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Three keys vs. Cardinals

Posted by Tom Wilcox December 18, 2008 05:53 AM

1. Don't give them momentum The Cardinals captured their first division championship since 1975 by clinching the NFC West with a 34-10 win over the Rams on Dec. 7. But after sewing up their first playoff appearance since 1998 and the franchiseís first home playoff game since 1947, Arizona didnít look like the same team against the Vikings, getting beaten up physically in a 35-14 thrashing last Sunday. Arizona appears destined for the No. 4 seed in the NFC with no chance at a bye, so it will be interesting to see how motivated the Cardinals are to go all-out for a win against the Patriots.

2. Secondary will be tested With New Englandís main weakness on defense being its secondary, the Cardinals figure to pose a host of problems ó they have the second-best passing attack in the NFL at 299 yards per contest. They also have the second-best scoring offense at 27.6 points per game behind a pair of stellar wideouts in Larry Fitzgerald (88 catches, 1,200 yards, nine touchdowns) and Anquan Boldin (89 catches, 1,038 yards, 11 touchdowns). Orchestrating the attack is the resurgent Kurt Warner, who has thrown for 4,290 yards and 26 touchdowns. Conversely, the Cardinalsí running game is last in the NFL at just 73.1 yards per game. Edgerrin James has rushed for only 395 yards in limited action, while Tim Hightower has run for just 379 yards but does have 10 touchdowns.

3. Put up points All signs point to Arizona having a difficult time containing New Englandís sixth-ranked offense; the Cardinals have allowed 25.6 points per game (27th in the NFL). They are in the middle of the pack in rush defense (14th), while New England has really emphasized the ground game the past few weeks and has moved up to the seventh-best rushing attack in football at 137.6 yards per game. Karlos Dansby anchors the linebacking corps with 102 tackles. Arizonaís 17th-ranked pass defense is led by fourth-year free safety Antrel Rolle and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (three interceptions).

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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