Last week: 1-3
Regular season: 132-109-7
Eagles at Cardinals; 3 p.m.; Fox (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman)
It's been interesting trying to gauge the mindset of Eagles fans this week. The season just kind of snuck up on us, didn't it? One minute it was the end of the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era. The next minute, they were one win away from getting to the Super Bowl. I've listened to sportstalk radio, watched TV, read our live chats, and I see what's going on with you Eagles fans. You're trying your hardest not to, but you're checking out Southwest for rates to Tampa. You're secretly wondering if you'd rather see the Steelers or the Ravens in the Super Bowl. You're wondering if you really do believe in curses, and curses being broken.
So to help out, I've come up with a list of reasons why you should not be looking past the Cardinals:
- Don't tell me you've forgotten the ghosts of past NFC championship disappointments already. The Brian Mitchell return. The Duce Staley run. The final game at the Vet. Yeah, everything felt right that year too, didn't it? And don't even get me started on the "Ricky Manning game" the following year against the Panthers.
- The Eagles have turned it over four times in two playoff games, including three Donovan McNabb interceptions.
- The Cardinals had 30 takeaways during the regular season. The only NFC team with more was the Bears. The past two weeks have not been a fluke.
- Kurt Warner. Don't you think he realizes he might never get this chance again? He knows how hard it is just to get to the playoffs, let alone the NFC championship.
- I love how everyone says "just blitz Warner." He had a 103.1 QB rating in the regular season when blitzed. If you send guys, you better get there.
- Larry Fitzgerald. Probably the best receiver in the game. Even if the Eagles have two guys on him, Fitzgerald can go up and get the ball.
- The Cardinals have allowed one sack in two playoff games.
- Brian Westbrook is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry since Week 15.
- The Cardinals are 7-2 at home.
- Did you see Arizona time Matt Ryan's snap count in the wild-card round? Make fun of the fans all you want, but the Cardinals seem to have a pretty good home-field advantage.
- They have three receivers who can hurt you. Just stopping Fitzgerald might not be enough.
- Don't expect to get any breaks in the kicking game like last week. Neil Rackers was 25-for-28 in the regular season, 7-for-8 from 40-yards plus.
Offensively, it's all about taking care of the ball. I don't see a shootout like everyone else. Westbrook is the X-factor. No one knows how healthy he is or how effective he can be. If McNabb can avoid turning it over and connect on a couple big plays, I think it will be enough. I'm not looking past the Cardinals, but I think come Monday, some of you will be making travel plans to Tampa.
The pick: EAGLES (-4)
Ravens at Steelers; 6:30 p.m.; CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
If I'm a Ravens fan, I'm a little worried that Kerry Collins and the Titans drove up and down the field during the first half last week. That being said, Baltimore is here, and Tennessee is not. I've said it before, but Ray Lewis is like Brian Dawkins in that he has the ability to not let any of his teammates let up. Lewis is a free agent after this season, and what I said about Warner above applies to him as well. Lewis knows how rare it is to get this opportunity. As for the Steelers, they looked like the most complete team in the divisional round. Running the ball. Throwing the ball. Defense. Special teams. They did it all in a win over the Chargers. I don't think either offense will be able to sustain long drives. On the flip side, neither quarterback has turned it over or taken a sack so far in the playoffs. Is winning on the road at Pittsburgh too much to ask out of Joe Flacco? Weren't we asking the same thing last week at Tennessee? And to a lesser degree in round one against the Dolphins? Terrell Suggs' status is still uncertain, and in-game injuries could play a major role in what should be the most physical game of the postseason. This feels like a field-goal game to me. The Ravens cover, and I wouldn't be surprised if their run continued.
The pick: RAVENS (+6)
Feel free to make your own picks in the comments section below.
Update: Last word on the Vai Sikahema thing for those of you who care. A post on NBC's Web site where he explains that the reporter from The Arizona Republic took his words out of context.