Cold, Hard Football Facts pigskin attaché
Much like a detective or trial lawyer, the Super Bowl is about cases.
When Pittsburgh and Arizona square off on Sunday, players from each side will be battling cases of the nerves. Both teams will be seeking to add hardware to their trophy cases. And the winners will spray and swill several cases of champagne.
But in the buildup to Super Bowl XLIII, the most important cases are those that can be made for each team.
As touchdown underdogs, the Cardinals aren't being given much chance to emerge victorious. Their run to the NFC championship is largely seen as a fluke by the pigskin "pundits." On paper, the Steelers are clearly the better team.
Yet this season's final game may not be a foregone conclusion. We're on the case – and our extensive research reveals three Cold, Hard Football Facts that bode well for Arizona.
ONE – Points aplenty
The Cardinals are the only team to advance to the Super Bowl by scoring at least 30 points in all three of their postseason games.
Twelve other teams have previously won three playoff games to reach the Super Bowl, including the last three champions (2005 Steelers, 2006 Colts and 2007 Giants). But none of them did so by hanging 30 or more points on each opponent.
Including the regular-season finale, the Cardinals have actually scored 30 or more points in four straight games. Here's a recap:
  • beat Seahawks 34-21 in Week 17
  • beat Falcons 30-24 in Wild Card Playoffs
  • beat Panthers 33-13 in Divisional Playoffs
  • beat Eagles 32-25 in Conference Championship
Three previous teams have entered the Super Bowl on scoring streaks of 30+ points in three or more consecutive games, and all of them went on to capture the title. Here's a look at how their runs culminated in championships:
1983 Raiders
  • beat Chargers 30-14 in Week 16
  • beat Steelers 38-10 in Divisional Playoffs
  • beat Seahawks 30-14 in Conference Championship
  • beat Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl
1995 Cowboys
  • beat Cardinals 37-13 in Week 17
  • beat Eagles 30-11 in Divisional Playoffs
  • beat Packers 38-27 in Conference Championship
  • beat Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl
1996 Packers
  • beat Broncos 41-6 in Week 15
  • beat Lions 31-3 in Week 16
  • beat Vikings 38-10 in Week 17
  • beat 49ers 35-14 in Divisional Playoffs
  • beat Panthers 30-13 in Conference Championship
  • beat Patriots 35-21 in Super Bowl
Not only were these high-scoring teams victorious in the Super Bowl, but they all won by double digits.
TWO – Stingy run defense
The Cardinals have held each of their first three playoff opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards.
Stopping the run is often critical to postseason success, and both of the Super Bowl combatants are cases in point. The Steelers limited San Diego and Baltimore to just 15 and 73 rushing yards, respectively. But consider how the Cardinals have likewise put the clamps on the opposition's ground game:
  • held Falcons to 60 rushing yards on 24 carries
  • held Panthers to 75 rushing yards on 15 carries
  • held Eagles to 97 rushing yards on 18 carries
What's even more impressive is that Arizona has faced three of the league's premier running backs and limited each of them to less than 75 yards from scrimmage. Here are their meager numbers:
Running Back (Team)
Michael Turner (Falcons)
DeAngelo Williams (Panthers)
Brian Westbrook (Eagles)
Only five previous teams have advanced to the Super Bowl by holding three playoff opponents below 100 rushing yards. Two of them played each other, meaning one of them had to lose, but the other four became champions. Here's the rundown:
1980 Raiders
  • held Oilers to 97 rushing yards on 33 carries
  • held Browns to 85 rushing yards on 27 carries
  • held Chargers to 83 rushing yards on 23 carries
1982 Redskins
  • held Lions to 95 rushing yards on 21 carries 
  • held Vikings to 79 rushing yards on 18 carries 
  • held Cowboys to 65 rushing yards on 21 carries
1982 Dolphins
  • held Patriots to 77 rushing yards on 18 carries
  • held Chargers to 79 rushing yards on 17 carries 
  • held Jets to 62 rushing yards on 24 carries
2005 Steelers
  • held Bengals to 84 rushing yards on 20 carries 
  • held Colts to 58 rushing yards on 14 carries 
  • held Broncos to 97 rushing yards on 21 carries
2006 Colts
  • held Chiefs to 44 rushing yards on 17 carries 
  • held Ravens to 83 rushing yards on 20 carries 
  • held Patriots to 93 rushing yards on 24 carries
With the exception of the '82 Dolphins, who fell to the similarly stout Redskins following a strike-shortened season, all of these teams won the Super Bowl by double digits.
THREE – Nobody beats the Whis
Combining his games as offensive coordinator of the Steelers and head coach of the Cardinals, Ken Whisenhunt is 8-1 in the postseason.
After serving as a tight ends coach, Whisenhunt began running Pittsburgh's offense in 2004. The team responded by posting a remarkable 15-1 record in the regular season and defeating the Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs. Then, in the AFC title game, the Steelers lost to the eventual-champion Patriots.
The next year, Whisenhunt's play calling helped lead Pittsburgh to a 4-0 postseason. His defining moment was undoubtedly the reverse pass from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward that sealed a 21-10 win over Seattle in Super Bowl XL.
With a victory on Sunday, Whisenhunt can become just the fourth head coach to win four games in his first postseason. Here's a look at his prolific predecessors:
Coach (Team)
First Postseason (Record)
Playoff Wins To Start Career
Tom Flores (Raiders)
1980 (4-0)
Joe Gibbs (Redskins)
1982 (4-0)
Brian Billick (Ravens)
2000 (4-0)
Whisenhunt would certainly be thrilled to follow the same path of Flores, Gibbs and Billick. Like he did, all of them failed to make the playoffs in their debut season. But in their second year, they advanced to the Super Bowl and – this may sound familiar – won by double digits.
Of course, none of the cases mentioned here will have any bearing on Sunday's outcome. The Steelers are a very tough opponent, and the Cardinals will need to execute at a very high level in order to prevail.
But when picking a winner, all of this historical data should probably be considered ... just in case.