Let's book Eagles for Tampa

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Anything is possible. You've got your Miracle On Ice, your Lyle Lovett marrying Julia Roberts, and your Three 6 Mafia winning an Oscar.

But the Arizona Cardinals over the Philadelphia Eagles in next Sunday's NFC Championship Game? Put it this way: Tim Tebow and the Philippians have a better chance of strip clubbing with Pacman Jones.

It's not that the Cardinals aren't playoff worthy. Or that it's a fluke Arizona has reached the conference championship. It isn't. You don't beat Atlanta at home and then crush Carolina on the road by accident.

But the Falcons and the Panthers aren't the Eagles. Nobody is.

With their victory Sunday, the Eagles become more than a favorite and a little less than a sure thing when they face Arizona in the Jiffy Pop (aka University of Phoenix Stadium). I'm allowing for the miracle factor, partly to be polite and partly because the Cardinals aren't the same team they were five weeks ago.

The thing is, neither are the Eagles. They just got done grinding the defending world champion Giants -- at Giants Stadium -- into a pulpy mess for the second time in 36 days. And now they play a Cardinals team they beat by 28 in late November.

Yes, the Eagles needed several acts of God to get into the playoffs. But now that they're here, show me a team playing better. I can wait.

"It's the NFL, anything can happen,'' said Eagles defensive end Trent Cole. "The sorriest team in the NFL can beat the best team in the NFL."

What'd you expect him to say? This is the Eagles' fifth conference championship game in the past eight years, so they know how to keep their mouths shut. Same thing goes for the 48-20 win against Arizona a month and a half ago. "Means nothing," Philly cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "The Arizona game means nothing."

Sorry, but it has to mean something. For starters, it means the Eagles have seen the Cardinals in person, and beaten them by four touchdowns. It means defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, whose bad back forced him and his cane into the press box Sunday, is familiar with Arizona's personnel and schemes (Philly forced four Cardinals turnovers). And it means the Eagles play the same team they scored a season-high point total against, while holding the Cardinals to 25 net rushing yards and zero rushing first downs.

"This team has continued to jell,'' said quarterback Donovan McNabb.

McNabb was talking about the Cardinals, who basically clinched the pitiful NFC West division title during two-a-days. And he's right: Arizona has found something resembling a running game, its defense is no longer allergic to tackling, and Larry Fitzgerald can catch a fruit fly with his fingertips. Plus, the Cardinals might get Anquan Boldin back next week (he was inactive for Saturday night's win against Carolina because of an injured hamstring).

But no team has reinvented itself better than the Eagles. They've gone from being a team in disarray to a team nobody wants to see on the other side of the field. They're sort of like the Baltimore Ravens, but with an offense.

So much weirdness this season: McNabb got benched … running back Brian Westbrook got hurt … they tied (surprise, Donovan) the dreadful Cincinnati Bengals … Andy Reid's coaching future was questioned … their playoff chances had more moving parts than a Cirque du Soleil show.

Yet, here they are. They're so loose that McNabb, after running out of bounds on the Giants' sideline, picked up a coaches press box phone behind the New York bench and held it to his ear.

"I didn't say anything,'' said McNabb. "I'm out there having a great time in this run. It's something as a veteran I shouldn't have done. I kind of got caught up in the moment a little bit."

Can you blame him? In mid-November, after the tie at Cincy and the following week's blowout loss at Baltimore, the Eagles were a green mess. Now they're a win away from Super Bowl XLIII.

"They never wavered one bit,'' Reid said. "That's tough to find in this league. These guys haven't wavered, they haven't questioned each other."

The Eagles are about as elegant as dirt. They leave deep-tissue bruises. If it were up to free safety Brian Dawkins, he'd hit you when you stepped off the bus.

Johnson's defense reduced Eli Manning to a human mistake. He threw two interceptions, completed just 15 passes for 169 yards, and couldn't squirt forward enough on a crucial fourth-and-inches early in the fourth quarter.

"I was very surprised," Cole said. "I was waiting for [Brandon Jacobs]."

He got him a series later, when the Giants went for it on fourth-and-2 with 6:40 left. The 264-pound Jacobs gained a yard, nothing more.


"You learn about your team when you have imperfections during the season,'' Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "They just have a lot of courage and they're able to play under stressful situations, must-win situations, no-margin-of-error situations."

Stress? What stress? The hard part is finished: no more NFC East and Giants.

"One more!" yelled Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard as he walked into the visitors locker room after the game.

"Two more, Lito," a reporter said.

"Oh, yeah," said Sheppard.

See, I'm not the only one looking ahead.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.