So much for top seeds and home-field advantage.
Those edges that teams fight for over 16 regular-season games mean nothing in these NFC playoffs. The Cardinals and Eagles, who had the worst records among the NFC’s playoff teams, will meet in the conference championship game Sunday in Arizona to determine who plays in the Super Bowl.
The Eagles capped the stunning weekend in the NFC by beating the Giants for the second time in Giants Stadium on Sunday, outplaying and out-coaching their longtime rivals to extend their improbable run. The Cardinals set the table by thrashing the host Panthers on Saturday.
Trends, history and regular-season records really did prove meaningless in these playoffs, at least in the NFC.
The Giants and Panthers valiantly worked to get the first-round bye. That turned out to be a goodbye. Neither team was crisp. Each turned over the ball. Both were penalized more than normal.
Conversely, the Eagles, who appeared late in the season to be out of contention by tying the Bengals 13-13, needed a series of miracles to happen on the regular season’s final Sunday to get into the playoffs. The Buccaneers and Bears had to lose, and they did. Then the Eagles had to beat the Cowboys and whipped them 44-6.
The Cardinals went in the tank after becoming the first team to clinch a playoff berth by virtue of winning the weak NFC West, and they needed a meaningless victory over the Seahawks in the season finale to boost their self-esteem. That win did more than that, though. It helped the Cardinals regain their identity, and now that identity is accompanied by an “us against the world” swagger.
The Eagles and Cardinals have each won two playoff games, and now birds of different feathers will square off in the desert to determine the conference champion. A game for the ages for the Cardinals, a game for another Super Bowl shot for Eagles coach Andy Reid and QB Donovan McNabb (above).
These are two teams that few thought would be where they are, yet they are here because they’ve proven the most resilient against the odds. Odds that favored others, who didn’t want it as much.
– Steve Wyche is reporting from Giants Stadium