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FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2009, file photo, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner throws a pass during against the Pittsburgh Steelers during NFL football's Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla. Pittsburgh won 27-23. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)
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PFF: 2008 Cardinals rated worst team of last 18 Super Bowl participants

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2009, file photo, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner throws a pass during against the Pittsburgh Steelers during NFL football's Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla. Pittsburgh won 27-23. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)

Comparing NFL teams across eras treads into murky water. Even comparing one team to its prior season gets complicated, and comparisons can only be done through statistics.

ESPN is giving it a shot to preview the Super Bowl. Using Pro Football Focus’ grading scale, it ranked the last 18 Super Bowl participants, including the 2008 Arizona Cardinals.

That team ranked dead last on the list with a mark of plus-19.3. For context, the No. 17-ranked team, the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers, finished with a plus-125.4 PFF rating.

The Cardinals of 2008 were clearly not a great team, but they got hot at the right time and came within a whisker of doing the unthinkable and winning it all. Twenty-three teams had a higher PFF grade overall that season, and the defense in particular was a mess. In the final six games of the season, including the Super Bowl, Larry Fitzgerald gained 777 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

Cardinals fans and the Cardinals themselves won’t put much weight in the rating system, but it’s true the team barely snuck into the postseason before getting hot.

Arizona finished the regular season 9-7 and survived three postseason games as a Wild Card team. And the Super Bowl matchup against the Steelers, who were ranked 10th in ESPN’s exercise with a plus-225 PFF rating, was pretty competitive late thanks to the Cardinals turning a 20-7 deficit into a 23-20 lead.

Of course, Santonio Holmes’ tip-toeing in the end zone would seal the Cardinals’ disappointment in a 27-23 loss.

This year, the Panthers rank sixth while the Broncos rate ninth-best among the last 18 Super Bowl participants.

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