- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

PHILADELPHIA (11-6-1) AT ARIZONA (11-7)

When: 3 p.m.

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

TV/radio: Chs. 5, 45, ESPN 980

Line: Eagles by 3 1/2

Last meeting: Eagles 48-20 (Nov. 27 in Philadelphia)

Key injuries: Philadelphia — Out: G Shawn Andrews (back). Probable: RB Brian Westbrook (knee), T Jon Runyan (knee), DE Victor Abiamiri (foot), WR Jason Avant (knee), S Brian Dawkins (back), RB Dan Klecko (shoulder). Arizona — Questionable: WR Anquan Boldin (hamstring), DE Travis LaBoy (ankle), TE Ben Patrick (knee), P Ben Graham (groin).

KEY MATCHUP

Eagles CB Asante Samuel vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald

Samuel is one of the great postseason performers in NFL history — his seven interceptions are tied for third and his four interceptions returned for touchdowns rank first. He scored a TD against Minnesota and set up another last week against the Giants. Samuel will only line up against Fitzgerald when the Cardinals star lines up on the right side. Fitzgerald has 14 catches for 267 yards in two playoff games and has the physical edge, but Samuel is an elite cover corner.

THE EDGE

WHEN PHILADELPHIA HAS THE BALL

The Eagles have won consecutive road playoff games despite not getting a ton of production from RB Brian Westbrook — 167 total yards, a sign that his knee is a factor. QB Donovan McNabb has completed 61 percent of his passes in January and eight Eagles have at least two receptions, preventing defenses from centering their game plan on just one or two players. The Cardinals have nine takeaways in the playoffs, but McNabb will be the difference, sliding around the pocket to keep Philadelphia moving.

Edge: Eagles

WHEN ARIZONA HAS THE BALL

The most surprising part of Arizona’s playoff run has been its offensive balance. The league’s worst running game during the regular season has more carries (71) than passes (64) in the postseason, but the Cardinals shouldn’t expect huge games by Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower. The key is QB Kurt Warner and the availability of WR Anquan Boldin. If Boldin is effective, that will make Philadelphia play Fitzgerald more honestly.

Edge: Eagles

PREDICTION: Eagles 35, Cardinals 27

This game is almost a rumor compared with the Baltimore-Pittsburgh street fight, but there are compelling subplots — Warner trying to become the third quarterback to lead two franchises to the Super Bowl, McNabb and veteran teammates battling for their second Super Bowl appearance and the upstart Cardinals making their first NFC title game appearance. Philadelphia’s big-game experience will prevail.

- Ryan O’Halloran

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