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2009 Conference Championships Wagering Recap

NFL Championship Weekend – Nobody called this one

The annual NFL betting grand finale called the Super Bowl is now set, and the matchup is as improbable as the wild season that gave us this year’s participants.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are early 6.5-point favorites against the Arizona Cardinals for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay after both teams won their respective conference championship games on Sunday.

Pittsburgh was too much for the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title showdown at Heinz Field, as the Steel Curtain survived a conference headlined at the start of the season by perennial powerhouses New England, Indianapolis, and San Diego.

NFC champion Arizona, on the other hand, is a whole different story. The Cardinals completed their unlikely journey by edging the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday to reach their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

The total for Super Bowl XLIII is currently set at 47.

Steelers overwhelm Flacco, Ravens

Ravens bettors had to be wondering in the back of their minds if seemingly unflappable quarterback Joe Flacco had seen enough in his young career to get Baltimore to the Super Bowl in only his first season. In the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers, they got their answer.

The vaunted Pittsburgh defense picked off Flacco on three occasions, as the Steelers took out the Ravens for the third time this season in their 23-14 victory.

Pittsburgh cashed as 6-point home favorites listed by oddsmakers, as the game slipped past the 35-point total.

The game’s biggest play came in the final five minutes with the Steelers leading 16-14 and the Ravens driving down the field. Safety Troy Polamalu intercepted an errant Flacco pass and returned it 40 yards to the end zone, as the pick six all but ended Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations with 4:34 left on the clock.

Flacco finished 13-of-30 for 141 yards passing for the Ravens, who got 60 yards rushing on 20 attempts with two scores from running back Willis McGahee. McGahee left the game on a stretcher late in the fourth quarter after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Steelers safety Ryan Clark, but was reported to be talking to doctors as he left the field.

That wasn’t the biggest injury news coming out of the hard-hitting affair between the rivals. Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward didn’t return after leaving the field with a knee injury midway through the opening quarter, although he did haul in three balls for 55 yards before exiting.

A grizzled veteran in comparison to Flacco, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger went 16-of-33 for 255 yards with a TD toss to WR Santonio Holmes, who finished with two receptions for 70 yards in the cover.

Cards blow lead, come back late against Eagles Conference Title Round Trends + Pick

Just when it looked like Philadelphia was down and out, Donovan McNabb brought the Eagles back from the brink one more time. Problem is, he left too much time on the clock for Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner to do the same.

Warner’s 8-yard touchdown strike to Tim Hightower with 2:53 remaining was the difference, as the Cinderella Cardinals reached the Super Bowl with a 32-25 victory over the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

Arizona covered easily as 4-point home underdogs, as the game played over the 48.5-point total posted by oddsmakers earlier in the day.

Early in the game it looked as though the Cards weren’t going to have any trouble with the Eagles. Arizona roared to a 24-6 halftime lead largely on the back of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who burned Philly seemingly every time it tried to blitz Warner.

Fitzgerald finished with nine catches for 152 yards with a conference championship-record three TD receptions, while Warner went 21-of-28 for 279 yards with four touchdowns for the Cardinals.

The win represented the third straight underdog payday for Arizona, which was dogged at home to Atlanta before stunning Carolina last week in the divisional round. The Cards nearly failed to seal the deal after the early lead, as McNabb led the Eagles on three unanswered touchdown drives to start the second half.

Philadelphia took a 25-24 lead on DeSean Jackson’s 62-yard TD catch with 10:45 left in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles couldn’t hold on despite racking up 450 yards total offense.

McNabb went 28-of-47 for 375 yards with three touchdowns and an interception for Philadelphia, while banged-up running back Brian Westbrook was held to 45 yards rushing on 12 carries for the Eagles.

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