NFC Championship: Who's Headed to Tampa?

For the second consecutive week, the Arizona Cardinals get a shot at redemption as they look to avenge a Thanksgiving night loss against the Philadelphia Eagles. There were many factors working against the Cardinals in this year's earlier matchup but the tides have turned back in Arizona's favor. Brad Wilbricht previews the NFC Championship game with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

A short week, a fourth cross-country trip to the East Coast, virtually clinching the NFC West title, all of the above factors were working against the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year in a 48-20 blowout loss against the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, the Cardinals have the upper hand as they host their second home playoff game in over 60 years at University of Phoenix Stadium.

In the first matchup this season the Eagles dominated Arizona, outgaining them 437-260 in total yardage and holding an astounding 32-12 advantage in first downs. The Cardinals turned the ball over four times and were just 3-of-10 on third down conversions. Furthermore, Philadelphia racked up 185 yards on the ground and held the ball for nearly 40 minutes while Arizona compiled a mere 25 yards rushing.


QB Donovan McNabb
(AP Photo)

Eagles RB Brian Westbrook had a career day, rushing for 110 yards and tied a franchise record with four touchdowns. QB Donovan McNabb also experienced a great deal of success, completing 27-of-39 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie WR DeSean Jackson led the Eagles in receiving after hauling in six receptions for 76 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown grab.

The Cardinals' defense struggled at times this year but has excelled thus far during the postseason. Arizona is allowing only 260 yards per outing and has held two of the league's best rushing attacks to just 68 yards per game. Additionally, the Cardinals have totaled four sacks and forced nine turnovers during that time span.

QB Kurt Warner was unable to find a rhythm in the Week 13 clash, finishing 21-of-39 for 235 yards. Warner managed to connect on three touchdown passes but also tossed three interceptions. WR Larry Fitzgerald was on the receiving end of two of those scores and led the team with five receptions for 65 yards. Philadelphia allowed only 182 yards per game through the air this season and has been especially stout of late, limiting its opponents to just 161 yards per contest in two playoff games.


RB Edgerrin James
(Getty)

While veteran RB Edgerrin James failed to receive a carry in the initial matchup, he'll be utilized in a much more expanded role this weekend. James was benched in favor of rookie RB Tim Hightower midseason but has since reclaimed his starting job. James responded by rushing for 230 yards in his last three games while Hightower reverted back to his role off the bench. The move also benefited Hightower who rushed for 76 yards last week against the Carolina Panthers, his largest output since Week 9.

Injury-riddled WR Anquan Boldin returned to practice this week and stated that he intends to play on Sunday. Boldin caught five passes for 63 yards earlier this year against the Eagles and would help divert attention from Fitzgerald. If Boldin is unable to suit up for the second straight game, backup wide receivers Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban will attempt to pick up the slack.

The Cardinals' offense was unsuccessful in its first go-around in Philadelphia but did manage to keep the Eagles' vicious pass rush in check. Philadelphia ranked third in the NFL with 48 sacks during the regular season but was shut out by the Arizona offensive line. Warner has received an abundance of time in the pocket during the Cardinals' postseason run, a trend that must continue if Arizona hopes to punch its ticket for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa.


Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at brad.wilbricht@gmail.com

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