Andrew Perna. 14th January, 2009 - 3:10 pm
This much we already know is true, some type of bird will represent the NFC at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa next month.
The Eagles will travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals in the NFC title game this Sunday, with a trip to Florida hanging in the balance. Not long after Philadelphia upset the defending-champion Giants on Sunday, pundits were already predicting that the Eagles would soar past the Cardinals; however, they shouldn't count their chickens before they hatch.
Jeffri Chadiha, Gene Wojciechowski, and Matt Mosley have all written pieces that are prominently featured on ESPN.com, predicting a no-doubter. They like the Eagles in a landslide.
This is a dangerous place for Philadelphia to be, especially after reveling in the underdog role for the past two months.
Even quarterback Donovan McNabb, who appeared to be having the time of his life in Sunday's emphatic win over the Giants, doesn't believe anybody should be underestimating the Cardinals.
"Make no mistake, the Cardinals are a solid football team in all three phases," McNabb wrote in his blog on YardBarker.com.
"I know our supporters want to discount their abilities based on the Thanksgiving Day game, but they shouldn't -? the Cardinals had to travel here on a short week. I believe we have what it takes to match up with them, but we will have to play our best football. If we learned anything from our previous playoff runs, it's that we cannot let up and must play at a higher level each and every week."
A lot has been said about the Nov. 27 meeting between these two teams at Lincoln Financial Field, and while I don't think the end result has much barring, the Eagles were coming in with enough turmoil (that infamous benching four days prior) to value their performance.
Philadelphia thoroughly dominated Arizona with both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin on the field. McNabb threw four touchdowns passes; Brian Westbrook tied a team-record with four trips to the end zone (two rushing, two receiving); and the defense had four takeaways.
Now all they need to do is play well for four quarters, and they'll be Super Bowl bound.
Jim Johnson's defense intercepted Kurt Warner three times as they pressured him all night long despite failing to record a sack. The Cardinals managed just 25 yards on the ground; however, Edgerrin James wasn't part of the equation at that point in the season.
While Boldin might not be in the same shape he was at the end of November, James adds a whole new dimension to Arizona's running game.
On the surface, James appears to be the type of running back that Philadelphia would easily be able to contain, but that's far from the truth. He's not as fast as he once was but thrives on gaining yards up-the-middle and after contact. The Eagles have a strong defensive line and often win the battle in the trenches.
They frequently got past the line of scrimmage early against the Giants and Vikings, allowing them to keep Adrian Peterson, Brandon Jacobs, and Derrick Ward from beating them, but James might be able to do damage after the initial hit(s).
Rookie Tim Hightower provides a nice change-of-pace for coach Ken Whisenhunt, who could cause fits for Johnson's defense if all three "phases" of Arizona's offense are clicking.
This game favors the Eagles if the score stays in control, but I'm leaning towards the Cardinals if it becomes a shootout.
Arizona's defense has been playing tremendously this postseason, but Philadelphia's unit has been stronger for much longer. The Cardinals, dare I say, have also had a few breaks fall their way defensively.
If the Cardinals are going to advance to the Super Bowl, they'll have to do it offensively. The Eagles, if McNabb and the offense are clicking nicely, can win with their play on both sides of the line.
Neither team should be where they are -- and that angle has been beaten to death -- but they are here now and one step away from flying South(east) for the winter.
Andrew Perna is Deputy Editor of RealGM.com and co-host of RealGM's Radio Show. Please feel free to contact him with comments or questions via e-mail: Andrew.Perna@RealGM.com