One year after the Patriots [team stats]' pursuit of perfection was extinguished by the Giants, the Super Bowl is once again upon us.
This season's Super Bowl XLIII matchup of the Steelers and Cardinals is nowhere near as sexy and is unlikely to approach last year's record of 97.5 million viewers. But there are still a number of fascinating plots and subplots to the game.
Kurt Warner win his second Super Bowl nine years after his first? Can Arizona's high-octane offense reach 30 points for the fourth straight postseason game, or will its luck run out against the dominant Steelers defense? And just what kind of an advantage, if any, will Arizona head man Ken Whisenhunt have against his former team?
By late Sunday night, we'll have the answers. In the meantime, here's a capsule breakdown of the positional matchups in the game.
Arizona's Kurt Warner vs. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger
This is a battle of old vs. young former Super Bowl champs. Warner is the flashier of the two, putting up numbers that rival what he did during his days leading the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf to a title in 1999. Roethlisberger is the perfect embodiment of the city he calls home - strong, unflashy, tough as nails. Warner is capable of putting up huge numbers, but Big Ben shouldn't be discounted, particularly in the clutch. And as good as Warner is, he's by far the more likely of the two to make some mistakes, particularly considering the defense he'll be playing against. That said, he's the best chance the Cardinals have of pulling off the upset. Advantage: Cardinals
Arizona's Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower, J.J. Arrington and FB Terrelle Smith vs. Pittsburgh's Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell, and FB Carey Davis
To call the Cardinals' rushing attack an afterthought would imply that it was considered at all. The Cards had by far the greatest run/pass disparity in the league during the regular season, rushing only 340 times, good for last in the NFL. However, they've carried 100 times in three postseason contests and averaged 111 yards per game, with James being hauled out of the dumpster to lead the way with 203 yards. Still, they should have zero success against Pittsburgh's second-ranked rush defense, which is anchored in the middle by gigantic nose tackle Casey Hampton. On the flip side, Steelers sparkplug Willie Parker is coming off a bit of a lost season that saw him fail to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in four years. Still, the Steelers are the tougher team, and that should be reflected in the running game. Advantage: Steelers
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban vs. Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, Limas Sweed
Few Super Bowl teams in history have been defined by so few players, but the Cardinals' success basically boils down to Warner and his top three receivers. Fitzgerald is completing an historic postseason that has seen him record more yards - 419 - than anyone, with a game still remaining. Boldin is another ball hawk on the other side, assuming his balky hamstring lets him go, while Breaston cleans up what's left. The group will have its hands full against the league's No. 1 passing defense, particularly strong safety Troy Polamalu, who seems like he's everywhere. The Steelers' receivers get the job done, with Ward the only elite talent among the group, though he, too, is battling an injury. Roethlisberger generally makes enough plays to his wideouts to keep defenses honest. Advantage: Cardinals
Arizona's Leonard Pope, Ben Patrick, Jerame Tuman vs. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Sean McHugh
The best player of this bunch is Miller, a huge target (6-5, 256) who could find himself matched up underneath with hard-hitting Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson. If the Steelers can stretch the field with Holmes and Washington, Miller could have some room to operate over the middle. The Arizona tight ends don't figure prominently in the offensive game plan, being asked to help protect Warner while he looks downfield. Advantage: Steelers
Arizona's LT Mike Gandy, LG Reggie Wells, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Levi Brown vs. Pittsburgh's LT Max Starks, LG Chris Kemoteau, C Justin Hartwig, RG Darnell Stapleton, RT Willie Colon
One of these groups is going to be asked to account for Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and fellow linebacker Lamarr Woodley. The other is not. The winner of this matchup should be selected accordingly. The Cardinals' line has protected Warner exceptionally well, considering how often he throws (28 sacks in over 600 attempts), but he absorbed a couple of shots, albeit late ones, in the NFC title game and will likely be under siege Sunday. Roethlisberger has absorbed some monstrous shots of his own, including one that left him concussed in the regular season finale, but the Cardinals do not possess the most fearsome defense to take advantage of the 54 sacks the Steelers have allowed thus far. Advantage: Steelers