The Arizona Cardinals, the least experienced of the NFL's final four chasing a Super Bowl berth, should be boosted by the return of wide receiver Anquan Boldin for the NFC title game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
|Anquan Boldin looks ready to soar for the Cardinals [GALLO/GETTY]
Boldin, who along with Larry Fitzgerald are the favourite targets of veteran quarterback Kurt Warner, missed last week's playoff victory over Carolina with a hamstring injury.
"I expect him to be in the game," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said in Arizona on Friday.
"We'll see how he gets involved in the flow of the game. We'll give him as much
as he can handle.
"When you get into a game like this, when the adrenalin is going, a lot of times you can go right into it and play."
NFC West winners Arizona (11-7), hoping to qualify for their first Super Bowl, host the wildcard Eagles (11-6-1), who are playing in their fifth NFC title game in eight years.
Whisenhunt, in his second season at the helm, said being hot at the right time was the key to playoff success.
"We don't have a lot of guys who have been in this game," the coach said about the conference championship.
"But we do have a lot of guys with two playoff wins and that's big," noted Whisenhunt, whose team upset the Atlanta Falcons before ousting the second-seeded Panthers.
McNabb counts down games
While the Cardinals are trying to carve out a new playoff identity, the Eagles aim to put a crowning touch on their run under coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The Eagles, who lost three NFC title games in a row before advancing the next year to the Super Bowl where they lost the 2004 championship to the New England Patriots, are expected to have Brian Westbrook in the backfield despite a swollen knee.
"Having been so close, you still have that taste in your mouth," McNabb told reporters in Philadelphia on Friday about the desire win the Eagles' first Super Bowl.
"The only way to fulfil that taste is to win this game and then the next one."
The AFC title game pits the top two ranked defenses in the National Football League and is the third meeting of the year between the hard-hitting Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) and the visiting Baltimore Ravens (13-5).
The Steelers won their two regular season clashes, winning 13-9 in Baltimore and 23-20 in overtime at home.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team will be playing for the 18th week in a row, said he was not sure about some of his injured players, including outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (shoulder) and cornerback Samari Rolle (thigh).
"We're hopeful," rookie coach Harbaugh told reporters in Baltimore on Friday about his injured players.
"They're working hard to get back. We have a lot of guys with nicks and bruises."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would not be surprised by another tight game against the hard-hitting Ravens, ranked second in defence.
"We both play football in a similar manner," Tomlin said on Friday.
"We are a fundamentalist outfit as are they. We win by attrition. We force our will on our opponent, as do they."