The resurgence of Kurt Warner (above, right) has been one of the NFL's best stories this season. The 1999 and 2001 NFL Most Valuable Player was named to the Pro Bowl in the regular season for Arizona and has raised his game in the postseason, during which he has thrown eight touchdown passes and two interceptions (112.1 quarterback rating). Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger has been inconsistent. He is at his best late in games and when he has to create plays by scrambling out of the pocket.
The Steelers' Willie Parker (left) has averaged 103 rushing yards in his past three games, scoring three touchdowns. The Cardinals' combination of Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower has totaled three 100-yard performances in 19 games this season.
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (left) and Anquan Boldin could be the NFL's best pass-catching tandem. In three playoff games, Fitzgerald has averaged 18.2 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns. Pittsburgh's wide-outs don't strike the same fear in defenses. Santonio Holmes is an emerging big-play threat, and Hines Ward is known more for his toughness.
The Steelers' front has allowed Roethlisberger to take too many shots. Pittsburgh gave up three or more sacks in 10 games (including the playoffs). Arizona's struggling offensive line is one reason there has been no running game. The weak link is right tackle Levi Brown (left), who gave up 11 sacks and was flagged for six false starts.
Pittsburgh nose tackle Casey Hampton (left) gobbles up double teams, and ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are strong at the point of attack. The Cardinals don't play with great technique up front. Antonio Smith has been the best lately, recording four sacks in his past six games.
The Steelers have two of the best rushers coming off the edge in James Harrison (right) and LaMarr Woodley. Inside linebacker James Farrior is a smart leader. Arizona has some promise at linebacker with Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes, but they aren't in the same class as Pittsburgh's stars.
Both have elite safeties in Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu (right) and Arizona's Adrian Wilson. The Steelers have an underrated cornerback in Ike Taylor and a hard-hitting safety in Ryan Clark. Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is on his way to becoming a top defender, but he makes rookie mistakes.
Neither team has spectacular special teams. Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed (right) has been the more reliable kicker, but Arizona's Neil Rackers has the stronger leg. Holmes is a dangerous returner, though he doesn't handle punts on a regular basis. Cardinals returners Steve Breaston and J.J. Arrington are average. Arizona punter Ben Graham has the advantage over Pittsburgh's Mitch Berger.
The Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt (right) and the Steelers' Mike Tomlin have guided their teams to the Super Bowl in their second seasons as head coaches. Both are tough-minded and pride themselves as tacticians. As a former Steelers assistant, Whisenhunt has an insider's knowledge of Pittsburgh's personnel. But the Steelers' Dick LeBeau is considered the game's top defensive coordinator.
The Steelers' pass rush will be too much for the Cardinals to handle. Pittsburgh will hit Warner early and force him to throw into coverage. Turnovers and physical play will be the difference in the game. Once again, a dominating defense wins the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
jamison hensley's matchups to watch
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Steelers CB Ike Taylor
Fitzgerald has already set a single-postseason record with 419 receiving yards. He has eight touchdowns in his past five games (all 100-yard efforts). Taylor, who draws the top receiver for each team, has allowed two touchdowns this season. He helped shut down Randy Moss (45 receiving yards) and Terrell Owens (32) in back-to-back games. Advantage: Fitzgerald
Steelers RB Willie Parker vs. Cardinals front seven
Although bothered by knee and shoulder injuries, Parker has hurt bad run defenses this season. He has averaged 96.6 rushing yards in five games against defenses ranked 15th or worse. The Cardinals ranked 16th against the run in the regular season, but they have improved significantly in the playoffs. Arizona has given up 77.3 yards per game on the ground in the postseason, which is nearly 33 less than its average in the regular season. Advantage: Parker
Cardinals LT Mike Gandy vs. Steelers LB James Harrison
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison recorded 16 sacks during the regular season, setting career and team marks. He also led the NFL with seven forced fumbles. Gandy, 30, is a journeyman lineman who has quietly had one of the best seasons of his career. Relying on quickness and awareness, Gandy gave up 6 1/2 sacks this season and was flagged for holding once. Advantage: Harrison
numbers to remember
Years between nine-win teams reaching the Super Bowl (Los Angeles Rams)
NFL-worst passing touchdowns allowed by the Cardinals (no other team had more than 27)
Sacks absorbed by the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, the most by a quarterback this season
Cardinals' average margin of defeat (in points) in their five losses this season in the Eastern time zone before they upset the Panthers in the playoffs