I’m playing on Pittsburgh and Arizona to finish UNDER the total. These teams both saw their games last week finish above the number. Arizona and Philadelphia combined for 57. Pittsburgh and Baltimore combined for 37. Those results have many expecting a shootout and in turn have helped to keep the Super Bowl total generously high.
The fact that both Conference Championship games finished above the total should not bother us. Last year’s Super Bowl finished below the total but it doesn’t apply, as the ‘over’ had gone 1-1 in the Conference Championship Round. However, the previous two years both saw the ‘over’ go a combined 4-0 in the Conference Championship Rd and yet in each case the Super Bowl finished UNDER the total. Two years ago, the Colts and Bears saw their two championship games finish with 72 and 53 points respectively, yet the teams combined for 46 in the Super Bowl, sneaking below the total of 47. The previous season, the Steelers and Seahawks both saw their Conference Championship games finish above the total. Yet, the teams combined for only 31 points (21-10 Pittsburgh) when matched up against each other in the big game.
It can also go the other way. The last time that we saw a Super Bowl finished ‘over’ the total was in 2004 in the Patriots/Panthers game. In that contest, both teams had played low-scoring games which went ‘under’ in the Championship game. Yet, despite a slow start, their Super Bowl meeting finished well above the number.
Looking back at the Steelers’ last Super Bowl appearance, we find that they also faced an NFC West team which threw a lot of passes. In fact, Seattle threw the ball a whopping 49 times. Yet, despite the high number of passes, the Seahawks still only managed 10 points. Although I do expect them to mix in more running plays than many are expecting, like Seattle, the Cardinals will also throw the ball fairly regularly. Like the Seahawks learned, I expect that the Cardinals will also find that passing against the Pittsburgh defense isn’t as easy as they might think, or at least that reaching the end zone won’t be easy. While we know that the Steelers defense tends to dominate, the Cardinals have also proven to be be much better on that side of the ball than most people believed them to be capable of.
These teams faced each other last season. That game had a halftime score of 7-0 and was still tied 7-7 in the fourth quarter, before eventually finishing with a final of 21-14. Note that the lone score in the third quarter was a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown. Willie Parker came in having run for more than 100 yards in four straight games, yet the Cards’ defense rose to the occasion and limited him to a mere 37 yards on 18 carries. Additionally, Rothlisberger entered that game having only been sacked four times in his previous three games. Yet, Arizona sacked him four times in that game alone. Big Ben would finish 17 of 32 with two interceptions.
Including that result, the UNDER is 7-5 the last 12 times that the Steelers have faced an opponent from the NFC, including a perfect 4-0 this season. Three of those games came against teams (Giants, Cowboys, Eagles) which ranked above the league average in terms of total points scored, while the other was against Washington. Yet, those four games finished with combined scores of 33, 29, 35 and 21 points. While most are expecting a high-scoring affair, I look for the defenses to be better than expected and for the final combined score to stay below the generous number. *Playoff TOY