Busting Ghosts: Can the Arizona Cardinals Beat Vegas Odds Again Sunday and Make it to the Super Bowl?
Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is Arizona's ace in the hole.
Color Terry Bradshaw red, for he has seen the light, brother.
After ragging on the Cardinals all year, the shiny-domed former Super Bowl MVP announced his conversion on the FOX NFL Sunday postgame show following Arizona's shocking dismantling of the Carolina Panthers last weekend.
"These guys [the Cardinals] have burned me too many times this year. I'll never pick against the Cardinals again. I'm saying this on camera," yelped Bradshaw in typically histrionic fashion, as his usually jaunty broadcast partners Jimmy Johnson, Michael Strahan, Howie Long, and Curt Menefee looked on, ashen-faced and silent.
Others riding the Big Red bandwagon following the Cards' 33-13 upset of the Panthers are former Baltimore Ravens head coach-turned-NFL commentator Brian Billick, Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio, and C. Douglas Baker of bleacherreport.com, all who pick the Cards to take care of business -- and the favored Philadelphia Eagles -- in Sunday's NFC Championship Game in Glendale.
Though we beat the virtual bushes in search of additional Cardinals love, Bradshaw's, Billick's, Cowherd's, and Baker's seem to be the lonely voices in a yawning wilderness. The prevailing wisdom among the experts is that Arizona is a running joke on a two-game lucky streak.
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford: "Even after beating the [Atlanta] Falcons and Panthers, [the Cardinals] are still at least one interchange away from the Respect exit ramp."
Under a headline reading "Let's Book Eagles for Tampa," ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski wrote, "Tim Tebow and the Philippians have a better chance of strip clubbing with Pacman Jones" than the Cardinals have of beating the Eagles.
John Tournour (a.k.a. "J.T. the Brick") of FOX Sports Radio: "If the Cardinals get to the Super Bowl, they should cancel it."
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan, following the Eagles' defeat of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants to get to the NFC title game: "The hardest part of the job is done."
Ouch? Puh-lease. These guys are paid to make such cutesy, empty-calorie proclamations -- as is Bradshaw for being a male drama queen. It's the nature of the sports-gab biz.
If the Cardinals can twist all of the claptrap to their advantage, more power to 'em, but whether they belong at this level, or don't, will be determined on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium (which the aforementioned Wojciechowski calls -- and we dig this one -- the "Jiffy Pop").
The "Jiffy Pop," home to the Cards' first NFC Championship game
Here are some pro-and-con factors to weigh before kickoff:
The steadying influence of head coach Ken Whisenhunt. We think the Whiz is Arizona's ace in the hole, and many Cardinals agree. This from All-Pro safety Adrian Wilson: "In the past, it was always one person saying one thing, another saying something else. The coaching staff was never on the same page. We've never had one voice until now."
Home-field advantage. Counting their Wild Card Weekend victory over Atlanta, the Cards are 7-2 at the U of P this season. And as with last year's Super Bowl, the stadium will be configured to seat 70,000-plus. Most of those fans will be Arizona Cardinals hardcores seeking to exorcise 20 years or more worth of demons.
The revenge/respect factor. Philly humiliated the no-show Cardinals on Thanksgiving night.
Clancy Pendergast. Though the Cards only ranked 19th in total defense during the regular season, their defensive coordinator has a crafty, underrated mind. Panthers fans and most experts laid the Panthers' loss at the feet of Carolina QB Jake Delhomme and his five interceptions. Sure, Delhomme had a bad day, but no QB with Jake's skill and experience is gonna have that bad of a day. Pendergast schemed the bastard.
Kurt Warner. He has big-time playoff experience and leads the NFL's fourth-ranked team in total offense. Plus -- knock on wood -- he's been taking care of the ball of late.
Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz will be the best wide receiver that the Eagles' shutdown corner Asante Samuel has faced in the playoffs.
Anquan Boldin. The Cards have proven they can win without him, but who wants to try? The hamstring-challenged wide receiver swears he'll play.
Sheriff Joe. Dude's a pragmatist, we'll give him that, but on general principles, we'll place Arpaio's pick of Philly to win, 24-14, in the Cardinals' positive column.
Can Larry Fitzgerald outwit Asante Samuel?
Playoff experience. The Dirty Birds have scads of the stuff, and of recent vintage, too. Plus, they're on one of those fated postseason tears à la the Giants of last year.
The 48-20 factor. The Eagles believe they've got Arizona's number after the Thanksgiving-night massacre, in which they held Arizona to 25 yards rushing and picked off Warner three times.
Jim Johnson. The Philly defensive coordinator (a former Cardinals assistant) is one of the tremendous thinkers in pro football, and is more than a match for any NFL offensive coordinator, including Cards OC Todd Haley. Johnson's D ranked third in total defense behind Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
Blitzkrieg warfare. Simply put, the Eagles' defensive line is superior to the Cards' offensive line, and will pressure Warner. Unless Arizona's O-line plays above its talent level, as it has for the previous two games, this factor will send Philly to Tampa.
Asante Samuel. Samuel will be the best cover corner that Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has faced in the playoffs.
Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook. Quarterback McNabb, who's been to four previous NFC Championships, is undergoing a personal renaissance after being benched earlier in the year. Running back Westbrook, when 100 percent, is the single most dangerous offensive weapon in the league.
Can Asante Samuel lock down Fitz?
Vegas says Philly. The Sin City oddsmakers list the Cards as 3.5 underdogs, but Arizona's been costing those cats some serious scrip of late.
Confound the experts and the oddsmakers. We say the Cards will bust some more ghosts, 19-16, and earn a berth in Super Bowl XLIII. And you know what happens then.
Dogs and cats living together!
Kickoff against Philly is 1 p.m. Sunday. See www.azcardinals.com. TV: FOX 10. Radio: KTAR-AM 620.
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