Frozen Tundra and Desert Heat: Conference Championship Preview

Ron Johnson@TLCCaptainSenior Writer IJanuary 12, 2009

Okay. So we don't have Jake Delhomme facing Eli Manning in the NFC Championship. And Kerry Collins' dream of taking another team to the Super Bowl came to an abrupt end from Ray Lewis and a stingy Ravens defense. So what do we have to look forward to this weekend in the NFL Final Four?

Why two huge games with the possibilty of career resurrection in the mix, of course!


AFC Championship Game

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The last rookie quarterback to make as much noise as Joe Flacco is doing this postseason was...Ben Roethlisberger. The last rookie quarterback to carry his team to the Super Bowl was...Ben Roethlisberger. The last quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl win with these kind of credentials was...Ben Roethlisberger.

So it's fitting that in order for Joe Flacco to become the second quarterback to do this feat in the same decade, he and that stingy Ravens defense will have to travel to Pittsburgh to face...Ben Roethlisberger and his dangerous Steelers.

Many people will look towards this as a classic AFC North showdown between the last two teams to win the Super Bowl in that division. This weekend, one of them will relive those glory days once more. The Chargers couldn't survive the frozen tundra known as Snowy Heinz Field, but the Ravens will make it a fight. Lewis and Ed Reed have been the main anchors of that Ravens 'D'.

This explains the shocking turn of events that will lead to a nailbiter. But for Baltimore, this isn't Miami's Wildcat Offense or Tennessee's "Shake and Bake" Duo. This is the same Pittsburgh team that has an offense which has no problem being creative on the fly. With highlight reel receiver Santonio Holmes and the Reincarnation of the Steel Curtain Defense led by Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh has enough caliber players to make something happen against the "Ground This!" Defense of Baltimore.

Last week, I didn't give Flacco enough credit...but when you go into a loud stadium like LP Field and shock the mighty Titans, you deserve more than just a pat on the back.

You deserve a shaving cream pie as well. If Flacco can go into Heinz Field and do it all over again, he will join Big Ben among the best rookie performers in the NFL. And anyone who debates that statement doesn't deserve to watch the game. But in the end, when the music stops...Big Ben gets satisfaction of knowing that he may have to share the spotlight for 60 minutes, but he doesn't have to pass the torch just yet.

Or does he?

Final Score: Ravens 27, Steelers 21


NFC Championship Game

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals

At midseason, the citizens of Philadelphia were not happy with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid. There were so pissed off that they wanted both of them gone when the season was over. The Eagles ended the season with a beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys, and now...

No one is even considering putting these two on the chopping block just yet.

Just a few months after the Phillies won the World Series and almost a year after the Soul won the Arena Bowl, the Eagles will have a chance to win the NFC Championship for the second time this decade and advance to another shot at winning the Super Bowl.

But to do that, they will have to fight both the Desert Heat and the Red Hot Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals were chastised by Jay Mariotti this past week because of their (in his words) "dumb luck to pull out victories." Now, the newest writer of will have to find a way to save face when he goes Around The Horn this afternoon. But the biggest shock is these two things: 1) Carolina was 8-0 at home this season and 2) Arizona was 0-5 on the East Coast.

Both of those numbers changed Saturday as by some unexpected Twist of Fate, Kurt Warner got his groove back. Thanks to Warner, the Cardinals are one win away from going to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. The Cardinals are also hosting their first NFC Championship Game in franchise history. Ken Whisenhunt is looking like a mad genius right now.

So the stage is set. Two quarterbacks who have been here before. For McNabb, it's about proving his worth in the event that he is not an Eagle next season. For Warner, it's his chance to prove that what he's done to this point is more than just a fluke (as Mariotti called it). For two coaches, it's about retribution from those naysayers. For the fans, it's about history in the making.

The Eagles have been riding a wave of stunners for the past month. Ever since the tie, the Eagles have been pretty good. A second win against Eli Mannning and the Notorious N.Y.G. proves that they can handle a little crunch time football.

As for the Cardinals, they stumbled down the stretch, but managed to get a huge come from behind victory in the season finale against Seattle. If Warner can continue this newfound success, he will be one of the few QBs to lead multiple teams to the Super Bowl, and the first to lead two NFC West Teams to the Super Bowl.

Does it get any bigger than this? Does the stakes get any higher? Absolutely...NOT! The winner goes to the Super Bowl to face either Baltimore or Pittsburgh. The loser may have just saved his job and his spot on his respective team. There's no denying that Brian Westbrook and Edgerrin James will do everything in their power to get another Curtain Call.

Two unknown defenses will have to contain Larry Fitzgerald and Desean Jackson. Two well known offenses will have to hold off Antrel Rolle and Asante Samuel. This has all the makings and ingredients for one hell of a shootout in the desert.

But with two Cinderella stories making up the prelude and interlude of this game, two teams beaten and left for dead at midseason, two quarterbacks trying to get back the glory days of yesteryear and two coaches aiming for something more than just a simple contract extension, how do you pick a clear cut winner?

For years, I chastised Kurt Warner for his outspoken wife and her antics off the field. All season, I haven't heard even a peep out of her. If Warner isn't returning to Arizona next season, I'm sure St. Louis would love to have him back since the two we got sucked.

As for McNabb, he is a dying breed. The scrambling quarterbacks are few and far in between these days. And with Tim Tebow possibly going pro after leading the Gators to their second National Championship in three seasons, he and McNabb may be the only ones with the skills to make things happen.

I didn't pick Philadelphia once this year, and they've won despite that. I picked Arizona once, and they won that game as well as the Chocker(pronounced Shocker) in Charlotte last weekend. So let's see what happens when I pull a Corso and make another wild pick. I've already decided that at least one home team wins.

But can Philly pull another stunner when they play a team with nothing left to lose, and playing guys who are fighting for their careers? The dream ends for someone...I choose:

Final Score: Cardinals 31, Eagles 28 OT