Champ Free Picks

There are just three games left on the NFL schedule as we’ve reached championship weekend, so don’t miss a minute of the action.

Our team of handicappers and writers hand out two free picks for the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

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Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7), 3:00 PM ET

The Philadelphia Eagles are no strangers to playing in the NFC championship game. They're making their fifth appearance in eight seasons, but this trip was highly unexpected.

It's not as surprising as the Arizona Cardinals getting there.

In one of the NFL's most improbable conference title games, the Eagles and the Cardinals look to continue their astonishing postseason runs on Sunday in Glendale, Ariz. as they compete for a spot in the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia (11-6-1) and Arizona (11-7) met on Thanksgiving, but few could have predicted that would be an NFC championship game preview. The teams entered that matchup at Lincoln Financial Field headed in opposite directions.

The Eagles had fallen to 5-5-1 after a 36-7 loss at Baltimore in which five-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb got benched for the first time in his career. The Cardinals came into the game 7-3 and were on the verge of clinching their first division title in 33 years.

Arizona never got in the game, though, as Philadelphia jumped to a 21-0 lead en route to a 48-20 victory. McNabb completed 27 of 39 passes for 260 yards and a season-high four touchdowns, and has been carrying the team ever since.

That victory provided a spark for the Eagles, as they won four of their last five regular season games, outscoring opponents by an average of 23.0 points in those wins.

Philadelphia still needed help in Week 17 to make the playoffs, and it has taken full advantage of its opportunity.

The Eagles trounced Dallas 44-6 in their regular-season finale to clinch the No. 6 seed, then beat Minnesota 26-14 in a wild-card game before defeating the New York Giants 23-11 in last Sunday's divisional game.

Pick: Arizona View Game Matchup | Best Line: +4.5

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4), 6:30 PM ET

The Pittsburgh Steelers had the best defense in the NFL this season en route to the AFC North title and the No. 2 seed in the conference.

If there's any team that can keep up with the Steelers, though, it's the division rival Baltimore Ravens, architects of some of the best defenses in the NFL over the last decade, including another elite unit in 2008.

Points will likely be at a premium when the NFL's top two defenses square off in Sunday night's AFC championship game in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers (13-4) gave up an NFL-low 237.2 yards per game, the fewest allowed by any team since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles held opponents to 221.8. Pittsburgh also led the league in scoring defense, allowing 13.9 points per contest.

As impressive as the Steelers have been, the Ravens (13-5) are one team not likely to be in awe of that success. Baltimore has been putting up similar defensive numbers over the last decade, finishing in the league's top six in opponents' yardage nine times in the last 10 seasons, including five top-two finishes in that stretch.

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's unit didn't disappoint in 2008, ranking second by holding opponents to 261.1 yards per game and third at 15.3 points allowed per contest. Baltimore also led the league with 34 takeaways, and has an 8-1 turnover advantage in its two playoff wins.

This is only the second meeting between the NFL's top defenses in a conference championship game since the merger in 1970. The first was when Dallas beat the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game during the 1978 playoffs before losing to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII.

Pick: PittsburghView Game Matchup | Best Line: -6

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Posted: 1/17/09 9:00PM ET


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