All the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers must do to reach the Super Bowl is repeat triumphs on Sunday over teams they beat in the NFL’s regular season.
But in these topsy-turvy gridiron playoffs, where three of four favorites were dumped in last weekend’s quarter-final round, little has gone as expected.
That’s why the bottom-seed Eagles will visit the fourth-seeded Arizona Cardinals in the National Conference final while the bottom-seed Baltimore Ravens fly to Pittsburgh to meet the Steelers in the American Conference final.
Sunday’s winners book a date to decide the championship in Super Bowl 43 on February 1 at Tampa, Florida.
The Steelers, who boast the NFL’s top-rated defensive unit, defeated the AFC North division-rival Ravens, who have the NFL’s second-best defense, by 23-20 in over-time at home in September and 13-9 at Baltimore last month.
For the Ravens, it’s a matter of ending the mastery Pittsburgh has enjoyed.
The Eagles’ record of 11-6 with one drawn was better than Arizona’s 11-7 season and Philadelphia ripped the Cardinals 48-20 in November, but because Arizona won its division, the Cardinals will host their playoff rematch.
Arizona upset Carolina 33-13 last weekend while the Eagles dethroned the defending champion New York Giants 23-11.
The Eagles, who were routed 36-7 by Baltimore just four days before pounding Arizona, began a run of six triumphs in seven games by downing the Cardinals.
The Cardinals’ only NFL crown came in 1947 when, based in Chicago, they beat Philadelphia 28-21. The club did not win another playoff game until 1998, 38 years after leaving Chicago for St. Louis and 10 years after moving to Arizona.
Philadelphia won NFL titles in 1948 and 1949 and again in 1960 but also has never won the crown in the Super Bowl era, losing in 1981 to Oakland and to New England in 2005 after losing one win shy of a Super Bowl the three prior years.
Pittsburgh seeks a sixth Super Bowl title after back-to-back crowns in 1975 and 1976 as well as 1979 and 1980 plus another in 2006.
The Ravens, only created in 1996, won their only Super Bowl title in 2001.