FOX: A Truly Wild Super Bowl Coming To TampaJanuary 17th, 2009
By BOB FOX
JoeBucsFan.com analyst Bob Fox takes a weekly look at the playoff picture. He write for numerous sports publications and brings an insightful take on the road to the Super Bowl. Fox has picked six of eight winners in the playoffs.
There is a decent shot that Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa will host at least one Wild Card team, as well as a chance TWO Wild Card teams will play each other for the first time in history. That would happen if the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens win this weekend.
Wild Card teams are 5-4 in the Super Bowl. Actually, one could really say 6-4, as the Kansas City Chiefs were not a divisional champion in 1969, before the merger of the NFL and AFL in 1970, and before they upset the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
The exclusive club of Super Bowl winners from the Wild Card ranks are the Oakland Raiders (XV), the Denver Broncos (XXXII), the Ravens (XXXV), the Pittsburgh Steelers (XL) and the Giants last year.
So big history could be made this weekend. In fact, I think it will.
Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals
Who would have thought that when the Cardinals and Eagles squared off on Thanksgiving night in Philadelphia, it would be a warm up for the NFC Championship game, this time in Arizona. I am not surprised to see the Eagles in this game, but the Cardinals have shocked me for two straight weeks. First the Cardinals beat the Atlanta at home and then upset Carolina on the road. Unlike the regular season, the Cardinals are running the ball well now behind resurgent Edgerrin James, and defensively they are stopping the run effectively. Plus, the Cardinals still have a great passing game behind QB Kurt Warner and maybe the best WR in football, Larry Fitzgerald. The Cards expect WR Anquan Boldin to return Sunday, after Boldin missed last week due to a hamstring strain.
The Eagles hope they can have the same success that they had in the regular season matchup when the Eagles whipped the Cardinals 48-20. That probably won’t happen, but the Eagles are still very dangerous. Quarterback Donovan McNabb is playing exceptionally right now. RB Brian Westbrook has been a little banged up and hasn’t been as effective in the playoffs as he was late in the season. But he is still dangerous, as the Vikings found out in the first round of the playoffs, when Westbrook scored on a 71-yard screen pass. Westbrook also has a very capable back up in Correll Buckhalter. The receiving corp is led by DeSean Jackson, who also is an explosive kick returner, and by a number of other options like Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant and others. But it is the Philly defense that will make the difference in this game with all of their exotic blitzes. The Eagles didn’t sack Warner in the regular season, but they did pressure him into throwing three interceptions.
Bottom line, I think the Cardinals will play much better this Sunday compared to the game on Thanksgiving. A Cards win wouldn’t shock me. Still, I like the Eagles to come out to the desert and win. I would not be surprised if the Cardinals win, they have given me my only two losses in the playoffs thus far. Philly will be able to make the big plays when needed both offensively and defensively.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh meet for the third time this season. The previous games came down to the wire; one was an overtime game and the last one was determined in the last few seconds with the help of a VERY controversial call by the replay booth. Pittsburgh won that one and the division title. This game will rival any playoff game ever in terms of the hatred these two teams have for each other. The other fascinating reason why this game will be enjoyable is the dominating presence of BOTH defenses. The Steelers and Ravens were ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in total defense in the NFL this regular season.
Both teams have VERY good players defensively. The Steelers have NT Casey Hampton, LB James Harrison and S Troy Polamalu among others. The Ravens will counter with players such as NT Haloti Ngata, LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed. This game will probably be won by the team that forces the most turnovers. The Ravens have created nine turnovers in just two games thus far in the playoffs. Safety Jim Leonhard was in on three of them last week against Tennessee, as he forced an errant interception with a blitz, caused a fumble and recovered a fumble. Plus, Leonhard returned a punt for more than 20 yards to set up a Ravens field goal.
Offensively, the Steelers will ride behind Big Ben Rothlisberger and his arm, as he tries to connect with Himes Ward, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller and others. The ground game was definitely ignited last week by the performance of Willie Parker, who ran for 146 yards against the Chargers. The Ravens will be led by rookie QB Joe Flacco, who has not turned the ball over once in the playoffs. Flacco also likes throwing to deep threat WR Derrick Mason and TE Todd Heap, as well. The Ravens ground game is led by Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee; both can break off a big gainer once in awhile. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys.
Bottom line, I see the Ravens shocking the Steelers in a very close game in Pittsburgh. Flacco has played a lot older than his years since Day 1, and I think he will continue to be smart with the football. Like the first two games against each other, this one should come down to the wire. The Ravens seem to be in the groove defensively creating turnovers, and that is where I see the difference in this game.