Time to bust out my favorite stat (or at least it was my favorite till last year): At least 1 road team had won a conference championship game in all but one season since 1996. The road warriors:
2007: Giants won@ Green Bay 23-20
2006: home teams (Indy and Chicago) both won
2005: Pittsburgh won @ Denver 34-17
2004: New England won @ Pittsburgh 41-27
2003: Carolina won @ Philadelphia 14-3
2002: Tampa Bay won @ Philadelphia 27-10
2001: New England won @ Pittsburgh 24-17
2000: Baltimore won @ Oakland 16-3
1999: Tennessee won @ Jacksonville 33-14
1998: Atlanta won @ Minnesota 30-27
1997: Denver won @ Pittsburgh 24-21
This trend was a change – in the four seasons previous to this run, only 1 team won a road championship game (only four in the seven seasons previous). But it’s been happening long enough that it’s a trend worth noticing.
We charted Pittsburgh’s history in this trend (1 road win, 3 home losses) yesterday. Philadelphia is the only other team with 2 home losses in this stretch. (The Eagles also lost a championship game at St. Louis and beat Atlanta at home.) So the question is whether this year for the Eagles is like ’05 for the Steelers – a year when a contending team wasn’t really expected to make a run, but got it together and won it all.
Meanwhile, Arizona has no NFC championship game history. The Cardinals are 3 team names (go back past Arizona and Phoenix and St. Louis to Chicago) from their only title, in 1949. The one trend to consider here is Arizona’s 2008 home record, which was 6-2 (losses to Giants and Vikings).
So since we’ve outlandishly predicted the Steelers to win, we have to go against 1 of 2 trends — the championship game history, or the Cardinals strong home record. Which trend should we buck?
Here’s what’s swinging my vote. Arizona’s defense, which was up and down a lot of the season, has been a beast so far in the playoffs. The talented players on that unit – S Adrian Wilson, LB Karlos Dansby, DT Darnell Dockett – are all clicking at the same time, and rookie CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie has come on like gangbusters. The D has forced 9 turnovers in 2 games, and if the Cards force three more this week, they’ll win.
Philadelphia has been good but not great so far in the playoffs. Donovan McNabb has played well, but he just doesn’t have enough weapons right now. The receivers are pedestrian, and so the big plays have to come from RBs Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter (who has quietly had some game-changers during the Eagles’ recent run of success). You can count on a couple of big plays from these guys in the game…
I don’t think the Eagles can score enough to keep up with the Cardinals, especially if Arizona snuffs out a drive or two or three by forcing turnovers. We can count on the Cardinals to score some too. So imagine another 100-yard game from Larry Fitzgerald, another playoff pick by DRC, and another historic Cardinals victory.
The outlandish prediction: Arizona 31, Philadelphia 23