I would not be shocked if Kurt Warner conjured up even more late-career magic, and the Cards took their first trip to the Super Bowl. Eagles fans have seen their team lose NFC Championship Games at home, as much more imposing favorites than they will be on Sunday. Still, I'm taking the Eagles.
Sorry, Kurt, if you can do this to Jim Johnson, kudos, but I'll have to see it. The Eagles aren't like the Falcons and the Panthers, run-oriented teams without great pass rush pressure, who fell behind and were done. Unless McNabb does a Jake Delhomme, the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl.
Ed BarkowitzDaily News
readers are the best. After I picked the Vikings in the first round and the Giants last week, a number of readers have begged that I take the Cardinals. Sorry, the Eagles' defense is too strong right now.
While I do worry about the Eagles' secondary and its troubles in the past containing big receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald, I just don't see Cards quarterback Kurt Warner holding up against all the pressure Jim Johnson's defense is sure to bring.
And, as awful as it was at the time, Donovan McNabb's phone stunt up in the Meadowlands is proof of how loose the Eagles are.
Fortunately, this is an extremely intelligent Eagles team, whose veteran leadership will not buy into the hype that has Eagles Nation poised for the Invasion of Tampa.
They will be prepared for the desert war the Cardinals will launch at them. The Eagles humiliated Arizona on national TV Thanksgiving night. Carved them up like a turkey. Then the Patriots rubbed their noses in the Foxborough snow in a 47-7 massacre that reinforced their image as a fraud franchise masquerading as an NFL contender. Well, the frauds since have flogged a pair of heavily favored teams to earn this Eagles rematch in what is the longest longshot NFC title game since the NFL went to the current playoff format.
This will be a classic duel between two disparate men - one under center for Arizona, the other staring at the blitz packages arrayed on his play sheet - veteran QB Kurt Warner and venerable defensive coordinator Jim John-son. Warner will kill you if he settles into a passing rhythm, and Larry Fitzgerald is a Terrell Owens clone with better hands, who has been spared the baggage T.O. lugs through life.
That said, the Eagles are superior on the defensive side, where January games are won. Look for the Eagles to take the crowd out of the game early, then hunker down for another spine-rattler that will be decided by the leg of David Akers and the heart of Brian Dawkins. Please make sure your seat belts are securely fastened.
Kurt Warner is hot, but Donovan McNabb is hotter. The Cardinals' defense is playing well, but the Eagles' defense is playing 10 levels above well. It hasn't given up more than 14 points since, well, since the Eagles' 48-20 Thanksgiving conquest of these same Cards It has given up only one touchdown pass since then.
This won't be a rout. The Cardinals aren't as bad as they looked then, and two of Kurt Warner's first five throws won't be interceptions, and the Cardinals will play in front of a supportive crowd, instead of having to fly cross-country in a short week and facing 65,000 hostile Eagles fans.
If the Eagles don't get consistent pressure on Warner, he is capable of picking them apart. He's not Eli Manning, and Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston aren't Amani Toomer, Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon.
But I think the Eagles will be able to get in Warner's face. Jim Johnson's seasonlong eight-man defensive-line rotation has kept his pass-rushing troops fresh, and I think they will be able to throw the Cardinals' potent passing game off kilter enough to enable the Eagles to pull out a closer-than-you-think victory.
One key to the Eagles' resurgence has been a conservative first-half offensive strategy that at least establishes the run as a weapon.
Because the Cardinals feast on turnovers (37 points off turnovers in their first two playoff games), this is of paramount importance in this game, on the road, in a dome.
We will know whether Andy Reid really believes Thanksgiving was an aberration by how he attacks Arizona early. Mimic the strategy against Minnesota and New York, lean on the defense that got them here, and the Eagles should emerge as NFC champions. Abandon the conservative first-half strategy that got them here, try to put too much in the quarterback's hands too soon, and watch out below, mariners of the Schuylkill!
Reid's 1-3 record in these games, including two awful home upsets, is unnerving. But this is the best and healthiest defense with which he has ever entered one of these games, and his quarterback, allowed to manage the game rather than channel it, is at his peak.
It's not so hard to hold Eli Manning and the aged, distinguished Amani Toomer and the promising, anonymous Domenik Hixon to 11 points. That won't happen to Kurt Warner and his trio of actual receivers.
Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston - each a 1,000-yard receiver - present an arsenal the likes of which the Eagles have yet to see. Boldin's coming off a hamstring injury, sure, but unless he aggravates it, he's still better than anything the Birds have had since T.O. flew the coop.
With a rejuvenated, rested and healthy Edgerrin James and rookie TD machine Tim Hightower, Warner continues to rewrite a heartwarming comeback story.
Everybody around here thinks the Eagles will win, and I mean everybody.
If that doesn't scare you, nothing will.
When the teams played on Thanksgiving night, the Cardinals were a passive defense for whatever reason (but maybe a little because cornerback Rod Hood - then hurt, now healthy - couldn't play). But they aren't passive anymore. They are much more aggressive, blitzing much more. Given the ineffectiveness of the Eagles' running game the last 2 weeks, it is hard to be confident that the Eagles will score a bunch of points.
But the Eagles will win the game on the other side of the ball. Their healthy defensive-line rotation will be the difference. They will win because they will wear out Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. Or, rather: They'd better wear him out.
Obviously, the Arizona Cardinals are a better team than the one that the Eagles sliced up on Thanksgiving night, but so are the Birds.
For some reason, neither the Atlanta Falcons nor the Carolina Panthers brought a lot of heat on Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner in their two playoff losses. The Eagles will bring the pressure on the immobile Warner. If they get to him, this game will be over early, as Warner will turn the ball over at least three times in a combination of fumbles and interceptions.
The Cardinals' running game must be respected, but the Eagles' defense has played as well as any over the past 7 weeks.
The Eagles' offense is doing just enough, with quarterback Donovan McNabb managing the game efficiently.
The Eagles will be better in the red zone and will score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.
The matchups on both sides of the ball are good.