Why the Falcons will win: The Falcons have the momentum, winning three of their past four games to get into the playoffs. Michael Turner will put them on his back and carry them down the field. With a big game from Turner, the Falcons, who ranked second in the NFL in rushing led by his 1,699 yards, can set the tone and control the clock, keeping the ball away from Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. Atlanta also has Jerious Norwood, who led the NFL at 5.6 yards per carry. Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan had a sensational season, but they might be wiser to keep the pressure off of him. They also have the better special-teams unit, including their NFL-record 49 yards allowed on punt returns.
Why the Cardinals will win: The Cardinals played in a weak division and staggered to the finish, losing four of their last six and looking bad in doing so. They got to the playoffs in the passing lane and will need Warner, bound for the Pro Bowl after throwing for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns, to hook up often with Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston (all of whom had more than 75 catches and 1,000 yards). There has been talk this week about making more use of running back Edgerrin James. But the Cardinals (who ranked last in the NFL in rushing) will be better off not getting too smart and sticking to what worked by finding holes in an Atlanta defense that ranked in the bottom third of the league overall (24th), against the run (25th) and against the pass (21st).
Matchup to watch: Falcons defensive end John Abraham against the Cardinals offensive line. The Falcons know Warner will drop back to pass, so the question will be how disruptive Abraham, below, who led the team and was third in the NFL with 161/2 sacks, can be.
Quote: "I can't go through this again. I didn't come here to block. I'm not an offensive lineman." — James to ESPN on planning to leave after this season
11-0 Falcons record when they score first; otherwise, they are 0-5.
stephen f. Holder's pick: Falcons 24, Cardinals 23
Marc Topkin, Times staff writer