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For Redskins, NFL's Final Four Has a Familiar Feel

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The NFL's conference championship games are on Sunday, Jan. 18, and Washington is certainly familiar with all four teams.

Last season, the Redskins competed against the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles (twice), Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers and posted a 3-2 record.

The Eagles and Cardinals are an unlikely pair in the NFC Championship game, in that they both finished the regular season with just nine wins.

Their presence signifies a recent trend in the NFL: teams just have to stay in the mix in the first three months of the season and then get on a roll in late December heading into the postseason.

The Eagles have won six of their last seven games while the Cardinals have won three straight to reach the conference finals.

The Eagles' only loss? A 10-3 decision to the Redskins on Dec. 21 at FedExField.

Certainly the Cardinals will take a look at that game for a key on beating the Eagles.

The Redskins played ball control on offense, holding on to the ball for seven more minutes than the Eagles.

On defense, Jason Taylor was able to get pressure on quarterback Donovan McNabb, sacking him twice. On Taylor's second sack, he swiped the ball loose from McNabb's arms and the fumble was recovered by London Fletcher.

Four plays later, Clinton Portis bulldozed into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run--the deciding points in the game.

The Redskins' defense fended off a late rally, as LaRon Landry and Fred Smoot stopped wide receiver Reggie Brown a yard short of the end zone on the last play of the game.

Earlier in the season, the Redskins played Arizona at FedExField and held on for a 24-17 win on Sept. 21.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauled in a 62-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 17-17 in the third quarter.

In the end, the Cardinals were done in by turnovers. Quarterback Kurt Warner threw another deep pass, but Carlos Rogers made a diving interception and returned 42 yards.

One play later, Jason Campbell connected with Santana Moss on a 17-yard touchdown pass for the game-winning points.

Two weeks later, the Redskins defeated the Eagles 23-17 at Lincoln Financial Field. Clinton Portis rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown and the offense dominated time of possession by a 34:45-25:15 clip.

What to glean from these three games in making a prediction for the NFC Championship game?

The Cardinals needs to control the clock on offense, keeping McNabb and company off the field and out of rhythm.

The Cardinals have the NFL's 32nd-ranked ground game, so winning time of possession has not always been their forte.

The Eagles' blitz-happy defense should be able to force the immobile Warner into a turnover, just as the Redskins did earlier in the season.

That should be the difference in a game the Eagles win by a 24-17 score in the desert.

In the AFC, the Redskins lost to the Steelers 23-6 in the first week of November and the Baltimore Ravens 24-10 in the first week of December.

Against Pittsburgh, the Redskins jumped out to an early 6-0 lead at FedExField. Then the Steelers showed why they have the NFL's top-ranked defense.

Pittsburgh sacked Jason Campbell seven times and forced him into two interceptions. The Redskins posted just 221 total yards, their second-lowest total of the season.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggled against the Redskins, completing 5-of-17 passes for 50 yards. He was sacked three times and left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury.

Backup Byron Leftwich came in and finished off the game, completing 7-of-10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.

A month later, the Redskins traveled 35 miles north to Baltimore, only to fall behind 14-0 to the Ravens just five-and-a-half minutes into the game.

Campbell's second pass of the game was intercepted by Ed Reed, one of two on the day for the Pro Bowl saefty. The turnover set up the Ravens' first score, an 8-yard run by fullback Le'Ron McClain.

Then Reed forced Portis into a fumble, scooped up the ball and raced 22 yards for another touchdown.

The Redskins would close the gap to 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter. The Ravens followed with an 8-minute drive, capped by quarterback Joe Flacco's 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Derrick Mason.

The Steelers-Ravens matchup promises to be a fierce defensive struggle, with premiere defensive stars like James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Reed on the field.

This postseason, Baltimore's defense has been feasting on turnovers, just as they did against the Redskins.

The Ravens should be able to pressure Roethlisberger--he was sacked 46 times last season, second-most in the league--and force mistakes. Roethlisberger threw 15 interceptions last season and fumbled 14 times, losing seven.

One mistake too many by Roethlisberger should give the Ravens a 16-13 upset win over the Steelers.

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