half a brain knows it.