Entering the 2008 playoffs the Arizona Cardinals were decided underdogs. Nobody picked them to win the Super Bowl, let alone make it there.

Edgerrin James missed out on a ring in Indy, now he leads a revitalized Cardinals running game into the big game.

Edgerrin James missed out on a ring in Indy, but now he leads a revitalized Cardinals running game into the big game.

In many ways, the Cardinals are the mirror image of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. Much like that Colts team, the Cardinals didn’t look like a squad built for a postseason run.

Both teams sputtered heading into the postseason, losing three of their last five regular season games. And both suffered a demoralizing defeat down the stretch – the Colts a 44-17 beating by the Jaguars in which they surrendered 375 rushing yards and the Cardinals a 47-7 dismantling in Foxboro.

Both teams ranked No. 2 in passing offense during the regular season but struggled in the running game and featured subpar defenses.

But come playoff time, things changed for both teams – first and foremost, they found their running game. The Cardinals have increased their rushing yards per game by 37 yards, while the Colts increased theirs by 41 yards that postseason.

During the regular season, the Cardinals and Colts defenses struggled to get off the field – the Cardinals averaged 26:44 in time of possession, the Colts averaged 24:58. The Colts bettered that mark by 5:30 minutes in the postseason and the Cardinals have increased their mark by 3:09 – meaning more plays for Kurt Warner.

Defensively, both teams tightened up in the postseason. The Colts allowed 6.3 fewer points per game and the Cardinals are allowing 5.9 fewer.

It was the first time Arizona or Indianapolis hosted a championship game, and both franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance in their current location.

For all the team’s similarities, there are definite differences.

Although the Cardinals face a team with a dominating defense – as the Colts did – the Cardinals have a much tougher task.

The Colts played a Bears team with minimal postseason experience and an untested quarterback prone to mistakes. The Cardinals are up against a team that recently won a Super Bowl and have an experienced quarterback who’s big-game ready.

To Arizona’s advantage, the Colts lifted the Lombardi Trophy behind a quarterback who didn’t have much postseason success. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have one of the best playoff quarterbacks in recent history. Warner has an 8-2 playoff record, has tossed 23 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and boasts a 97.3 postseason passer rating.

Now it’s time for the Cardinals to finish the deal. They enter the Super Bowl seven-point underdogs, while the Colts were seven-point favorites. Then again, they’ve been underdogs the whole way – so it wouldn’t be wise to count them out. They’ll certainly have NFL fans on their side … everyone loves a Cinderella story.

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