Nobody ever thought two teams with a combined record of 18-13-1 could reach the NFC championship game, but that's exactly what's happened. The Arizona Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles have overcome obstacles, adversity and disrespect to reach this point.
We have two future hall-of-fame quarterbacks, one of the best overall running-backs in the NFL, two of the top wide receivers in the league and two defenses that have turned their seasons around. Both teams are riding hot streaks and picking a winner here is tough, because these teams are so unpredictable.
This may be the last hurrah for quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb with their respective teams. Warner's been thrown to the curb by teams like the Rams and Giants and was almost traded/released by the Cardinals before his magical season.
McNabb was having one of his worst seasons ever before he got benched against the Ravens in Week 12, but has been riding an emotional high ever since and has led the Eagles to a playoff-clinching win against Dallas in Week 17 and two playoff wins over the dangerous Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome and knocked off the defending champs, the Giants, at Giants Stadium.
Each defense has turned people's heads with their play lately. The Cardinals, especially, have proved critics wrong and have forced numerous turnovers, including six against the Panthers' Jake Delhomme, and have put a licking on two of the top running teams in the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.
Their defense will come to play Sunday, with a hyped up crowd and will ride that hype to some big turnovers for the Eagles.
The Eagles defense has also played like one of the top defenses in the league. Led by veterans Brian Dawkins, the most feared safety in the league, and possibly the best corner-back in the league in Asante Samuel, they could make things tough for Warner and company.
Samuel's had some crucial interceptions against quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Eli Manning and could make some big plays on Warner. Dawkins is the most feared safety in the league, because of his toughness and hard hits.
Ed Reed might be the best play-making safety in football, but Dawkins makes players cringe when they are coming his way.
The Cardinals have finally found a running game after being one-dimensional all season. The rejuvenated Edgerrin James and impressive rookie, Tim Hightower, have given balance to the Cardinals offensive attack. It sets things up for Warner, Fitzgerald, and Boldin to make big plays.
If it weren't for James, the Cardinals would not be in this position, because teams would focus on bringing the house on Warner every play. This keeps defenses confused and off-balance and could do the same against Philly.
Brian Westbrook is one of the biggest play-makers in football. He can break a 90-yard run on any given play and even though he's only averaging 1.9 ypc in the playoffs, he still had a huge run against the Vikings in the first-round and could do it on any down. He's a little banged up so he will not be 100% but that hasn't stopped Westbrook before.
In the end, I like the Cardinals, because this is their first NFC Championship game since the merger and the crowd will be pumped up and loud in this one. The Eagles have been playing their hearts out lately, but they may have just had their Super Bowl after knocking off their division rival in the Giants.
They had to play a full four quarters against them, while the Cardinals coasted against Carolina last week. Warner will show signs of his Super Bowl winning days and bring the Cardinals to a close victory.
Prediction: Eagles 21 Cardinals 24
Boom: Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston
Warner won't get rattled by the Eagles blitzes, because their offensive-line has played well all season. Their an underrated unit and give him enough time to make some big connections to Fitzgerald and Breaston.
Expect Anquan Boldin to play and keep the Eagles on their toes, which will open things up for number three wideout Breaston. Breaston has been impressive in his second season and will make some big plays.
Predictions: Warner: 288 passing yds 2 tds 1 int; Fitzgerald: 8 catches 90 yds 1 td; Breaston: 6 catches 60 yds 1 td
I expect the defense to keep playing like they've played and that's creating turn-overs and stopping big plays. They will not make things easy for McNabb and I don't expect Westbrook to have a big game.
He isn't healthy and has been average in the playoffs. The Cardinals have stopped better running teams in the Falcons and Panthers so I expect them to do the same here. They are also an underrated unit that doesn't get much respect, including from me until now.
Prediction: 3 sacks, 2 ints 1 fumble recovery, 21 pa
DeSean Jackson may be the team's top wide receiver that teams focus on, but it's Curtis who makes the big catches when they count. Curtis played a huge role in their victory against the Giants last week and can keep defenses honest. He's a veteran wide receiver that has shown he can make huge plays in the playoffs.
Prediction: 6 catches 80 yds
Bust: Donovan McNabb
McNabb has made the big plays in the fourth quarter when the Eagles have needed him lately, but he hasn't been particularly sharp. The Eagles defense won the game for the Giants last week and he threw two interceptions. McNabb's offensive-line has protected him well enough, but the Cardinals defense will get to him.
Prediction: 240 passing yds 1 td, 1 rushing td, 2 ints 1 fumble
Westbrook has been too feast or famine lately. Sure he had that huge catch and run against Minnesota in the first-round, but didn't do much else. Last week, the Giants bottled him up and he couldn't do anything. Expect the Cards to key on him and bottle him up again.
The Cardinals' run defense has played exceptional lately and won't let Westbrook beat them
Prediction: 30 rushing yds 4 catches 40 yds
This unit has been playing with a lot of fire lately, but they haven't faced an offense like the Cardinals in the playoffs. Forget about that game on Thanksgiving night, because that was a different Cardinals team. Warner won't make the same mistakes like he did that night and the revenge factor will play a big role here.
I think Larry Fitzgerald and company will keep the Eagles defense on the field for much of the game and they will be worn down by the end of the game.
Prediction: 2 sacks 1 int 24 pa
Sleepers: Brent Celek, Correll Buckhalter, Jerheme Urban, Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower
Celek has had back-to-back solid games for the Eagles and continues to play an important role in the Eagles offense. Buckhalter gets in on short-yardage situations and the Eagles will look to mix things up with Westbrook banged up.
Urban hasn't done much in the playoffs, but hasn't had to. He had some solid games in the regular season and could be a nice sleeper. He had four touchdowns in the regular season and could get a goal-line touchdown here.
Like I said before, James and Hightower give the Cards balance on offense and you can bet they'll try and get them involved early and often. James is playing like his Colts playing days and Hightower has had a touchdown in back-to-back games.
Predictions: Celek: 5 catches 60 yds 1 td; Buckhalter 40 rushing yds 2 catches 30 yds; Urban: 4 catches 50 yds; James: 77 rushing yds 2 catches 20 yds; Hightower: 50 rushing yds 1 td; 3 catches 20 yds
This will also be an intriguing and fun game to watch. Sit down and relax Sunday and watch two of the most impressive teams during the playoffs matchup and try and fight their way to the Super Bowl.
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