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NFC: One of These Low Seeds Will Blossom Big-Time


The Eagles' offense goes through Brian Westbrook is profiling all the NFL playoff games, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the NFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon:  

(6) PHILADELPHIA (11-6-1) at (4) ARIZONA (11-7), 3 p.m. ET, FOX


Football snobs might say this year's NFC Championship Game is for the birds.

There are the Cardinals. After playing in just one home playoff game in the previous 75 seasons, the franchise will be hosting its second game this postseason. In addition, Arizona is the first No. 4 seed to host a conference title game since seeds began in 1975.

And then there are the Eagles, poised for some history-making of their own. If Philadelphia comes out of University of Phoenix Stadium with the win, it will become only the second No. 6 seed, joining the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, to fly all the way to a Super Bowl.

Together, the teams have combined for a 22-13-1 record, a .625 winning percentage that is the worst for a championship game matchup of the Super Bowl era.

All that being said, this game still has excitement attached to it. The Cards have won their last three games by an average of 13 points. That includes the 30-24 wild-card win over Atlanta, after which head coach Ken Whisenhunt did a victory lap around the U of P field.

"I thought it might have been the last chance for me to show my appreciation to our fans," Whisenhunt said. "As we all know now, that was incorrect, and I've never been happier to be wrong."

The Eagles are even hotter with six wins in their last seven since their second-half stumble — a home loss to the Giants, the embarrassing tie at Cincinnati, and the 36-7 trouncing at Baltimore, when Andy Reid benched Donovan McNabb at halftime.

Perhaps significantly, that streak began with a 48-20 Thanksgiving night rout of the Cardinals in Philly.

McNabb, who actually has a home in the Phoenix area and calls several Cards his neighbors, has been the QB for all seven of those games in the recent hot streak, averaging five scoring drives and one turnover a game.

In short, one of these teams will don the mantle as the Giants of 2008. As RB Brandon Jacobs said after last Sunday's 23-11 loss to the Eagles, "Philadelphia is us from last year." And we all remember what the G-men did a year ago, in fact at this same stadium.

But the Cards have the same vibe. Said DE Antonio Smith: "I've been an underdog forever. It's about time we finally proved to everybody what we have."

Someone's going to be a Super Bowl Cinderalla after winning this N(ot) F(airly) C(onventional) Championship Game on Sunday afternoon.

Statistical Picture

The big question marks in this game involve the lower bodies of one star offensive player from each team.

Cards WR Anquan Boldin has been inactive three of the last four games and aggravated a hip/hamstring injury in the one game he played in, the wild-card win over the Falcons.

"Oh, I'll be out there Sunday," Boldin told reporters this week. "I don't see any problems. I just see myself resuming my regular role."

And Eagles multithreat back Brian Westbrook sat out Wednesday's practice with a sore left knee and an old ankle sprain.

"I've been battling injuries all year long," Westbrook told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I continue to be positive that I can do the things that I need to do to help this team."

Some say the Cards absolutely need Boldin to team up with Larry Fitzgerald if they hope to beat Philly, whose defense hasn't yielded a passing touchdown in five games.

When healthy, Fitz/Boldin have been impossible to stop, combining with QB Kurt Warner 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.

Arizona first-round-rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie led his team with four interceptions in the regular season. "DRC" has added two more in the postseason and has one pick in each of the last three games.

Back to Westbrook: As his 1,338 yards from scrimmage in the regular season attest, he continues to be a multiple threat despite his dings and dents, and he had a 71-yard TD catch-and-run from Donovan McNabb in the wild-card win at Minnesota. And second-round rookie DeSean Jackson has impressed with his 62 catches for 912 yards and a punt-return TD.

To harass Warner, the Eagles will apply blitz pressure with DE Darren Howard (10 sacks), LB Trent Cole (9) and S Brian Dawkins, which will help Asante Samuel ballhawk — he came down from the Patriots to man the corner and has contributed four interceptions and a TD return in the regular season, plus last week's 44-yard INT-return TD vs. the Vikes and another pick vs. the Giants.

Arizona finished the regular season with NFL 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).

Philadelphia finished with seven top-10 rankings: total offense (9th), pass offense (6th), scoring offense (6th), total defense (3rd), rush defense (4th), pass defense (3rd) and scoring defense (4th).

The Cardinals had a zero turnover differential in the regular season but are plus-7 in their two playoff wins and are plus-7 in their nine home games. The Eagles were are plus-4 in their 18 games (minus-4 in their 10 road games).

Playoff Histories

These franchises twice before in the playoffs — in 1947 and '48, both times for the NFL title. In 1947, coach Jimmy Conzelman's Chicago Cardinals, behind two touchdowns apiece by Charley Trippi and Elmer Angsman, prevailed, 28-21, at Comiskey Park. The next year coach Greasy Neale's Eagles repaid the favor on their turf at Shibe Park, prevailing in heavy snow, 7-0, on a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Steve Van Buren.

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 4-5 and their home playoff record, including the '48 title game, is 2-0.

Philadelphia is 19-17 all-time in the postseason, including NFL title wins in 1948, '49 and '60. The Birds are 6-10 on the road as a playoff team, but they've won their last two this season, at Minnesota and last week over the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants at the Meadowlands.

Jet Fuel

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). But on 10 postseason punts Ben has a 35.3-yard net and six I-20s, four in this stadium in the WC win over Atlanta. Victor Hobson signed on late with the Cards. He backed up Chike Okeafor for one game at SLB but has not played in the playoffs.

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.

For the Eagles. starting FB Dan Klecko is the son of Jets D-line great Joe Klecko. And Otis Smith, the Birds' first-year assistant secondary coach, was the Jets' starting RCB in 1995 and 1997-99.

Low Records, Highest of Hopes

The team that wins this NFC title game will have the worst record for a Super Bowl team since the 1979 season. Here are the teams who will have entered the SB with at least six losses:

 Year Team Record Super Bowl Final
 1979 L.A. Rams 11-7 Steelers 31, Rams 19
 1988 San Francisco 12-6 49ers 20, Bengals 16
 2007 N.Y. Giants 13-6 Giants 17, Patriots 14

Arizona or Philadelphia

         <td align="center">**12-7 or 12-6-1**</td>
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