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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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The Huddle

Philadelphia Eagles at
Arizona Cardinals

Sunday, 3:00 PM EST

Baltimore Ravens at
Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday 6:30 PM EST

Prediction: ARI 20, PHI 23

Update: Anquan Boldin was limited in every practice this week but is expected to start and play. Brian Westbrook was held out of practice for two days and then was limited on Friday but is now listed as probable and will play.

What to think about the worst division winner playing against the worst wild card team. That's the #6 facing the #4 seeded team to determine who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Why even bother playing the regular season when this happens? Seems getting a bye week is hardly worth fighting for when both top seeded teams tanked last week - and tanked badly. The Cardinals bring their surprising defense and rushing game to this party while the Eagles hope to make it two in a row over the Cards this year. Back in week 13, the Eagles won 48-20 when the Cards showed up in Philly and the Eagles went on to win six of the next seven games.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1))
Homefield: Lincoln Financial Field
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 STL 38-3 -7 44
2 @DAL 37-41 +7 47
3 PIT 15-6 -3 45
4 @CHI 20-24 -3 45
5 WAS 17-23 -5 43
6 @SF 40-26 -5 43
7 BYE - - -
8 ATL 27-14 -8.5 46.5
9 @SEA 26-7 -6.5 43
10 NYG 31-36 -3 43.5
11 @CIN 13-13 -9 42.5
12 @BAL 7-36 +1 38.5
13 ARZ 48-20 -3 47
14 @NYG 20-14 +8 44
15 CLE 30-10 -14 39
16 @WAS 3-10 -5 38.5
17 DAL 44-6 -2.5 40.5
18 @MIN 26-14 -3 40.5
19 @NYG 23-11 +4 40
20 @ARI   -3.5 47
PHI Rush Catch Pass
QB Donovan McNabb 10   240,2
RB Brian Westbrook 50 30  
TE L.J. Smith   30  
WR DeSean Jackson   60,1  
WR Kevin Curtis   60,1  
WR Jason Avant   40  
PK David Akers 3 FG 2 XP  

Pregame Notes: The most impressive part of the ascent of the Eagles hasn't been that Donovan McNabb was benched in week 12 and then came back to play far better starting with these same Cardinals in week 13. It is that the defense has been nothing less than outstanding and since dismantling the Cardinals 48-20, none of the next six opponents have scored more than 14 points including Dallas looking to reach the playoffs or the Vikes and Giants hosting playoff games. This has truly been a different team since week 12.

Donovan McNabb had his best game of the year when he passed for 260 yards and four touchdowns against the Cardinals in week 12. Since that time he has thrown for at least one or two scores in all but one game and has rushed in a score in two of the last three. His yardage has remained in the lower 200's other than in Minnesota (300) but he is playing as well as he ever has. McNabb will be central to the win or loss here.

Like McNabb, Brian Westbrook had his best game of 2008 when the Cardinals visited in week 12 and he ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns and added 20 yards on three catches with two more scores. Four touchdowns last time - the Cardinals will be looking for him. But Westbrook has been on streak of low production for the last five weeks with never more than 53 rushing yards and marginal receiving yardage. The lack of much rushing with both Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter is one reason why McNabb has rushed in two scores in the last three games.

The passing game remains the same "spread it around" scheme that means no Eagles wideout has that much fantasy value though in combination as a group they produce decent numbers that also involves the tight ends like L.J. Smith and Brent Celek who has a score last week. Jason Avant has turned in around 45 yards in both of the playoff games this year and Kevin Curtis has almost the exact same numbers as well. DeSean Jackson has been the primary receiver - such as it exists in Philly - and had an uncharacteristically good game in New York on Sunday when he had four catches for 81 yards - his highest yardage since week six.

Jackson had a good game in week 13 against the Cards when he caught a career best six passes for 76 yards and one touchdown - the last he has scored this year. Jason Avant also scored though he only had 25 yards on four receptions that week.

The Cardinals allowed four passing scores to McNabb in week 13 and has always given up at least one passing score each week - if not up to four scores per game which they did three times this year. The Cardinals have been top notch on defense lately to be sure but more against the run. Playing in Arizona means that the Cardinals will be better than on the road and as of last week, that no longer is a problem.

The Cardinals defense has been outstanding since the playoffs began but the Eagles defense has been even better for the last six weeks. This game will be defined by the Philly defense and the passing of McNabb. He's not likely to throw for four scores this time but McNabb should manage to throw two touchdowns against one of the weakest teams against wideouts. Unlike Carolina or Atlanta who only had one wideout to really worry about, the Eagles have no wideouts to concern them individually and yet a group that can combine to get the job done.

Gaining Fantasy Points PHI 8 13 9 20 3 1
Preventing Fantasy Points    ARI 32 23 31 13 15 21

Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
Homefield: University of Phoenix Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 @SF 23-13 -2.5 41.5
2 MIA 31-10 -7 38.5
3 @WAS 17-24 +3 42
4 @NYJ 35-56 +3 45
5 BUF 41-17 -1 45
6 DAL 30-26 +5 50
7 BYE - - -
8 @CAR 23-27 +4.5 43.5
9 @STL 34-13 -3 49
10 SF 29-24 -9.5 47.5
11 @SEA 26-20 -3.5 47.5
12 NYG 29-37 +3 49
13 @PHI 20-48 +3 47
14 STL 34-10 -13.5 49
15 MIN 14-35 -3 48.5
16 @NE 7-47 +7.5 45.5
17 SEA 34-21 -7 46
18 ATL 30-24 -1.5 51.5
19 @CAR 33-13 +10 48.5
20 PHI   +3.5 47
ARI Rush Catch Pass
QB Kurt Warner     260,2
RB Edgerrin James 50 10  
RB Tim Hightower 20 20,1  
WR Anquan Boldin   50  
WR Larry Fitzgerald   100,1  
WR Steve Breaston   60  
PK Neil Rackers 1 FG 2 XP  

Pregame Notes: The Cardinals are hosting the NFC Championship game. Is there anything that you thought that you would never write? The Cardinals were able to take down the visiting Falcons thanks to a home venue and a surprising ability to shut down Michael Turner but last week in Carolina was a game of all-time legend for the Cardinal fans. Once again the defense shut down a top running back by getting a big early lead and forcing the Panthers to unsuccessfully throw. The five interceptions by Jake Delhomme ensured that the game was a complete rout. And that the Cards would be hosting a championship game for the first time since 1947.

It'll be hard for the Cardinals to not bring the aging Kurt Warner back next year and maybe impossible to pass him by if they win this week. Warner has been outstanding this year and throw for at least two scores in each of the playoff games. Back in week 13 in Philly, he threw for 235 yards and three scores but had three costly interceptions. By halftime, Warner only passed for 90 yards with one score and two interceptions. The Eagles defense never recorded a sack but never really needed to in that game.

Warner has been playing no worse in the playoffs than at any time this year though he does remain good for one interception per game. He passed for 220 yards and two scores last week with Anquan Boldin on the sideline and Larry Fitzgerald apparently unable to be covered by the Panthers secondary.

One of the big surprises that the Cardinals have foisted on their playoff opponents has been a rushing game that looks better now than it did during the regular season. Against the visiting Falcons, Edgerrin James ran for 73 yards on 16 carries while Tim Hightower ran in one score on six carries for 23 yards. Last week in Carolina, James was held to 57 yards on 20 runs but scored once and Hightower took over for the pounding with 76 yards on 17 carries though almost all of that came in the second half. James is back to being the primary runner here, at least for one more game.

Against the Eagles, James never played and Hightower only gained seven yards on seven carries. That won't happen again but it is indicative of how well the Eagles can handle the Cardinals rushing game.

Back in week 13, even facing a big deficit on the scoreboard, the Cardinals did not get much out of the receivers. Anquan Boldin had ten passes but only caught five for 63 yards. Larry Fitzgerald turned eight throws into five receptions for 65 yards and two touchdowns while Steve Breaston had 45 yards on six catches with a score as well.

What to expect here? The Cardinals clearly proved last week that past results are no guarantee of future performance. What cannot be undervalued here are these factors:

- Anquan Boldin is not 100% healthy.

- The Eagles already beat the Cardinals in almost every way possible but it was back in Philly.

- The Eagles defense has not allowed anyone to score more than 14 points against them since allowing the Cardinals 20 points in week 13 only because most of those points were trash time.

The Eagles have been much softer against the run than the pass and that should be an issue this week. James will be the starting running back and do far better than Hightower back in Philly but James struggled last week in Carolina. Look for just moderate yardage.

Warner is key here and the Eagles handled him very well back in Philly. The Eagles have not allowed a wide receiver to catch a touchdown since the week 13 matchup with the Cardinals that was largely trash time yards and scores. Look for two scores that favor at least Fitzgerald as the near constant and another that could end up anywhere. If Warner can throw three scores, he can win this game.

Gaining Fantasy Points ARI 2 28 1 32 16 11
Preventing Fantasy Points    PHI 3 3 6 25 8 10


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