- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 10, 2009

ARIZONA (10-7) AT CAROLINA (12-4)

Time: 8:15 p.m.

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

TV/radio: Chs. 5, 45, AM-570

Line: Panthers by 9 1/2

Last meeting: Carolina 27-23 (Oct. 26 in Charlotte)

Key injuries: Arizona - Questionable: WR Anquan Boldin (hamstring), DE Travis LaBoy (ankle).

WHEN ARIZONA HAS THE BALL

Days after Edgerrin James popped off about his lack of work, he got 16 carries in the win against Atlanta, his heaviest workload since Week 5. James averaged 4.6 yards a carry, but the only way the Cardinals reach the franchise’s first title game of any kind since 1948 - when it lost the NFL championship - is to make big plays in the passing game. Wideout Anquan Boldin is a game-time decision, so look for Larry Fitzgerald to be Kurt Warner’s primary target. The Panthers intercepted only 12 passes. The key is defensive end Julius Peppers, who had 14.5 sacks.

Edge: Arizona

WHEN CAROLINA HAS THE BALL

The Panthers will have the opposite game plan, riding running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The duo combined for 2,351 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns as the Panthers finished third in rushing (152.3 yards a game). But the Panthers are capable of making big plays in the air - they rank fifth in yards per completion. Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad are a solid 1-2 punch. Arizona’s best chance is putting the Panthers into passing situations and then forcing Jake Delhomme into mistakes; he had 12 interceptions in the regular season. The Cardinals’ defense produced a touchdown and a safety last week.

Edge: Carolina

KEY MATCHUP

Cardinals CB Antrel Rolle vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith

Despite missing two games because of a suspension, Smith still caught 78 passes for 1,421 yards and six touchdowns. In the teams’ Week 8 game, Smith made the most of his five catches, scoring touchdowns of 18 and 65 yards. Rolle didn’t put up great numbers in coverage - one interception, six passes defensed - but he’s physical (119 tackles) and that could give Smith problems.

PREDICTION: Panthers 24, Cardinals 17

Weather shouldn’t be a factor, so expect the Cardinals to make things interesting with a couple of long completions. But Carolina is undefeated at home this season and is rested and healthy. The Panthers move on to the NFC title game.

- Ryan O’Halloran

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