A lot has changed since the last time these two teams met, and it's going to make for a more interesting game than it seems on paper. First and foremost, both teams were missing their top corners in the Thanksgiving matchup – Asante Samuel and Roderick Hood will play in this one.
Secondly, the health of Brian Westbrook and Jon Runyan is certainly something to monitor. Westbrook scored four touchdowns in the November meeting, but his success in the postseason thus far has been limited at best. Both men are battling pretty nasty knee injuries, but it would be hard to imagine them sitting out now.
Thirdly, how about the fact that the Cardinals have something to play for? When they came to Philadelphia on a short week in November, they had the NFC West all but locked up. This Arizona team is hungry.
FROM THE COACH'S DESK
The major difference between this Eagles-Cardinals game and the last one on Thanksgiving night is obvious. The Cardinals, with much more on the line, are going to be at home.
And though Arizona isn't necessarily known for a voracious fanbase, University of Phoenix Stadium gets loud – really loud – especially if the retractable roof is closed. So, as per usual, coaches have been conducting Eagle practices inside this week at the NovaCare Complex to prepare for the "elements."
"We don't know if the roof is going to be open or closed right now, and we really don't care," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "If they open it, they open it. If they close it, they close it, and we go play."
The practices are similar to the ones the Eagles endured prior to their matchup with Minnesota at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome two weeks ago. Coaches are pumping crowd noise in through the indoor practice facility's speaker system. But there's a catch – to prepare for the Arizona weather, the heat is also getting turned up.
But Mornhinweg doesn't foresee the crowd to be a factor with his veteran team, and he credited the chemistry between quarterback Donovan McNabb and center Jamaal Jackson as one of the key factors in keeping the ship steady.
Mornhinweg expects to do a lot of the same things as his offense has been doing since the playoffs started. He will vary the snap count against a risk-taking pass rush, and McNabb will be put into the shotgun many times.
"(McNabb)'s gotten better and better over the last several years in the shotgun," Mornhinweg said. "The key in the shotgun is your feet and the timing. Sometimes you lose that when you are in the shotgun, that precision and that timing, and so the feet are important when you are in the shotgun."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB Brian WestbrookWhile his 209 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons remain Westbrook's signature game of the season, he did significant damage against the Cardinals on Thanksgiving night. Westbrook had 22 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns rushing to go with his three catches for 22 yards and two more scores to help the Eagles to a 48-20 win. Despite not being 100 percent, Westbrook, who was bottled up for 46 total yards against the Giants in last Sunday's divisional playoff win, said he is looking forward to having a breakout game in the playoffs.
PR DeSean Jackson
Thanks to Jackson, the Eagles finished the regular season fourth in the NFL in punt return yardage. The Eagles had 52 punt returns this season, tops in the league, for 446 yards and a touchdown. The Cardinals' punt team surrendered 381 yards and a touchdown on 29 punts that weren't fair caught during the regular season. Jackson should have an opportunity to not only give the Eagles good field position on a consistent basis, but he may be able to break one for a score. Of course, former Eagle Sean Morey, who now is the Cardinals' special teams' ace, stands between Jackson and the end zone.
WR Larry FitzgeraldWith fellow wide receiver Anquan Boldin out with a bad hamstring, Fitzgerald was a one-man wrecking crew in the Divisional Playoff at Carolina. Fitzgerald torched the Panthers for 166 yards and a touchdown on eight catches. In the Week 13 matchup at Lincoln Financial Field, Fitzgerald was limited to five catches for 65 yards, but two of those catches were for touchdowns. Even if Boldin isn't healthy enough to play, Fitzgerald remains the Cardinals' biggest offensive weapon.
RB Edgerrin James
Once an afterthought on Arizona's roster, James has experienced a rebirth in the postseason. James started seeing his carries diminish after Week 5 and wasn't dusted off again until the final regular season game against Seattle, where he ran for 100 yards on 14 carries. So far in the playoffs, James has recorded 130 yards on 36 carries, including a breakout 16-carry, 73-yard performance in a win over Atlanta in the Wild Card round. If James can get going even a little bit, the Cardinals can use play action to free up their big-time wide outs.
KEEP AN EYE ON ... DE Trent Cole
Arizona is not known for having an outstanding offensive line, but for a 37-year-old quarterback to remain upright it takes a concerted effort not just on Kurt Warner's part but the men blocking for him as well.
Of course the Eagles want to throw out the Thanksgiving matchup against the Cardinals, but Cole might be one of the players who most wants to forget about that game.
Cardinals left tackle Mike Gandy held Cole to just two tackles, a season-low that was matched on two other occasions. Cole did have two quarterback hurries and a pass knockdown, but the Eagles need to rattle Warner if they expect to slow the second-ranked aerial attack in the league this season. Cole currently is in the midst of a three-game sackless streak, the longest of the season. Against two run-heavy offenses in Minnesota and New York, Cole does have 16 tackles in the postseason.
FIRST AND LONG
- The Arizona Cardinals are playing in their first NFC Championship Game.
- Meanwhile, the Eagles are playing in their fifth conference title game in eight years, a feat that has not been accomplished since the San Francisco 49ers did it from 1990-97.
- David Akers has hit his last 18 field goal attempts in the postseason, an NFL-record long streak. For his career, he has hit on 87.5 percent of his field goal attempts.
- The Cardinals are 10-0 this season in games where they break even or have an advantage in the turnover battle.
- In the regular season, the Cardinals averaged 28.9 points per game at home. That was the third-highest average in the league behind New England and San Diego.
- Since 1990, when the playoffs expanded to six teams, the Cardinals are the first No. 4 seed to advance to or host the NFC Championship Game.
- Watch Kurt Warner in the third quarter, in the regular season Warner completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 1,459 yards with 12 touchdowns and 0 interceptions (116.2 QB rating) in the frame following halftime.
- FB Dan Klecko has never lost in the playoffs. His teams are now 7-0 for his career in the postseason.
- Asante Samuel has seven career postseason interceptions, which is tied for fifth in NFL playoff history.