Five to Watch: NFC Championship Game

The Arizona Cardinals are one game away from the Super Bowl. And they get to host the deciding game. What's not be excited about? But the Eagles won't go down without a fight. Jason Harris breaks down which five aspects of Sunday's game will decide whether the Eagles will go down for the count or what could keep the Cardinals away from Super Sunday.

Pass it or Weep

Quarterback Kurt Warner has been a machine since week 17. In his last three games Warner is averaging 19 completions on 31 attempts for 251 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Cardinals second ranked passing attack will have their work cut out for them as the face an Eagles defense that ranks third defending the pass.

Once again all good things start with the offensive line. The Cardinals have only given up one sack in two playoff games. An outstanding job considering the Panthers are ninth in the league in sacks and the Falcons are 11th.

Third in sacks, the Eagles' relentless blitz will test the Cardinals offense for four quarters. If the line can hold up the Cardinals have the personnel to exploit one-on-ones deep or break a quick pass for big yardage. This might be one week to abandon the run.

A Bold Return

After missing last week's game against the Panthers, Anquan Boldin's hamstring is feeling better. Expected to play this week against the Eagles, Boldin is instant offense. His ability to break tackles makes him a touchdown threat on the outside. The Cardinals are 4-1 without Boldin this year but having him in the line up always makes the Cardinals passing attack that much more deadly. Just ask the Falcons who watched Boldin rip a 71 yard touchdown on them after missing the two previous games.

A Tight Situation

Starting tight end Stephen Spach was placed on injured reserve after tearing ligaments in his right knee during the Cardinal's playoff win last week in Carolina. Picked up at mid-season, Spach has been starting for the Cardinals due to a lack of production at the position. Jerame Tuman was signed to fill Spach's spot but it is Ben Patrick and Leonard Pope who will have to step up in the starting role, something they have failed to do all year.

Pope and Patrick had a combined 20 catches for 181 yards in the regular season and just one grab for eight yards in two playoff games. They are more than capable of five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. No better time to sneak up on a team than in the NFC championship game.

Grounding the Eagles

The Cardinals pass defense will have an equally tough time stopping their counter part. The Eagles rank sixth in passing offense. It's no secret both these teams like to throw and they are very good at it. The Cardinals however are the worst team left in the playoffs when it comes to defending the pass.

Ranked 22 against the pass, the Cardinals must find a way to contain the scoring duo of quarterback Donavan McNabb and running back Brain Westbrook. Westbrook is nursing a knee injury but it's the NFC Championship. Seeing as the most of the offense goes through him, don't expect him to take it easy. McNabb's combination of awareness and athletic ability make him a constant threat.

Five interceptions for the Cardinals may be a little high this week but McNabb has tossed three picks in two playoff games this season. The Cardinals defense has stepped up in the playoffs, no reason for them to shut it down now. If they play aggressive like they have been the Eagles should be just another speed bump on the way to the Super Bowl.

The 12th Man

All year the University of Phoenix stadium has been electric. There has been a playoff atmosphere feel since week five when the Buffalo Bills came to town and it has only intensified with each home game. Devoted fans and dedicated players have all of Cardinals Nation excited for this week as well as the future.

The Cardinals have truly found a home in the desert but after defeating the Falcons and Panthers in consecutive weeks, a task deemed nearly impossible, the Cardinals have now found a home in the hearts of broadcasters and sports writers across the country. The added pat on the back should fuel the fire and provide extra confidence for the youthful and inexperienced Cardinals.


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