Newyorkjets.com will profile each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the NFC Divisional Round Game on Saturday night:
(4) ARIZONA (10-7) at (2) CAROLINA (12-4), 8:15 p.m., FOX
The Arizona Cardinals are channeling Rodney Dangerfield in the playoffs: "No respect, are you kiddin' me?"
They used that mindset to sustain them as a home underdog in their 30-24 wild-card win over Atlanta. And they'll need it again this week at Carolina, in particular because they've been awful as a two-time-zones road team. In five East Coast games the Cards are 0-5 and have been outscored by an average of 20 points each game.
"That," DT Darnell Dockett told nfl.com, "was last year."
But one of "last year's" EST losses came at Carolina, when the Panthers overcame a 17-3 third-quarter deficit with three TDs, two coming on scoring strikes from Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith, en route to a 27-23 Week 8 triumph.
"We're not done yet, but I like this team," said head coach John Fox, whose Panthers won four of their last five (the only loss on the road in OT vs. the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants) to ice the conference's No. 2 seed. "It's a pretty resilient group. To do what they've done four out of the last five games of the season is not easy."
Carolina's DeAngelo Williams (273 carries, 1,515 yards, NFL-leading 18 rush TDs) and rookie Jonathan Stewart (184-836-10) are the NFL's top 1-2 running combination.
Jake Delhomme rebounded well from a lost 2007 with efficient passing (15 TDs to 12 INTs) and was third among QBs with 45 touchdown drives engineered (behind Drew Brees' 54 and Philip Rivers' 47).
Delhomme's favorite target: Smith, whose 18.2 yards per catch was the best among the 40 NFL receivers with at least 60 catches.
Beware, Warner: DE Julius Peppers was tied for fifth in the league with 14.5 sacks, with four of them strip sacks.
The Cardinals do it through the air. Warner threw for 4,583 yards (second behind Drew Brees' near-league-record 5,069) and 30 TDs (to 14 INTs), to the tune of a 96.4 passer rating, third-highest in the NFL.
Not to diminish either of his two talented targets, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin have been impossible to stop. They combined for 185 receptions for 2,469 yards and 23 touchdowns, a per-game average of 11.6 catches, 154.3 yards and 1.4 TDs. Steve Breaston also had a 1,000-yard season — only the fifth time in NFL history a team has had three four-figure receivers. Fitzgerald had 101 yards and a TD on six catches in the wild-card win over the Falcons.
And don't overlook Edgerrin James, who bounced back from a lackluster RS for 4.6 yards on 16 carries last week.
Arizona first-round-rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the top interceptor in this game with four picks, including a 99-yard TD
Carolina's John Kasay and Arizona's Neil Rackers each missed just three field goals and no PATs in the regular season (although Rackers was wide left from 51 yards vs. Atlanta).
Carolina finished the regular season with top-10 rankings in total offense (10th), rush offense (3rd) and scoring offense (7th).
Arizona finished in with top-five rankings in total offense (4th), passing offense (3rd) and scoring offense (tied for 3rd) and with bottom-10 rankings in rush offense (32nd and last) and scoring defense (28th).
The Cardinals had a zero turnover differential in the regular season (but minus-4 on the road and minus-14 in their five East Coast games). The Panthers were plus-6 (plus-7 at home).
The teams have never met in the playoffs.
Carolina's all-time postseason record is 6-3, including the 32-29 loss to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII and the 30-13 loss to Brett Favre's Packers in the 1996 NFC Championship Game. The Panthers are 2-0 in home PO games — 26-17 over Dallas in the first postseason game in franchise history and 29-10 again over the Cowboys in a 2003 NFC Wild Card Game.
Arizona ended its playoff drought at nine seasons and now turns the league's current longest postseason-less streaks over to Buffalo and Detroit at nine each. The Cardinals' all-time playoff record is 3-5 and they have lost five of six road PO games in franchise history, most recently by 41-21 at Minnesota after the 1998 season.
Arizona P Ben Graham worked his way west after being released by the Jets and Saints. In four RS games for the Cardinals, Graham had a 42.0-yard gross average (43.3 in four games with the Jets) and a 32.0 gross (36.1 with the Jets). In Sunday's wild-card win over Atlanta, Graham had four inside-the-20 punts under the University of Phoenix Stadium roof. Victor Hobson, released by the Jets, Patriots and Bengals, signed on late with the Cards. He backed up Chike Okeafor for one game at SLB but did not play vs. the Falcons.
Arizona HC Ken Whisenhunt (Jets' TEs coach, 2000) has four former Jets players or coaches on his coaching staff: RBs coach Maurice Carthon (1997-2000), strength coach John Lott (1997-2004) and quality control/offense Dedric Ward (Jets WR 1997-2000). Additionally, OL coach Russ Grimm interviewed for the Jets' head-coaching opening Thursday.
The best we can do for Jets-Carolina ties are Vinny Testaverde and Bruce Speight. Testaverde's last NFL stop was to pinch-hit at QB for the injured Delhomme in 2007, and RB Williams is still talking now about how the advice Testaverde gave him a year ago continue to inspire him. Speight, a longtime member of the Panthers' media relations staff, became the Jets' senior director of media relations in 2007.