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Super Sunday

   by Jim Feist - 01/27/2009

Some quarterback is going to get his second Super Bowl ring this weekend. Ben Roethlisberger got one four years ago, while 37-year old Kurt Warner got one following the 1999 season. Back in August Pittsburgh was 20-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, while the Cardinals were 50-to-1, with nine NFC teams ahead of them (Redskins, Bucs, Seahawks, Packers, Eagles, Saints, Vikings, Giants and Cowboys).
For the second straight year the NFC's No. 1 seed didn't make it and the fifth time in six years that the top seed in the AFC fell short. We are in a golden age for the AFC, favored again to win it. It's almost as if the pendulum has swung. During the 1980s and much of the 90s, the NFC dominated, winning 15 of 16 Super Bowls, including 13 in a row. That changed in 1998 when Denver upset Green Bay, 31-24. Since then, the AFC has won 8 of the last 11.
The Giants were a Cinderella story a year ago, rising from the No. 5 seed to upset the Bucs, Cowboys and Packers -- all on the road. The Cardinals have filled that role this season, opening as an underdog in all three playoff games, yet still standing.
Arizona Coach Ken Whisenhunt came from the Steelers where he was a proponent of their balanced offense, but he's had to adjust to the strengths of this team, all passing. Interestingly, he faces the team he helped win the Super Bowl four years ago. The one-dimensional offense is No. 4 overall (292 yards passing, second) behind Warner (30 TDs, 14 INTs, 4,583 yds). He has great targets with WR Larry Fitzgerald (1,431 yds, 12 TDs), All-Pro wideout Anquan Boldin (1,038, 11 TDs) and WR Steve Breaston (1,006 yds).
Facing that great passing offense is the Steelers' No. 1 ranked defense. They are also hot, on an 8-1 SU, 7-2 ATS run. The Steelers are in their seventh Super Bowl and a chance to become the first team to win six. Their seven championships are an AFC record.
The Cardinals hope to continue a Super Bowl trend: The underdog is 5-2 ATS the last seven Super Bowls, winning three times. Here's a look at what to expect this weekend as America's unofficial national holiday, the Super Bowl, kicks off.

What the Cardinals want to do: First, they don't want to panic. Many of the players haven't been on the big stage, just as the organization has never come close to sniffing the Super Bowl. Second, they want to contain Pittsburgh's running game. The Arizona defense ranked just 19th during the regular season, but has improved in the playoffs. The Cardinals faced two of the top three running teams in the NFL in the postseason and shut both of them down. Atlanta, second in the league with an average of 152.7 yards a game, had 60 against Arizona. Carolina, third in the NFL with a 152.3 average, gained 75 yards.
Much of the success of the Arizona defense in stopping the run lately has been the direct result of the play from the defensive line. Darnell Dockett, DE Bertrand Berry, DE Antonio Smith and nose tackle Bryan Robinson have taken turns at drawing double-team blocks. That has opened up gaps for the linebackers to zero in on the ball carrier.
Arizona is unlikely to have much success running the football, so they can't be afraid to try and ride Warner's arm for the upset. The great passing offense/average defense is why Arizona is on a 12-4 run over the total.

What the Steelers want to do: Pittsburgh prefers a balanced, ball control offense, even though the running game has struggled because of injuries. RB Willie Parker has been healthy for the playoffs and rolled up 146 yards on the Chargers. While not as heralded as the Cardinals, the Steelers have excellent targets for QB Roethlisberger (17 TDs, 15 picks) in WR Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward (1,043 yds) and TE Heath Miller. If you try and take away the run, they are more than capable of doing damage through the air.
Defensively, the Steelers are relentless, with run-stuffers, great linebackers, and an attacking, zone-blitz under DC Dick LeBeau. They attacked San Diego in the playoffs, then dared the Ravens to run the football in the AFC Championship. They likely won't pay may attention to the Arizona running game, instead focusing on blitzing Warner and forcing errant passes. Warner has been prone to turnovers at times.
These offenses are averaging 31 ppg (Arizona) and 29 ppg (Steelers) in the postseason. Over the last 32 years, the "over" has gone 19-14 in Super Bowl play, though the under has ruled the last four years. Enjoy the big game! And be sure and check out all the articles, free plays and handicapping tips at ECapperMall.com.

Feist Facts: Jan. 22, 2009

Super Bowl Countdown!
by Jim Feist
In the world of eleven to ten, there's nothing quite like Super Bowl week. In this case, it's two weeks, as the champions of the AFC and NFC have two weeks to prepare for the Big Game. It's also one of the most creative weeks of the sports betting season. While there's only one game left on the football calendar, there are ample opportunities for betting with hundreds of creative props by oddsmakers.
For example, you can bet on the exact score of the game by each team, or who will score first. Two years ago, if you bet on Chicago return specialist Devin Hester to score the first touchdown of the game, you would have cashed a 25-to-1 prop ticket after he returned the opening kickoff 92 yards. 14 seconds in cashing a 25-to-1 ticket is the best way to watch a Super Bowl!
Last year you could even wager that there would be no touchdowns scored at 50-to-1. Of course, that has never happened as we head to Super Bowl 43 next week. There also has never been overtime, though you will be able to wager on, "Will there be overtime or not?" There will be "over/under" lines offered on how many touchdown passes a quarterback might throw, the first team to turn the ball over, and even the coin flip. There will be creative wagers offered such as how many receiving yards one player might get matched up against the number of points the NBA's Kobe Bryant or LeBron James might have as the Lakers/Cavaliers battle before the Super Sunday kickoff.
The Super Bowl brings out the best in the creative minds of oddsmakers. Smart bettors will search through all the props, totals and side bets offered in an attempt to find an edge and add to their bankrolls. When examining Super Bowl totals, weather is not as important an issue as in other January playoff games as Super Sunday is always played indoors or at warm weather sites. This season the game will be outdoors in Tampa, Florida, so there could be a chance of rain, like two years ago in Miami when the Colts and Bears met. Since Super Bowl X in 1976 between the Steelers and Cowboys, there have been 19 "overs" and 14 "unders," with the last four going under.
Why so many "overs?" One factor is that coaches with a lead are less likely to sit on the ball in the second half in a Super Bowl. If a team is up 17-0 at the half of a December game, for example, a coach might be inclined to go conservative, run the clock and avoid injuries. In the postseason, it's the final game of the year and no lead is safe. No coach wants to play super-conservative and be remembered as the guy who blew a 20-0 lead in the biggest game of his career. Since it's the last game of the season, coaches often put in trick plays and new offensive wrinkles in an attempt to maximize scoring opportunities.
Despite the excessive "overs" the last thirty years, as far as reaching the big game, you can't overlook the importance of defense. Heading into the conference championship games, the Steelers, Ravens and Eagles were 1, 2 and 3 in the NFL in total defense (Arizona was 19th). A year ago, the Patriots, Giants and Packers were in the Top 11 in total defense.
Last season the big story was the unbeaten record of the Patriots and their record-setting offense, but who came out ahead? The monster defense of the Giants kept the game close and was the main reason for their 17-14 upset. Who can forget six years ago when the No. 1 offense (Oakland) faced the No. 1 defense (Tampa Bay)? Oakland's great offense was a 4-point favorite, but Tampa's defense dominated in a 48-21 rout. In fact, six of the last eight Super Bowl champs have had statistically better defenses than their offenses, including the 2005 Steelers (4th in defense). Three of those champs, the 2002 Patriots, the '03 Buccaneers and the '08 Giants, were Super Bowl underdogs.
You'll be able to find creative point spread props, too. Two years ago, the total number of field goals was 3½ over +135. The Colts and Bears combined for 4 field goals as the over just made it. Three years ago Seattle RB Shaun Alexander had these over/under props: Total yards 89½, carries 21½, and longest rush 19½. The final tallies: 95 yards, 20 carries, with the longest rush of 21 yards. Four years ago the number of passing yards by QB Tom Brady: 237½. The "under" ended up being the winner, but not by much: Brady finished with 236 passing yards! Let's give oddsmakers some credit for those numbers.
Key numbers will come into play, as well, as books are petrified of getting middled. Nine years ago the Rams were a 7 to 7½-point favorite against the Titans. The Rams won by seven points, 23-16. The most famous example was in 1979, forever known in Las Vegas as "Black Sunday." The Steelers opened a 2½-point favorite over the Cowboys, were bet up to 5, then back down to 4. Books everywhere were sick when the Steelers won, 35-31, landing on the dreaded 'M' word!

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