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Friday, January 15, 2010
Final Word: Cardinals at Saints

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

AFC: Jets-Chargers: Graham | Williamson Colts-Ravens: Kuharsky | Walker
NFC: Cowboys-Vikings: Mosley | Seifert Saints-Cardinals: Yasinskas | Sando

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's playoff game between the Arizona Cardinals (11-6) and New Orleans Saints (13-3):

Neil Rackers
Neil Rackers missed a field goal that would have won the playoff game against the Packers.
1. Confidence on the road. The Cardinals posted a 6-2 road record during the regular season, including 6-1 when Kurt Warner started at quarterback. Warner has won seven of his past eight road starts beginning with a 33-13 victory over the Panthers in the divisional round last season. Arizona won in every continental U.S. time zone this season. Warner completed 69.0 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 100.6 rating in road games this season. His road numbers were better than his home numbers, but two of Warner's three postseason defeats were in the Superdome. He has a 9-3 postseason record, but his Rams teams lost at New Orleans in playoff games after the 2000 and 2001 seasons. The second defeat was against New England in the Super Bowl.

2. Kicking in the clutch. Neil Rackers led the NFL in field-goal percentage during the regular season, making 16 of 17 attempts for 94.1 percent. A groin injury slowed him late in the season, however, and Rackers' confidence might have suffered after he missed a 34-yard attempt that would have beaten the Packers in the wild-card round. Coach Ken Whisenhunt took off some of the pressure by noting that sloppy late-game management had put Rackers in a tough position before that kick, rushing the kicker's usual routine. Still, that's a kick Rackers must make. He has missed clutch kicks in past seasons. If the Cardinals need another game-winner this week, can they count on Rackers?

3. Arizona defense seeks reprieve. The Saints' offensive players and coaches had to like what they saw from the Cardinals' defense in the wild-card round. Arizona seemed helpless against Green Bay. The Packers scored on seven consecutive possessions, collecting touchdowns on five of them in a row. This marked a departure from regular-season form. Arizona allowed 20.3 points per game in 2009, down from 26.6 the year before. Tackling ranked among the most obvious shortcomings against the Packers. This is an important game for the Cardinals on defense. They changed coordinators in the offseason after ranking 28th in points allowed and failing to hold a fourth-quarter lead against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. Winning the Green Bay game last week bailed out the 'D' to a degree, but if the Cardinals suffer another defensive implosion and lose Saturday, it'll be tough to consider 2009 a success on defense.