2008 NFL Playoffs: Falcons at Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7), 4:30 p.m., NBC

Broadcasting Team: Tom Hammond, Cris Collinsworth, and Tiki Barber (Field Reporter)

Everyone will talk about the fact that the Cardinals are hosting a playoff game for the first time since 1947 when they were the Chicago Cardinals.  But the true storyline of this game are the two offenses (Cardinals scored 426 points and Falcons 325).  The question is “Which defense will come up big to stop a scoring barrage?” especially with 3 of the 4 NFC Pro Bowl receivers in the game.  You have a young team led by a rookie coach (5th seeded Falcons) against a veteran team that won a very weak division, but who have been pretty good at home with a 6-2 record (4th seeded NFC West champion Cardinals).

As everyone knows the Falcons are led by 2008 NFL Rookie of the Year quarterback Matt Ryan (265-434, 3440 yards, 16 TDs, and 11 INTs), but the young superstar has one of the leagues best ground attacks to lean on — the league’s No. 2 rushing attack (152.7 yards per game).  The ground attack is led by running back Michael Turner, the greatest UFA acquisitions ever, who came over from the Chargers and hammered the Falcons into the playoffs with 1,699 rushing yards (2nd in the NFL) plus a club record 17 TDs (all rushing).  Turner is spelled by gamebreaker Jerious Norwood (five career touchdowns of 45 yards or more) and don’t forget about Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White, who just established a franchise record for receiving yards (88 catches for 1,382 yards and 7 TDs).

The Cardinals high-octane dome offense is led by 11-year NFL veteran quarterback Kurt Warner, who came off the bench this year to produce another magical Pro Bowl season.  With the former Super Bowl MVP at the controls, the Cardinals have the NFL’s No. 2 passing offense this year (292.1).  Warner’s favorite targets are fellow Pro Bowl selected receivers Larry Fitzgerald (1,431) and Anquan Boldin (1,038) and improving 2nd year player Steve Breaston (1,006) — only the fifth teammate receiver threesome in history with 1,000 yards apiece.  If the Cardinals are smart, they will not forget that playoff games are won with balance and will include running backs rookie Tim Hightower and veteran Edgerrin James in their game plan too.

LV’s Pick:  In breaking down this game, I always like to look at who is the hotter team (Falcons are 4-1 in their last 5 games, while the Cardinals are 2-3) and who can run the ball better (Falcons).  The Cardinals have been a great story, but have too often looked bad against quality opposition – faced five playoff teams with a record of 1-4 in those games.  The Falcons have won 4 out of the last 5 times these two have met.  Look for the trend to continue as the emerging Falcons to run the ball at the Cardinals shoddy front seven on their way to a 34-27 victory.


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