One win from the Super Bowl
Published 11:15 pm Saturday, January 17, 2009
Phildelphia (11-6-1) at Arizona (11-7) – 3 p.m.
I’m sure it was out there somewhere on ESPN or NFL Network, but I was happy I didn’t hear any Cardinal players or coaches saying they were angry because they didn’t get any respect before whooping Carolina last weekend.
Sometimes the “no respect” rallying cry is justified, but most of the time it’s overused. In this case, even Cardinal fans didn’t have confidence their team was for real. Arizona’s first-round playoff game barely sold out. Today’s NFC Championship game sold out in six minutes.
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The Cardinals either came out of nowhere with defense and a running game on Saturday, or head coach Ken Whisenhunt pulled off one of the best coaching plans the NFL’s ever seen.
Specifically about the running game and Edgerrin James, here’s how the “Whisenhunt’s a genius” theory goes – Since Arizona had its division practically wrapped up by about week 10, Whisenhunt bagged the running game completely for two reasons. First, it saved James. Second, to have the rest of the league, and any playoff opponent, believe Arizona couldn’t run the ball and wouldn’t even try. Since that’s what the Cardinals did for two full months, that’s what the Panthers saw on tape.
Sure, Tim Hightower for 76 yards and James for 57 yards aren’t bringing memories of Franco Harris and Rocky Blier, but it was enough so Carolina never sniffed a comeback in the second half.
The Eagles waxed the Cardinals, intercepted Kurt Warner three times, and held Arizona (or perhaps the Cardinals held themselves?) to 25 rushing yards on 10 attempts, in a 48-20 win which was really 31-7 Philly late in the third quarter on Nov. 27 in Philadelphia. The last two words there are key. Being 72 degrees and indoors, the Cardinal offense can go full speed this time.
Line – Eagles by 4
My pick – Arizona 28-21
Baltimore (13-5) at
Pittsburgh (13-4) –
“It’s tough to beat a team three times in the same season,” so the cliché’ goes with the NFL and college basketball. Actually, since 1970, teams which are 2-0 versus an opponent, then meet again in the playoffs, are 11-7.
Baltimore vs. Tennessee last weekend certainly was smashmouth football. The Ravens and Steelers is even moreso.
Add in the fact these teams know each other way too well and both rely on league-leading defense to win, often even to score points directly from fumbles or interceptions, and, well, here’s Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott, “If you want to go to the Super Bowl, who else would you rather it be but the Pittsburgh Steelers? It’s an opportunity for one organization to build up the level of hatred for the other organization. Somebody is going to be happy, somebody is going to be hurt. What other team would you rather do it to?”
Pittburgh’s No. 1 in yards and points (13.9) allowed in the NFL. Baltimore’s No. 2 in yards allowed and No. 3 in points allowed (15.3).
Line – Steelers by 6
My pick – Steelers 17-10