Plop me in the middle of the wilderness, like the Fells or the Blue Hills, and I’d probably die lost and alone after eating poison berries, yet within walking distance of a supermarket or major interstate.
Plop me in the middle of your Super Bowl festivities, and I’m like a Navy SEAL, sneaking behind enemy lines to dig up intelligence on each team, while fattening myself on the bounty of the land and living to fight another season.
So, given these self-proclaimed credentials, here is your friendly Super Bowl XLIII Survival Guide — everything you need to follow the game, impress the ladies and even eat well during the Great American Game.
Super Bowl XLIII’s No. 1 most critical matchup
Toss out those clichés about “establishing the run” once and for all.
NFL games almost ALWAYS come down to who passes the ball better — teams with the higher average per pass attempt win about 80 percent of all NFL games.
Super Bowls are no exception. In fact, teams that pass the ball better (based upon YPA) are a stunning 36-6 (.857) in Super Bowl play. (The Patriots, by the way, account for two of those six against-the-grain wins.)
So this data tells us that the big battle in this Super Bowl is:
1) Arizona’s Kurt Warner and his all-star cast of receivers against Pittsburgh’s New Steel Curtain Defense; and,
2) Ben Roethlisberger’s meat-and-potatoes passing attack against the former wet paper bag that passed for the Cardinals defense this year.
At the end of the regular season, this battle clearly favored Pittsburgh. The Steelers fielded the league’s top defense by any measure this year, and ranked No. 2 in the all-important Defensive Passer Rating category (63.4). Arizona, meanwhile, was one of the worst teams in the league against the pass, with a brutal 96.9 Defensive Passer Rating (30th).
But that was then. A lot has changed over the past month, and right now the advantage in this critical battle goes to Arizona.
The Cardinals have lit up everybody in the playoffs — even a Philly team that had a very strong defense. Arizona is the only team that’s reached the Super Bowl after scoring 30- plus points in three straight playoff games.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals pass defense has come out of nowhere to virtually shut down three of the better quarterbacks in the NFC: Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan, Big Game Gunslinger Jake Delhomme and Perpetual Bridesmaid Donovan McNabb.
The Cardinals have held these three passers to a combined 66.8 passer rating.
If they can do the same against the Steelers, and put any amount of pressure on Roethlisberger, who was hampered this year by one of the worst offensive lines in football, then the Cardinals have a very, very good shot of winning this game.
So keep your eye on that critical pass YPA figure as the game unfolds.
Random fact to (not) impress the ladies at your Super Bowl party
The Cardinals are the oldest team in professional football, founded in 1898 as the Morgan Athletic Club. Pat Summerall called their first game.
(OK, I made up the second part.)
The science of Super Bowl squares
If you’re like me — that is, if you never leave your mom’s basement and consider beer and Buffalo wings two of the four food groups — then you’re probably going to stick your name on a couple of football squares this week.
And if you’re like me, you probably know that not all squares are created equal: 7 and 3 are great; 2 and 8 suck.
But now we know how great and how sucky each pairing is, thanks to a guy at a blog called NewQBrating.blogspot.com. He looked at the scores of every game in the Super Bowl Era and broke down the probability of any square hitting.
The best combination to have, no surprise, is 7-0 (or 0-7). That combo has come up more than 8 percent of the time. If you land that square, I suggest not telling the wife about it, and then making a preemptive Champagne Room reservation at the Foxy.
The worst combination to have is 2-2, which has come up just 0.01 percent of the time. You’re SOL in this case and I suggest the cost-effective $1 lap dances at the Sportsmen’s Lounge as a way to cope with your sorrow.
If you want to see what your odds are this year, check out the guy’s chart here. It lists the probability of every scoring combination.
Best reason to root for Pittsburgh
For years, conventional wisdom and, more importantly, the Cold, Hard Football Fact, told us that defense wins championships.
In fact, if Arizona wins, it will officially mark the death of defense as an indicator of postseason success.
In 2006, the Colts won the Super Bowl with a defense that surrendered 360 points in the regular season. It was easily the worst defense of any Super Bowl champion.
In 2007, the Giants won the Super Bowl with a defense that surrendered 351 points regular season. Only the 2006 Colts were worse among all Super Bowl champions.
Here in 2008, the Cardinals surrendered an abysmal 426 points regular season. If they win, they’ll easily replace as the 2006 Colts as the worst defense to win a Super Bowl and will officially mark the death of the cliché that “defense wins championships.”
The fact that they’ll have beaten a Steelers team that led the league in every defensive indicator this year will simply provide further evidence that defense is dead.
Sure, the Colts, Giants and Cardinals all played well defensively in the postseason. So defense still has some impact, of course. But playing rock-solid defense in the regular season clearly carries little importance any more.
Best reason to root for Arizona
New England’s once undisputed status of “team of the decade” would clearly be in jeopardy if the Steelers win — especially if they were able to make a run or repeat in 2009.
Let’s put it this way: the Patriots won Super Bowls in 2001, 2003 and 2004, back in the Stone Age in NFL years. The Steelers won in 2005 and have a good shot of winning in 2008.
Pittsburgh’s already be muscling in on the team-of-the-decade turf the Patriots have held so proudly for the past several years, and — if the Steelers win Sunday — the right to earn the honor once and for all might come down to a critical postseason battle next year at Heinz Field or Gillette Stadium.
Super Bowl XLIII’s No. 2 most critical match-up
By now, many of you, not to mention football fans around the country, know that the Cold, Hard Football Facts Defensive Hog Index has accurately predicted the winner in 19 of 21 playoff games over the past two years.
So this 19-2 record would clearly seem to favor the Steelers — who finished No. 1 in the Defensive Hog Index, as well as No. 1 in every individual indicator that make up the index (run defense, forced sacks and INTs, third-down success).
Pittsburgh’s defensive front was as good as it gets in 2008. In fact, against the run, they were as good or better than any of the legendary, star-studded defenses of the Steel Curtain Era (Pittsburgh surrendered just 3.29 YPA on the ground this year).
But Arizona’s Defensive Hogs have come out of nowhere to play its best football of the season: it’s held its three playoff opponents to a combined 232 yards and not one of them has rushed for 100 yards.
It’s more remarkable considering two of their playoff opponents — Atlanta and Carolina — were two of the best running teams in football this year. But against Arizona, they produced a meager 135 yards on 39 carries (3.5 YPA).
The Steelers, meanwhile, were one of the most ineffective teams in football this year running the ball, average a mere 3.7 YPA (29th), and ranked just 28th in the
Offensive Hog Index we use over at Cold, Hard Football Facts to rate offensive lines.
Bottom line: a battle that easily favored the Steelers a few weeks ago is no longer and advantage.
If Arizona’s surprising Defensive Hogs can continue to play as well as they have in recent weeks, the Steelers will have much more trouble moving the ball than anybody anticipates.
Best prop play
Proposition bets pop up like gophers at Bushwood Country Club come Super Bowl time.
If you’re interested in props — for recreational purposes only, of course — they provide great value, according to Canton resident, Cold, Hard Football Fact.com contributor and “King of Props” John Dudley.
Essentially, he says, props aren’t studied as intently as major bets like game lines or over-unders. So if you know what you’re doing, you can find some props that have a high probability of hitting.
Dudley says the strongest looking prop out there this year is taking the over on the number of carries Ben Roethlisberger will have in the Super Bowl. The line is just 1½.
Roethlisberger rushed two or more times in 10 of 19 games this year, and in his last Super Bowl appearance against Seattle in 2005, he logged seven carries. Also, this prop isn't predicated on a certain outcome. If Big Ben is under pressure all day, he only has to fall forward of the line of scrimmage to escape a sack, and it goes down as a rush attempt. If the Steelers go to run out the clock at the end of the half or the game, it counts as a carry each time he takes a knee.
Random fact to (not) impress the ladies at your Super Bowl party
In 1944, during the World War II manpower shortage that made life tough for professional sports leagues, the Steelers and Cardinals (then the Chicago Cardinals), played together as a team known in the record books only as Card-Pitt.
They wore Cardinals red after gaining the approval of Steelers owner Art Rooney. But it didn’t matter. The team pretty much sucked seven ways to Sunday
In fact, it might have been the worst team in history: Card-Pitt went 0-10, one of only winless teams in NFL history, and was outscored better than 3 to 1 (108 PF, 328 PA).
Game-winning tailgate dish
I was in Pittsburgh a couple years for the West Virginia-Pitt game on a Thursday night at Heinz Field. Before heading to Columbus, Ohio for the big Michigan-Ohio State game, I stopped in at Peppi’s Old Tyme Sandwich Shop to try their most famous dish, the Roethlis-burger.
Boy, is that thing good.
The owners were kind enough to share the recipe, which I’ve published in various places. But I’d be shirking my duties to you, the pigskin public, if I didn’t share it with you, here. This is real good, folks, and I guarantee it will be a hit at your Super Bowl party.
Here’s what you need for one sandwich:
• 6 ounces hot sausage, chopped finely
• 6 ounces high-quality ground beef
• ½ cup chopped onion
• 1 jumbo egg, scrambled
• 4 slices American or provolone cheese
• 1 fresh Italian sub roll
• Optional garnishes: lettuce, tomatoes, hot pepper, mayonnaise
Cook the sausage, beef and onion on a griddle or skillet (if needed, grease the surface with a small bit of olive oil). When the meat and onions are just about ready, toss in the scrambled egg with the meat and mix together. When egg is cooked, place cheese across the top. Let cheese melt, and then scoop everything up into a sub roll. Garnish as desired.
If you’re a Patriots fan who can’t get yourself in good conscious to make and consume a Roethlis-burger, check out the “bacon explosion” here from BBQ Addicts. All it takes to make is some bacon, sausage and weaving skills, and it’s probably the hottest recipe on the Web. Once you look at the link, you’ll know why.
Legacy in the Balance
Quarterbacking means almost everything in the NFL in general and in the Super Bowl in particular. There’s a reason, after all, that just nine quarterbacks have won 24 of 42 Super Bowls.
Seven of these nine are in the Hall of Fame (Montana, Bradshaw, Aikman, Elway, Starr Griese, Staubach); one will be in the Hall of Fame (Brady) and another (Plunkett) might have been in the Hall of Fame if his career after winning the Heisman in college didn’t get off to such a bad start with such a dysfunctional organization (New England in the early 1970s).
But no matter what happens in the Super Bowl, we’ll have another multi-Super Bowl winner who can put his name on this list of legends.
Warner, of course, won Super Bowl XXXIV with the Rams nine years ago. Roethlisberger won Super Bowl XL with the Steelers just three years ago.
Believe it or not, they represent the first Super Bowl meeting of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in 25 years, when Jim Plunkett and the Raiders faced Joe Theismann and the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.
Before Warner-Roethlisberger and Plunkett-Theismann, there only meeting of Super Bowl-winning QBs featured Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and Dallas’s Roger Staubach, who squared off twice in Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII.
Kerry J. Byrne is the publisher of ColdHardFootballFacts.com. His self-congratulatory column will appear here each Wednesday during football season. Send fawning praise, death threats or pictures of your 19-year-old sister to firstname.lastname@example.org.