The Arizona Cardinals have defied the odds once again and are heading to the divisional round of the playoffs to take on the Saints in New Orleans. The Cards weren't favored to win last week, they weren't favored last year in the playoffs, and, as you may imagine, they aren't favored now.
The Cards are the underdogs again, and judging by the way they perform when everyone counts them out, we're sayin' who cares.
The Cardinals have a few things working for them, three of which are the last three games of the Saints' regular season.
Until the last three weeks, the Saints were undefeated. Their offense seemed unstoppable, with Drew Brees a presumptive front-runner for league MVP and a perfect season in sight. That offense cooled off.
The Saints lost their last three games, two of which were at home at the Superdome and could only muster a measly 17 points against Dallas and Tampa Bay. In those losses, however, three of the Saints' best weapons were plagued with injuries -- tight end Jeremy Shockey, wide receiver Lance Moore, and their leading running back Pierre Thomas, all of whom are healthy now.
Does a healthy Saints offence spell disaster for the Cards and their lackluster defense? Not necessarily -- for a few reasons.
First -- as we've been saying all season, even when they were still undefeated -- the Saints are beatable. New Orleans is a good team, there's no getting around that, but they aren't that good. The Saints had a fairly easy schedule, and without some last-minute heroics, nearly lost to two awful teams (the 1-15 St. Louis Rams and the 4-12 Washington Redskins). If the Saints had lost those games, they would have finished the season 11-5 and would probably not be held in the high regard they are today.
Another factor is Kurt Warner -- the Cards have him, and the Saints don't.
Warner is 9-3 in the playoffs, and a recent ESPN analysis stacked him up against the remaining quarterbacks in the NFC playoff picture and his stats -- percentage wise -- far exceed everyone. Even Minnesota's new messiah, Brett Favre.
Warner also seems to shine under pressure, particularly when he's the underdog. Just look at last week against the Packers. Warner threw for 531 yards and five touchdowns.
The Cards offense is as good as it's been all season. The defense -- on the other hand -- may be an issue.
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The Cards defense won the game for them last week, but not by shutting down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense. A fluke fumble recovery in overtime may have won the game, but it wasn't enough to ignore the fact that the defense still gave up 45 points.
The Cards' defense has been streaky all season. They shut down Brett Favre and the Packers one week, and had the San Francisco 49ers mop the floor with them another, so we really have no idea what to expect from them tomorrow. Hopefully Warner and the offense can offset whatever damage the defense may or may not cause. We think they can.
Bill Cowher, former coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers turned CBS football analyst, was one of very few to pick the Cards last week (perhaps the Redbirds proved something to him in last year's Super Bowl against his former team). We hold his opinion in high regard. Unfortunately, Cowher doesn't reveal what he sees in his crystal ball until game time, but our guess is that he's got the Cards defending their NFC championship in either Dallas or Minnesota next week.