The Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals will meet in the desert next Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. Let's take an early look at five pressing questions in this matchup, the answers to which will help determine which team will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIII.
1. Can the Cardinals win without a healthy Boldin?
A hamstring injury kept Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin out against Carolina, but the Cardinals didn't miss him. They will against Philadelphia if he can't play. The Eagles' secondary and pass rush is a lot more aggressive than Carolina's, and if Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner doesn't have all his options, things could be tough for Arizona.
Boldin was a game-time decision against the Panthers, so his hamstring might be nearly healed. It will be interesting to see how much he practices this week.
Boldin had five catches in a loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving night, but it didn't mean much because Arizona got blown out from the start. This time, the Cardinals will need him to have a presence against the Eagles.
2. Will the Eagles' previous win over the Cardinals give them an edge?
The Eagles' 48-20 blowout on Thankgiving will mean nothing now. Arizona had just come off a tough home loss to the Giants and had little desire to travel across the country on a short week to play in the cold on Thanksgiving night. If anything has come to light this postseason, it's that little of what took place in the regular season means anything. Plus, this game is being played in Glendale, Ariz., where the Cardinals are 7-2, including the playoff win over Atlanta.
3. Will the Eagles' frequent blitz schemes confound Warner?
Not really. Warner is very adept at reading blitzes and has gotten the ball to receivers in vacated zones with regularity. Some teams have backed off of blitzing because Arizona is so good on blitz reads. The Cardinals tend to be well prepared for what's coming, and by playing Saturday, the coaching staff got a jump on preparing for Philadelphia, which played Sunday. Arizona's offensive line will have to be prepared for a lot of front-four stunts, which tend to provide a gateway for a blitzing safety or linebacker.
4. Can the Cardinals' defensive line continue to dominate up front?
When the Cardinals' defensive front decides to play ball, it can roll with anyone in the NFL. High-energy defensive tackles Bertrand Berry and Darnell Dockett are quick, gap-control specialists. End Antonio Smith is playing lights out in the playoffs. The Eagles don't give up many sacks, but the offensive line will have to bow up to have as much success on the ground against Arizona this time as it had in the regular season.
5. Which team has the better secondary?
On the surface, it would seem like Philadelphia, with cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown and safeties Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell. However, Arizona safeties Antrel Rolle and Adrian Wilson are pile-driving tacklers who can cover, and cornerback Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie matches up well in coverage with any of the Eagles' receivers. Both teams like to throw, so there will be opportunities for the defensive backs to make tons of plays. Whichever team's secondary plays best could determine who moves on to the Super Bowl.