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NFL News and Analysis with Andrew Perloff

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  • 11:18 AM ET  08.13
Steelers-cardinals
The Steelers and Cards will try to become the latest teams to play in back-to-back Super Bowls. :: Walter Iooss Jr./SI

 

By Andrew Perloff, SI.com

Objectively, the Cardinals and Steelers, who meet in the opening preseason game tonight, should be the favorites to return to the Super Bowl. Neither team suffered significant personnel losses, both are loaded with players in their prime and they have young, gifted head coaches. But when you look around at magazines and Web sites, you're not seeing a lot of predictions for a Super Bowl rematch.

What follows are the five biggest reasons experts aren't high on the Steelers and Cardinals and my take on whether there's validity to each perception.

Perception No. 1: Both teams got lucky last season
Pittsburgh only got there because Tom Brady got hurt in New England and Arizona only reached the playoffs because the NFC West is so bad. The path to Super Bowl XLIII magically cleared for both teams, even though they weren't the most talented.

Perloff's Reality: False
Even if Brady was healthy, the Steelers' defense was playing well enough to get Pittsburgh through the AFC playoffs. And though the Cardinals were very uneven last year, they do present major mismatches offensively and have some bona fide playmakers on defense.

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Perception No. 2: Super Bowl Hangover
The Steelers had a letdown after beating the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. And the runner-up almost always falls apart in today's NFL. All the hoopla of being a Super Bowl participant has to affect the focus of a team.

Perloff's Reality: True
The Steelers rallied around their underdog status last year. After they beat the Cardinals, several of their players pointed out that most magazines had them in second or third place in the AFC North. They may have trouble mustering that kind of passion again this season. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl-loser jinx may not make a lot of sense, but that trend is very strong and hard to argue against.

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Perception No. 3: The Cardinals can't fight history
The Cardinals are one of the worst organizations in modern professional sports history. They haven't had back-to-back postseason trips in 25 years. So what if they made the Super Bowl. They're fighting years of ineptitude.

Perloff's Reality: False
The Cardinals are clearly drafting differently and making smart free-agent decisions of late. They've never had this many good young players. Also credit coach Ken Whisenhunt for changing the culture there and making it a much more professional team. It's a mistake to assume a team is going to be bad because of tradition. Things move too quickly in the NFL these days.

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Perception No. 4: Big Ben can't avoid distractions
After the last title, Ben Roethlisberger had his bad motorcycle accident. This offseason, a woman filed a civil suit against him claiming sexual assault. Roethlisberger vehemently denied the charges, but may have to deal with lawyers and accusations throughout the season.

Perloff's Reality: False
The football field should be a haven for Roethlisberger as he tries to deal with this case. His breakdown after the motorcycle accident was also largely physical. If he's healthy, he should be just as effective this year.

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Perception No. 5: Parity
There is a thin margin between the top teams in the salary-cap era. Teams quickly rebound from losing seasons and the playoffs have been unpredictable in recent years.

Perloff's Reality: True
Don't let the Patriots' 16-0 mark two seasons ago or the Lions' 0-16 record last year fool you. The leagues is as even as ever. Once the playoffs start, a healthy team can be dangerous no matter what its regular-season record was.

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Final Verdict
There are good reasons experts are not ready to focus on another Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl. But they're probably going a little too far anointing teams like the Patriots, Eagles and Giants. Pittsburgh and Arizona are still right there with the best teams in the league.

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