NFC Playoff Review and Preview

January 16, 2009

Here is a review of last weekend's games and a preview of the surprising NFC Championship matchup this Sunday:

Arizona Cardinals 33 Carolina Panthers 13

The Arizona offense jumped all over Carolina in the first half of their game last weekend. Considering the Cardinals were without Anquan Boldin, it may have occurred to the Panthers to make greater efforts to stop Arizona's only other major weapon, 6 foot-3 wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Instead, the Carolina defense decided to play some sort of an odd zone defense which Fitzgerald and QB Kurt Warner picked up apart with the greatest of ease. Warner threw for a modest 220 yards, but Fitzgerald was the recipient of 166 of those yards.

In the second half, the Cardinals were actually able do something they have had trouble with the last half of the season, running the football. The two Arizona running backs, Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, combined for 133 yards on the ground. Carolina's offense on the other hand was utterly frustrated by a surprisingly resurgent Cardinals defense. As usual, turnovers told a big part of the story as QB Jake Delhomme was intercepted an astonishing five times. The Panthers, the champions of the NFC South, confirmed what our writers have been stating all season: The NFC South's inflated record due to a weak schedule against the pathetic AFC West would soon be exposed.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 New York Giants 11

The Eagles defeated the Giants for the second straight time at the Meadowlands this season largely on the strength of their tough, opportunistic defense. The Eagles offense was hardly potent, and the running game was virtually non-existent with Brian Westbrook, who was clearly not 100%, rushing for just 36 yards on 18 carries. However, the Giants were even more pathetic, scoring just 9 points (three field goals) despite getting into the red zone 5 times.

Eagles Quarerback Donovan McNabb effectively managed the offense just enough to get the job done. McNabb finished with 217 yards and a touchdown, but did throw 2 interceptions. Rookie wideout Desean Jackson continued to impress with 81 yards receiving as well. For the Giants, Brandon Jacobs was relatively effective running the ball with 92 yards on 19 carries. However, QB Eli Manning failed to make any big plays to help the offense reminding us that, despite last year's Super Bowl, he is still far from an elite quarterback.

Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals

There is little question in this writer's mind that the Eagles are the better team. But picking a winner in this game is not that simple. First, who really thinks that these are "the best 2 teams" in the NFC this year? Certainly no one who has seen them play all year long believs this and although both teams have turned it around as of late it is precisely their inconsistent seasons that have to make one pause. Nobody would be surprised if either team comes out Sunday totally flat and gets blown out.

The Eagles are more solid defensively and will have the capacity to bring pressure on Kurt Warner that few of the Cardinals' opponents have been able to do. The Eagles also crushed the Cardinals 48-20 back on Week 13 in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the Cardinals' inconsistent defense may be due for a bad game and McNabb and Westbrook are certainly capable of scoring enough points to get the job done.

So why am I picking the Cardinals? Because being better is not enough when neither team is that great. The Cardinals play much better at home and the 2008-2009 Eagles have not convinced me they will play their 3rd great game in a row on the road. Coming in as favorites is no benefit to Donovan McNabb either, who really is under the greatest amount of pressure to get the job done this year. Unlike many sportwriters who are in love with the "Kurt Warner resurgence" story, I find McNabb's road to this point much more interesting and winning the Super Bowl after years of frustration would assure him of Hall of Fame status.

Alas, wanting to see it happen is not the same as making me believe it is going to happen.

Prediction: Arizona Cardinals 28 Philadelphia Eagles 24

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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