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Cardinals or Eagles? Times are changing

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

First, a confession: I picked the Philadelphia Eagles to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIII.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb was healthy and sounding confident as ever. Any offense with Brian Westbrook figured to be dangerous. The coaching staff was well established.

And with Asante Samuel on board in the secondary, the defense figured to improve upon its already respectable No. 10 ranking.

Three months into the 2008 season, the Eagles' future -- immediate and long-term -- appears a bit shaky. Philadelphia has maintained its top-10 rankings in total offense and defense, but McNabb's recent struggles have combined with a 5-5-1 record to raise questions about the Eagles' direction.

For the first time in memory, the Arizona Cardinals' future appears as bright or brighter, no matter what happens when the teams meet at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday.

Which was less probable, the NFL willingly featuring the Cardinals to a national audience on Thanksgiving or Arizona fans having reason to feel thankful their team isn't the Eagles?

Three big ones:

1. The quarterback situation.

Kurt Warner is enjoying an MVP-caliber season. He has seven more touchdowns and two fewer interceptions than McNabb. And despite his advancing age -- Warner turned 37 in June -- his future with the Cardinals appears more secure than McNabb's future in Philadelphia.

Eagles coach Andy Reid reinstalled McNabb as the starter after benching him during a 36-7 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12. But it's unclear whether McNabb will return next season.

Warner is without a contract for 2009, but he has played well enough for Arizona to keep him even if it means naming Warner their franchise player. Such a move would probably cost close to $15 million for one season, but Warner has played well enough to merit the investment.

2. The coaching situation.

Reid's credentials in Philadelphia make him among the top coaches in the game, but even the best coaches can run their course in a city after a decade or so.

Mike Ditka lasted 11 seasons in Chicago. Reid's mentor, Mike Holmgren, is winding down after 10 seasons in Seattle. Bill Walsh stepped down after 10 seasons in San Francisco. John Madden left Oakland after coaching the Raiders for 10 seasons. Vince Lombardi lasted nine seasons in Green Bay.

While Reid might be getting to that point in Philadelphia, Ken Whisenhunt is just getting started in Arizona. His 15-12 record after 27 games stands among the best starts in franchise history and three games better than Reid's mark at the same point in his Eagles career.

3. The youth factor.

Even with Warner in the lineup, Arizona's offensive starters were only the 22nd-oldest in the league heading into Week 12. The Eagles' offensive starters were third-oldest.

Cardinals receivers Larry Fitzgerald, 25, and Anquan Boldin, 28, appear ready to dominate for years to come. Steve Breaston's emergence as a third receiver good enough to start has put this group over the top. Breaston has 54 receptions. He turned 25 in August.

The Cardinals haven't shown enough on the road to make them a trustworthy choice against the Eagles in Philadelphia. The short week and cross-country trip work against Warner after the New York Giants hit him 12 times Sunday.

But in comparing rosters, the Cardinals' starters hold their own. Your comments in our most recent Hot Topic item help us discuss the matter.

cyclonem31: The Cardinals lineup would seem to have the edge. There are some glaring spots though where the Eagles are definitely better. First, at CB. With the exception of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who looks like he could be a Pro Bowler in the future, the rest of the Cardinals' DBs are awful.

Mike Sando: Let me interrupt you. Adrian Wilson, awful? Antrel Rolle, awful? I don't think so. Wilson, Rolle and Rodgers-Cromartie are playing well. Opponents have had success exploiting the fourth and fifth defensive backs, but the top three are more than good enough.

cyclonem31, continued: The game against the Giants could have been won if guys like Ware, Green, Hood, and Brown didn't make mistakes. Also, Westbrook is such a talented RB, the Eagles have the edge there. Two spots that would be fun to debate are safety, with Dawkins and Wilson. I think Wilson is a lot better, but that could just be how the Cards choose to use him and how the Eagles choose to use Dawkins. Also, backup QB. Would you rather Leinart or Kolb? That one is tough to think about. Overall though, with Warner, Fitz, Q, Dockett, Wilson, and Dansby, the Cards are more talented.

Mike Sando: OK, now I understand. You weren't including Wilson in the group of "awful" defensive backs. Your credibility remains unchallenged.

bartcatz: On paper, the cardinals have the edge. Both figuratively and literally. But this game is going to be so hard for them. I predict a close loss for them.

Mike Sando: I can vouch for bartcatz. He's a legitimate Cardinals fan who serves some mean grub in the West Preferred Lot at University of Phoenix Stadium. He has also followed this team long enough to remain cautiously optimistic. Like a lot of tortured Cardinals fans, he strikes me as optimistically skeptical, if that makes sense.

ClosetCardsFan151: [Cornerback Rod] Hood didn't play in the Giants game, If he had they might've stood a better chance. I agree with you though Green gets beaten for a big pl
ay regularly and seems almost surprised every time it happens.

Mike Sando: Eric Green indeed has some issues. I have this vision of him writhing on the Meadowlands turf after allowing a long touchdown pass. Medical personnel tended to him on the field. This looked like a serious injury. Green returned to the game and appeared fine. Afterward, he brought up the injury while explaining the Jets' success. It just seemed like bad form. I'll be surprised if he's on the team in 2009.

ClosetCardsFan151, continued: I don't know what the Eagles O-line looks like, but the Card's can't seem to open any running lanes, so I think I'd have to take most of the front 5 from Philly.

Mike Sando: I would take all five Eagles starters on the offensive line, at least on a short-term basis. They have a veteran group.

ClosetCardsFan151, continued: I take Westbrook as the top RB of the two, though I think Hightower could be good, but he needs a line that could make holes for him. I like the defensive front and LB's of the Cards. As for back-up QB I'd take Leinart, He may not be superb right now, but at least he has played full games and can some what manage a game, maybe even win if the it is a close draw in strength everywhere else.

Mike Sando: Leinart over Kevin Kolb? That one is easier to understand after watching Kolb struggle against the Ravens. Over the longer term, though, it's tough to know.

ClosetCardsFan151, continued: I agree outside DRC I'd probably take the Eagles' CBs. I'd also take Philly's special teams for the most part, Rackers is having a pretty good season and Arrington has been fairly impressive on returns this year. However, Dirk Johnson and our coverage teams would not be on my list of selections. I'd also take the Cards passing corps whole, Breaston has more catches and yards than Philly's top receiver does.

Mike Sando: Dirk Johnson? I'm frankly surprised he has stuck around this long. The botched holds, botched throws and inconsistent punts have hurt Arizona this season.

ClosetCardsFan151: Over all I think the Cards have more raw talent it's just a matter of combining it in the right way. From what I see a good number of the problems Arizona has is mental lapses and errors that have been costing them game after game.

Mike Sando: Well, the Cardinals are 7-4, so they must be doing something right. The victories over the Bills and Cowboys seemed more impressive then than now. A victory over the Eagles would lend credibility given the venue, but even Philadelphia is struggling.

sharktank2007: If the Cards can win in Philly, it will get them over a very big hump.

Mike Sando: Agreed. Winning in Philadelphia on a short week would represent progress and another step forward under Whisenhunt.

E4GLESfn: the philly secondary, please, they are better than yours. you guys have a better line-backer squad, and the d-line is evenly matched. o-line eagles have the advantage. on the air, obviously the cards what with the MVP-like Kurt Warner and the best receivers in football. on the run too the cards have the advantage, however their o-line MUST step up and open some lanes.

Mike Sando: If the Cardinals have the edge in the ground game, the Eagles are worse off than I realized.

alexpfister: Another interesting debate would be the slot reciever. Breaston or DeSean Jackson? I think I'd go with Jackson bc Breaston has Q and Fitz drawing all the coverage and Jackson can really make plays (also in the return game). I think the Eagles have advantages at DE and CB. Id say Arrington is the best backup, he just gets positive yards when he has the ball.

Mike Sando: Go with Jackson on talent. Breaston appears a lot more mature and stable. That counts for something.

tlp5002: im an eagles fan. it will be obvious after hearing my post im sure. first of all cardinals right now are a better team, unfortunately... but everyone is saying its mcnabb... i disagree. it is reid on up. lets face it he had a good tenure.. but needs to go the guy is making horrible decisions. he knows the team and what they are capable of but is a bad play caller. he doesnt challenge at the right time, he doesnt pull players at the right time.

we are a very capable team in my opinon. we have a strong secondary and a defense that has week LB but it is ok as long as our offense can give us an early lead. we are not a D that can get us back in the game... but certainly wont lose it for us. mort tries to make the correct calls and get the run game started but it is just too predictable. some say we need to run on 3 and 1...

i would normally agree if we didnt get rid of tony hunt our best short yardage back. however westbrook cant go up the middle ...which leaves buck... and when he goes in on 3rd and 1 the D knows whats up. we need to give mcnabb the ball and keep the end of the game play calling away from andy.

this season is over but mcnabb is not. kolb is no future. we need to rebuild from the top down. our D will be solid for a few more years. minus dawkins. mcnabb has one maybe two more years to contend for SB. yeah he puked but he didnt lose the game. reid did, watch it again if you doubt. eagles choke its obvious but i love em anyway. get rid of reid and make dj president.

Mike Sando: Even Eagles fans are onto the Cardinals. Can it be?

MidnightGreen36: I think the edge has to go to Arizona. The Eagles are playing like absolute garbage having lost the 2 and tied the 3rd in their last 3. Even before that when they were winning, they were not exactly clicking on all cylinders nor was that streak against fabulous opponents. The Atlanta win was solid but they looked bad in the first half and the other 2 wins were San Fran & Seattle, hardly S.B. contenders.

Everyone seems to think Donovan is poised for a rebound game but with his pathetic accuracy and being at home where the fans are gonna be VERY quick to get on him, I just don't see him having a fabulous outing. The Eagles season is essentially over and the Cardinals need this game to prove that they're for real and can win games on the road. The Eagles secondary is probably good enough to slow Fitzgerald and Boldin for a little but it's a stretch to think they will do so all game. If the D-line doesn't get heat on Warner, it could be a blowout. If they can put some pressure on him and get him to force a few throws, maybe they get a pick or two and keep it close. I'm an Eagles fan but I still say Arizona 30, Philly 17.

Mike Sando: This is getting out of hand.

rdmont81: Here is a prediction!!!! Warner will start again next year, the cards will do well again, and the following year, Leinart will come out, and be one of the top 5 qb's in the league in passing yards and TDs. You better believe he is learning everything from Warner and with Whiz as the coach, he is pushing Leinart... Oh, and i have a gut feeling the cards running game will come out this week!!! Blocks will be fixed and because its so cold, the running game will be needed in small portions of the game!! Cards will win, by at least 10.... How bout them apples!

Mike Sando: Time's up.