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Old 01-30-2009, 06:53 AM   #1
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Default ACCUSCORE ANALYSIS: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals

ACCUSCORE ANALYSIS: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals

By Stephen Oh

4:49 p.m. January 29, 2009

AccuScore runs 10,000 computer simulations of NFL games, one play at a time, to project likely outcomes. Here is its assessment of Sunday's Super Bowl.

The Steelers won 68.9 percent of AccuScore's simulations by an average score of 27-20. The simulations have pinpointed the key reasons Pittsburgh is favored and what it will take for Arizona to pull off the upset.



The Eagles defense is good, and showed in the second half of the NFC Championship game that you can blitz Kurt Warner and largely shut down the Cardinals offense. But the Steelers defense is much better. The Eagles allowed at least 23 points seven times this season (regular season and playoffs) and allowed 30-plus three times. The Steelers gave up 24 or more points just three times (24 to Indianapolis, 30 to Tennessee and 24 to the Chargers in the playoffs).

Unlike Philly, the Steelers defense can pressure Warner while also stopping the run. The Steelers will learn from Philadelphia's mistakes. They will force Warner to dump more passes to his running backs and tight ends to avoid taking vicious hits.

Cardinals running backs Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower are averaging a combined four receptions per simulation for just six yards per reception. The two had just two catches against Philadelphia as Warner had enough time (in the first half) to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald caught 43 percent of Arizona's completed passes against Philadelphia. The simulations show the Steelers are holding him to 29 percent.

The table below shows that if the offensive line can protect Warner and if Fitzgerald has more than 40 percent of the team's receptions (a 37 percent likelihood) then the Cardinals' chances jump from 31 percent to 44 percent.

Larry Fitzgerald ; %Chance ; %Rec. ; Rec. ; Yds. ; TD ; Win %

Baseline ; – ; 29% ; 6.9 ; 97.9 ; 0.8 ; 31%

Warner given time ; 37% ; 42% ; 9.6 ; 136.9 ; 1.1 ; 44%


Kurt Warner has the reputation as the more prolific passer, but Ben Roethlisberger is actually averaging better numbers in simulations.

QB comparison ; Cmp.; Att.; Pct.; Yds.; TD; Int.; Rat.

Roethlisberger ; 19.8; 31.4; 63.1; 268 ; 2.2; 1.1; 98.3

Warner ; 23.4; 39.4; 59.4; 257 ; 1.6; 1.3; 78.3

While Warner had a much better season statistically, Roethlisberger faced a far more difficult schedule. Rattling off the Steelers' opponents this season can intimidate a QB (Baltimore twice, Philadelphia, Dallas, Tennessee, the Giants).

List some of Warner's opponents and you get the likes of the 32nd-ranked Seattle Seahawks twice, the 29th-ranked Jets pass defense and the 25th-ranked Dolphins defense.

Roethlisberger's opposing pass defenses had an average ranking of 11.4 vs. 17.3 for Warner's. For comparison's sake the 11th-ranked pass defense was New England, the 17th-ranked was the Houston Texans. If you had a fantasy QB, would you rather have him face New England or Houston?

Roethlisberger played 13 of 16 games against teams ranked in the Top 16 against the pass, Warner only seven.

Roethlisberger's average passer rating was higher against the bottom half of the league than Warner's. While Warner had the higher rating against Top 16 opponents, he did not have to play as many games against Top 10 defenses (four) as Roethlisberger (eight).

; ;; Vs. Top 16 ;; Vs. Bottom 16

QB comparison ; Avg.Opp.Rank;; G ; Rat; ;; G ; Rat.

Roethlisberger ; 11.4 ;; 13 ; 72.3 ;; 3 ; 114.7

Warner ; 17.3 ;; 7 ; 82.9 ;; 9 ; 107.7

Given that Roethlisberger will be facing the 22nd-ranked Cardinals pass defense and Warner will be up against the top-ranked Steelers defense, it should not be surprising to see Roethlisberger coming out with better stats in simulations.


It does not take a supercomputer simulation to tell you that if Roethlisberger has six turnovers like Carolina's Jake Delhomme, the Cardinals have a great chance of winning. Instead of focusing on highly unlikely scenarios, AccuScore has pinpointed three realistically achievable statistical measures that, if all are achieved, would make Arizona the favorite to win.

CAN AZ. CONTINUE ITS INT'S? The Cardinals had 13 interceptions in 16 regular season games. They have nearly tripled that rate with seven in three playoff games. Simulations show how interceptions would affect the outcome of the game.

Roethlisberger INTs; %Chance; Az. win%

None ; 34.4%; 16.9%

1 or more ; 65.6%; 38.6%

2 or more ; 30.3%; 50.8%

It's unlikely that Roethlisberger will throw multiple interceptions, but the first step for Arizona's upset is to intercept Roethlisberger at least once.


In three playoff games “The Edge” he has run well (68 yards per game, 3.9 yards per carry). But the Steelers' run defense is one of the best, and James is forecasted for only 44 yards on 14 carries (3.1 ypc). In simulations in which James averages 4.6 ypc, as he has twice in the playoffs, the Cardinals actually win 50.7 percent of the time. However, there is just a 31 percent chance that James can run this effectively against the Steelers.

Edgerrin James ; %Chance; Az. win%

Baseline (3.1 ypc); – ; 31.1%

James 3.9 ypc ; 58.0% ; 41.6%

James 4.6 ypc ; 31.2% ; 50.7%

More realistically, if James can average at least 3.9 ypc (his overall playoff and regular season average) against the great Steelers run defense, the Cardinals have a considerably better shot (win 41.6 percent). If James averages 3.9 ypc and Roethlisberger has at least one interception the Cardinals have a 49 percent chance of winning.


The Steelers recorded 51 sacks this season (over three per game). If Warner is miraculously not sacked, the Cardinals nearly pull even with the Steelers with a 48 percent chance of winning. More realistically, the Cardinals need to hold the Steelers defense to two sacks or fewer to minimize the chance of a costly injury or turnover.

Kurt Warner sacks; %Chance; Az. win%

None ; 8.2% ; 48.4%

Two or fewer ; 53.7% ; 38.2%

Three or more ; 46.3% ; 23.0%

With reasonable pass protection, at last one Arizona interception and James having a good rushing performance, the Cardinals actually become the solid 58.8 percent favorite, winning by an average score of 26-23.
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Old 01-30-2009, 07:23 AM   #2
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Default Re: ACCUSCORE ANALYSIS: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals

Interesting stuff, mesa, thanks!

Simulation or not, it seems to give the match-ups some perspective.
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Old 01-30-2009, 10:28 AM   #3
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Default Re: ACCUSCORE ANALYSIS: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals

Excellent. I love stats.

Stats. stats. stats...
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Old 01-30-2009, 10:38 AM   #4
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Default Re: ACCUSCORE ANALYSIS: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals

Me likey!

Thanks mesa!

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Old 01-30-2009, 10:47 AM   #5
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Default Re: ACCUSCORE ANALYSIS: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals

The clock is nearing midnight on Cinderella and people know it!
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