Arizona Cardinals-New Orleans Saints: Top Five Storylines to Follow
Other than perhaps Dallas-Minnesota, no other NFL divisional playoff game has more intrigue than Arizona-New Orleans.
Both teams come into the Louisiana Superdome with scary good passing offenses and opportunistic defenses.
Quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Drew Brees are playing at the top of their games and each have an array of weapons at their disposal.
Head coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Sean Payton have taken franchises with histories of ineptitude and failures and turned them into winners. Both have led their teams to multiple division championships. Whisenhunt brought the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl last season, while Payton took the Saints to their first conference championship game in 2006.
Can the Cardinals continue to ride their recent hot streak or will the Saints rediscover the magic of their 13-0 start?
Will the Saints' bye week equal rest or rust?
It's been well-chronicled that the New Orleans Saints peaked on Nov. 30 when they dismantled the New England Patriots to move to 11-0.
Since then, they struggled to beat the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons and then lost three straight to close out the season.
The Saints haven't won a game in over a month.
The Saints' struggles coincided with a rash of injuries. The Saints have had as many as 18 players listed on the injured list and have 16 players on the season-ending injured reserve list.
New Orleans now has just four players on their current injured list and all of them are listed as probable.
How will Arizona be affected by the short week?
After a high-flying, emotionally exhausting overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers, the Cardinals had to turn around and prepare for a game six days and 1,500 miles away.
Not only did the Cardinals have to make a quick turnaround, but they had to do so after giving up 416 passing yards to Aaron Rodgers—after the first quarter.
But perhaps Arizona is built to withstand this kind of pressure.
Last year they flew to Carolina and destroyed the Panthers in the divisional round.
This year the Cardinals won more games on the road (six) than at home (four).
However, none of those six wins have come against a team with a winning record.
Will Drew Brees and the Saints regain their offensive fire-power?
The New Orleans Saints scored more than 30 points in nine games this season. They finished the season first in both points and yards per game.
In fact, the Saints had not scored fewer than 24 points during their 13-0 run. Then, they scored no more than 17 points in each of their last three games.
It seems that New Orleans will have all of their weapons available Saturday.
Jeremy Shockey is back after suffering a toe injury in Week 14 against the Atlanta Falcons, and Pierre Thomas returns after missing some time with a rib injury.
This is the biggest game in New Orleans in three years. Drew Brees won't let the offense under-achieve.
WIll Kurt Warner add to his HOF credintials?
Two-time NFL MVP.
Super Bowl MVP.
Owner of the top three passing performances in Super Bowl history.
Second in all-time accuracy and passing yards per game.
If Warner can get his team past the New Orleans Saints, he will be one game away from his fourth Super Bowl.
In 12 career playoff games, Warner has thrown for at least 300 yards in six of them. Arizona is going to need more of the same from Warner if they are going to advance in the playoffs.
Can either kicker be counted on in the clutch?
Neil Rackers missed just one field goal during the regular season but missed what could have been a devastating chip shot at the end of regulation last week against the Packers.
Rackers has made just two-thirds of playoff field goals.
The Saints chose youth over experience when they waived John Carney and proceeded forward with Garrett Hartley.
Hartley, who was signed as a rookie in middle of 2008, missed a 37-yard field goal at the end of regulation against Tampa Bay and has never kicked in the playoffs.
Fans of both teams will surely be holding their breath if this one is decided on a kick.