Playoff Preview – Championship Sunday
Down to the Final Four and much like the NCAA March Madness Tournament, Cinderella has arrived at the dance. The Arizona Cardinals will actually be hosting the NFC Championship game on Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles after pulling off the MAJOR upset of the playoffs over the Carolina Panthers last weekend. Over in the AFC, it looks to be a heavyweight title bout as two AFC North foes duke it out for the right to take the trip to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII. I had another 2-2 weekend last weekend, blowing both games on Saturday, but bouncing back on Sunday. Thinking about changing my name to Even Steven.
Philadelphia at Arizona
In this unlikely matchup, the #4 seed Cardinals host the #6 Eagles, who benefit from the choke jobs by the Bucs (and now-fired coach Gruden) and the Bears (and D-coordinator on Sundays only Lovie Smith) to slide into the last playoff spot. Goes to show, anything can happen if you can get into the playoffs.
Last meeting: The Eagles spoiled the Cardinals’ Thanksgiving with a 48-20 beatdown in Philly. Philly was coming off the humbling loss to the Ravens in which Donovan McNabb was benched and the Eagles’ season appeared to be on life support. Aside from stubbing their toe in Week 16 vs the Redskins, the Eagles have been perfect since. McNabb rebounded with 4 TD against the Cards and been on a run ever since.
Breakdown: Philly comes in with the hot hand, while Arizona rides the momentum of two surprising wins and now a home playoff game. Boldin’s hamstring injury could prove costly as the Cards need all the help they can get. Look for Eagles D-coordinator Jimmy Johnson make Kurt Warner’s life miserable. This is the 5th NFC Championship for Andy Reid’s squad and that experience will prove valuable versus the surprising Cardinals.
Key matchup: Arizona Run Defense vs Brian Westbrook
Prediction: The Cardinals get the home field, but that is where the advantage ends. With McNabb at the top of his game, the Eagles soar to another Super Bowl.
Eagles 31- 21
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Put the women and children to bed; this one’s not for the faint of heart as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens strap ’em up for the third time this season.
Last meeting: The Steelers edged the Ravens 23-20 back in September and barely nipped them again in Week 15 on a controversial call where the leading TD crossed the plane of the end zone by thismuch.
Breakdown: The Ravens haven’t had a BYE since Week 2 and have been road warriors so far throughout the playoffs. They follow the same formula as they had back in 2000, winning with defense and just enough offense from Joe Flacco to get the job done. Pittsburgh’s defense is firing on all cylinders and have the experience in their corner. Big Ben has been sharp and Willie Parker looks fresh after sitting a few weeks with injury. The Ravens come in banged up with Terrell Suggs questionable and Samari Rolle doubtful while the Steelers look relatively healthy.
Key matchup: Baltimore pass defense vs Ben Roethlisberger
Prediction: With such a tight matchup, I’ll take the healthier, more rested team. Pennsylvania Bowl, here we come.