TEMPE, Ariz. – Cornerbacks might have the toughest job in the NFL.
They are expected to shadow a receiver, who knows where he's going while the defender doesn't, and the rules are stacked against them.
Few truly excel at the job. This season, Arizona's Patrick Peterson and Carolina's Josh Norman might have been the best, and they will be plying their trade in the biggest game of their careers in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
Both made the AP's All-Pro team, and they are very similar, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.
"They're different styles of defenses," he said, "but they're long, they're fast, they're athletic and they're tough."
Norman has the edge in statistics, but Peterson's are misleading. He's shut down some of the best receivers in the league in one-on-one coverage, and quarterbacks simply stopped throwing in his direction.
Peterson has allowed two touchdowns this season — one on broken coverage at Chicago and the other, famously, on Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary to Jeff Janis at the end of regulation in Saturday's overtime victory over Green Bay.
Peterson and Carolina's Cam Newton go back to their SEC days, when Peterson played at LSU and Newton at Auburn.
"You ask yourself what can't he do," Newton said. "He's fast, he's physical and when the ball is in the air, he's not thinking to bat it down, he's thinking that's his ball, and you just have to have respect for a guy like that."
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer was equally complimentary of Norman.
"He's got that build that I think everybody's looking for," Palmer said, "really long, gets a good extension with his arms, plays with his hands really, really well.
"He's got top-end speed. He doesn't go for a deflection; he goes for the football and gets a deflection out of it, or an interception. He comes up in the run game and makes plays."
Norman had 55 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four interceptions. All four came in the first four games of the season, and he returned two of them for touchdowns.
Peterson, who had a 100-yard interception return negated by a penalty last weekend, has made the Pro Bowl each of his five NFL seasons.
But he had a subpar 2014, when he was a bit overweight and was diagnosed with diabetes. This year, he's noticeably slimmer and faster.
"It's not a shock or surprise that I'm getting my recognition back," said Peterson, a five-time Pro Bowl pick.