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This is it. Four teams will play til the death this Sunday. Four teams will give it all they've got and leave it all out on the field. The winner? Well, all the winner will get to do is travel to Tampa Bay and play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in two weeks, a chance at NFL history. Both the NFC teams, Philadelphia and Arizona are looking for their first-ever Super Bowl championship. Baltimore is looking for their second title since returning to Baltimore in 1996 while the Pittsburgh Steelers are seeking their record-breaking 6th Super Bowl win.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals will kickoff at 3 PM ET in Glendale, Arizona. The Eagles must stop the duo of Warner and Pro Bowl wideout Larry Fitzgerald after the two went for 166 yards and a TD against the Carolina Panthers last week. Eagles safety, Brian Dawkins, is nearing the end of his career and has yet to win a ring. Dawkins, the heart and soul of Philly's D for years, is Donovan McNabb's and the rest of the Eagles' motivation. Arizona's motivation in this game? How about losing season after losing season. They have rarely even managed to make the playoffs and they finally realized they are just one game away from the Super Bowl in Tampa. What more can you ask for??
As for the Ravens/ Steelers game in Pittsburgh (scheduled to kickoff at 6:30 PM ET), many believe the third time's the charm for Baltimore's stingy defense. Pittsburgh has come out on top in both of the two team's previous meetings this season, and that was a Steelers team suffering injury after injury. But, after watching the Steelers 35-24 route of the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, the Steelers look to be as healthy as ever. This game will be better than the Super Bowl itself. The cold, snowy weather will make due for a very physical, run-based game. Both defenses are on the top of their game and are looking to knock off their division-rival. The winner of this game has a very good chance in the Super Bowl. I present you the third of four Playoff Previews (4-4 in eight playoff games, ew that's not good):
- What I, myself think.
- What Madden 09 (for XBOX 360) says.
and, of course...
- What 'Whatifsports.com' says (FYI: WIS just recently released the 2008 rosters).
NFC Conference Championship
Sunday, January 18th, 2009 at 3 PM ET
ME: PHI 24, ARI 17
Donovan McNabb has played tremendously this playoff season and even when Philadelphia's run game has struggled, Philly has been able to win games anyway because of solid defensive play. Asante Samuel and Brian Dawkins have had great games in the defensive secondary and if they can double-team Larry Fitzgerald it will be a much easier win for Philadelphia than expected. Give Brian Westbrook the ball early and often to take pressure off McNabb and continue giving him the ball if/when Philly gets a comfortable lead. Yes, Arizona winning this game will be a great head-liner, but I'm doubting them once again. Prove me wrong, Arizona!
Madden '09: PHI 16, ARI 23
Kurt Warner led his team to victory with a little help from the best WR in the league, Larry Fitzgerald of course. Warner went 23 of 32 for 238 yards and 2 TD's against Brian Dawkins and Asante Samuel. Guess they should've double-teamed him, huh? Fitzgerald caught both TD's for 24 and 32 yards in the second and third quarters. The rest of the scoring came off the once Pro Bowl kicker Neil Rackers who booted three FG's from beyond 43 yards. Donovan McNabb passed for just 195 yards and a TD, Brian Westbrook caught a TD and ran for another. A safety on Kurt Warner in the third capped Philly's scoring as Arizona rolled on to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance. Can you believe it!?!?
WIS: PHI 27, ARI 13
Well, it appears as though WIS knew exactly what Philly had to do to stop Warner and Fitz...double-team them, of course! I've mentioned that in this article several times now and yes, it works occasionally. Arizona couldn't stop Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook. McNabb threw for 321 yards while Westbrook ran for 128 and a TD. Brian Dawkins made 8 tackles and record 1.5 sacks with a forced fumble on Warner. Now, that's how you win ballgames!
Overall: PHI (2-1)
AFC Conference Championship
Sunday, January 18th, 2009 at 6:30 PM ET
ME: It's a toss-up! (but really, Pittsburgh wins 17-14)
Literally, I'm not sure I can pick a winner. Pittsburgh is favored by 6 points, but it will be much closer than that. People are continuing to say that Baltimore has more motivation and "third time's the charm" but that's just bull. Pittsburgh is just as motivated as Baltimore is. The two teams have the hottest defenses in the league right now and both QB's have very similar abilities and are about one inch and 10 pounds size difference. Ben Roethlisberger will be playing in his third career AFC Championship game and this defense seems to have a little more playoff experience on their side but that's about it. Like I said earlier, though, Pittsburgh seems to be healthy for the first time in what, 12 or 13 weeks at least. Baltimore's defense did struggle to stop Tennessee's run in the first half of last game, Pittsburgh will need to mimic what Tennessee's rookie RB Chris Johnson did while actually on the field. I picked a generic score of about 17-14 and flipped a coin. Baltimore won two out of three times. But, I'm going against those odds and saying Pittsburgh wins. Call me bias all you want, I'm not a professional, I do what I want!
Madden '09: BAL 17, PIT 20
Ed Reed picked off Ben Roethlisberger once and sacks him twice, but James Harrison and James Farrior lead Pittsburgh's defense with 2 sacks each (PIT sacked Joe Flacco 6 total times), and Troy Polamalu picked him off twice. Ray Lewis led Baltimore's hard-hitting defense with 13 tackles and a sack as Roethlisberger completed 18 of his 29 passes for 202 yards. Hines Ward was clutch as he caught seven passes for 89 yards and the game-winning 24-yard TD catch with less than a minute to play. Jeff Reed's two 40+ yard FG's were huge, too. Baltimore got off to a 14-0 start and led 14-3 at the half. But, just like most other games this season, Roethlisberger led a second-half comeback. Pittsburgh outscored Baltimore 17-3 in the third and fourth quarters on their way to another Super Bowl appearance.
WIS: BAL 7, PIT 6
Talk about a defensive slugfest! In the end, Baltimore late big-play makes the difference. Rookie QB Joe Flacco throws a 79-yard bomb to TE Todd Heap with just under four minutes remaining. Heap has made a couple big plays in the past couple of games and he had 94 of Flacco's 174 passing yards in the one-point win. Ray Lewis' 10 tackles and Ed Reed and Justin Bannan's interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger make the difference in the game as Roethlisberger goes 11 of 22 for 99 yards and 2 INT's. The game may not have been as close if veteran kicker Matt Stover hadn't missed the 45-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter for Baltimore.
Overall: PIT (2-1)
Super Bowl Match-up:
Battle of PA!
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