In overcoming their latest opponent, the only stat line you need to know to figure out that the Cardinals blew away the Carolina Panthers Saturday was that of quarterback Jake Dehomme. Normally a dependable game manager, the Panthers QB threw five interceptions, lost one fumble, and completed just 17-of-34 passes for 205 yards. Really, what more do you need to know about this game? You simply can't turn the ball over with that frequency and expect to be competitive in the playoffs.
It's no secret the Cardinals love to throw the football, but the reason for their surprising postseason success probably has more to do with the unexpected play of their defense, which has created nine turnovers in two weeks. A big key as well to the improvement has been the surprising play of their run defense, which held Michael Turner, the NFL's second leading rusher, to just 42 yards, and DeAngelo Williams, the league's third-ranked ground gainer, to just 62 yards in consecutive weeks.
They'll be tested again next weekend by another top running back with a bit different style than they faced in the first two rounds in the Philadelphia Eagles Brian Westbrook, because the Eagles managed to end the reign of the defending NFL champion New York Giants on Sunday, 23-11.
The Eagles are another team that has benefited greatly from a revitalized defense. And that defense came up big in the red zone time and time again against the Giants. Philadelphia didn't completely shut down the Giants, but every time New York got into scoring range the Eagles tightened down and kept them out of the end zone. The Giants offense managed just three field goals all day, and quarterback Donovan McNabb made enough plays to put Philadelphia over the top.
The Eagles are scheduled to play the Cardinals in Arizona Sunday at 3:00 eastern time.
If the NFC wins the Super Bowl this year, it will be the first Super Bowl championship for whichever team comes out on top. The Eagles have been there before, losing to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. The Cardinals have never been there at all, although they did win a couple championships way back in the early days of the NFL. Since, then, however, their successes have come few and far between.
Over the next few weeks, each of these teams has a chance to make franchise history.