Ken Whisenhunt and Kurt Warner (Getty)
The Cardinals will say all the necessary things this week about how last season's playoff victory over Carolina means nothing this Sunday. But there is no question the Cardinals are confident they can beat the Panthers. They did last season, 33-13, in the divisional round. And they nearly pulled off a victory in Carolina during the regular season, too.
The Panthers must come up with a different way to defend the Cardinals' passing game. Using two defenders on receiver Larry Fitzgerald might help. Fitzgerald seemed to be in single coverage most of the game, and he finished with eight receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown.
The Cardinals were playing without receiver Anquan Boldin, who had a hamstring pull.
But the Cardinals did more than just pass in that game. Kurt Warner had only 220 yards passing, while the running game produced 145 yards on 43 carries.
There is some pressure on the Cardinals, too. They are 1-2 at home and can't afford to lose another game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The matchups seem to favor the Cardinals. The run defense has been solid for most of the season, and that's the Panthers' strength. Last season in the playoffs, the Cardinals were able to control the Panthers' running game and force quarterback Jake Delhomme to make plays.
He couldn't, at least for the Panthers. Delhomme had five passes intercepted and was sacked twice.
What must concern the Panthers is that the Cardinals defense is coming off two consecutive dominant games. That group is playing better than it has in recent years, and the team overall is confident.
"When you play the Cardinals, bring your lunch pail," defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said. "It's not an easy win. It's not where you see us on your schedule and you chalk us up as an easy win. Those days are done. Those are done.
"We're a confident bunch and we know we can play with anybody, we know we can beat anybody if we prepare."
TRENDING: Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby wants a long-term deal equal to what the top linebackers in the league are receiving. But Dansby, working under the franchise tag for the second consecutive year, hasn't proven to the Cardinals that he's worth the $20 million to $25 million in guaranteed money that would come with such a deal. Dansby has been a good player this season, but he hasn't made a game-changing play this season. With speed and good instincts, Dansby should be one of the better inside linebackers in the league.
UNDER THE RADAR: Kicker Neil Rackers is enjoying another solid year making field goals and extra points. What he doesn't get enough credit for, however, is the array of kickoffs he can employ and his coverage ability. Rackers is among the better kickers in the leagues at onside kicks, with a knack of pounding the ball into the ground so it bounces high near the sideline. He also has been successful using a pooch kick this season, a play that contributed to a Cardinals touchdown against Seattle. Rackers wants to be regarded as more than just a kicker, so he often sprints downfield on kickoffs and is on tackles. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has warned Rackers to be cautious but so far the warnings have fallen on deaf ears.
-- WR Anquan Boldin played against the Giants despite barely practicing last week because of a sprained ankle. Boldin played well in the first half, with three catches for 75 yards, but the ankle slowed him in the second.
-- CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a sprained right ankle and missed most of the fourth quarter. He likely will miss some practice time this week. Michael Adams played well in his place.
-- TE Ben Patrick has played only two games since returning from a four-game suspension, but he's already made an impact. Patrick has done a solid job blocking. And while he won't be a prime target in the passing game, he should be effective in red zone situations.
-- RB Beanie Wells has looked good in limited time, and he'll need to continue to prove that he can hang on to the ball to get more snaps. Wells is moving too quickly instead of letting the blockers get in front of him. His anxiousness has contributed to his fumbling problem. He gained 67 yards on 14 carries against the Giants and scored his first NFL touchdown.
-- CB Bryant McFadden has been a solid addition to the secondary. He's played through a sprained ankle, and he's proven to be a physical tackler. He's one reason the team's run defense has improved.