Next weekend marks a rematch of one of the greatest Super Bowls of our generation: the heavy underdog Arizona Cardinals, behind a heroic effort by Larry Fitzgerald, gave the Pittsburgh Steelers everything they could handle before losing 27-23 on a miraculous Santonio Holmes game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left. This time around, the Cardinals (4-0, 2-0 road) should be favored as they look to exact a little revenge when they visit Pittsburgh (2-2, 1-1 home) on Oct. 18 (1:00 PM Eastern).
Six and a half years removed from Super Bowl XLIII, this matchup looks entirely different. With Big Ben sidelined, linebacker James Harrison and Fitzgerald are the only key contributors left from that game. But while Harrison has been reduced to a spot rusher, Fitzgerald has seemingly found the Fountain of Youth and is actually on pace for his best statistical season ever!
In this high-flying Cards offense directed by Carson Palmer, Fitzgerald leads the way with 432 yards and five touchdowns through four weeks. Aided by a resurgent Chris Johnson and play-making rookie David Johnson in the run game, the Cards have been able to score points at a pace not seen since Kurt Warner left.
Combined with a dominant D, Zona looked the part of a real contender before struggling to contain Todd Gurley and the Rams rushing attack in Week 4. If a rookie gave them issues, how will this unit stand up against one of the league’s best in LeVeon Bell?
A focal point of the Steeler offense even before Roethlisberger went down, Bell’s success on the ground will determine Pittsburgh’s chances of winning not only this game, but every game until Big Ben comes back. Todd Haley left the training wheels on Michael Vick last week and never really gave the 15-year veteran an opportunity to turn any big plays.
While the Steelers were in a position to win that game before their kicker choked again, it will be interesting to see if Haley rolls with the same scaled-back plan against a weak Charger defense this Monday or if he gives Vick free rein to use Pitt’s talented receivers.
One thing is for certain: this Steeler defense is far better than the public thought heading into this season. Ranked eighth in points allowed, the D won them a game in St. Louis and almost did the same against Baltimore. They won’t be able to shut down the Cards passing attack, but should be able to limit the damage.
Arizona will pull this one out, but depending on the spread, you have to like Pittsburgh’s chances at covering. They haven’t lost ATS yet this season, going 2-0-2 so far.
Straight-up pick: Cardinals.
(Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)