Next Opponent: Cards in Odd Spot

We take our first look at the Arizona Cardinals, who are in same the position as the Packers this week with a possible playoff rematch looming. The Cardinals, who went 9-7 last year but reached the Super Bowl, are in the midst of their first 10-win season since 1976.

With the possibility the Cardinals will play the Packers in the opening round of the playoffs, one week after the teams meet to end the regular season, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt will face a decision about how seriously to take the season finale.

It could be tempting for Whisenhunt to rest his starters and to use a mundane game plan in Sunday's home game.

The Cardinals could wind up with the third or fourth seed in the NFC, but in either scenario they still could play the Packers in the first round.

"Some of it revolves around the health of our team, and if there's anything that pops up," Whisenhunt said. "I will have a better feel for that Wednesday or (Tuesday)."

The Cardinals are in reasonably good health, but as with most teams, they have plenty of players nursing bumps and bruises.

The club hasn't had a bye since the fourth week of the season, so resting some key players, including quarterback Kurt Warner, will be tempting.

But Whisenhunt likes the rhythm his offense displayed last week against the Rams, and he isn't anxious to do anything to disrupt that.

Thus it would be surprising to see him rest Warner and starters such as receiver Anquan Boldin and receiver Larry Fitzgerald for more than a half.

"It's going to be awful hard to keep Kurt or Larry (Fitzgerald) or Anquan off the field," Whisenhunt said. "I'm just telling you that right up front. Those guys want to play, especially when they feel like they are in a little bit of rhythm."

A perfect 10

The Cardinals have won 10 games in a season for the first time since 1976, so Sunday's victory over the St. Louis Rams was more significant than usual.

Since 1976, the franchise lost at least 10 games 18 times.

"I've been on two 3-13 teams, one 6-10 team, so guys actually have been through here and see in at its worst," defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "The young guys really don't know because it's their first year coming into the league or their second year. But for guys who have been around here, playing at Sun Devil Stadium with those terrible old uniforms, locked up in a little box locker room, it means a lot to us."

The Cardinals put together a workmanlike effort in beating the Rams, 31-10, and showed considerable maturity compared to last season. After they clinched the division last season, the Cardinals let down and were blown out against the Vikings and Patriots.

This season, the Cardinals have avoided consecutive losses and generally have followed a lackluster effort with an efficient one.

"It shows the progress we're making, that we're doing things the right way, that we're building and that Coach Whiz and his staff have come in and done a great job," Warner said. "It's fun to be a part of and they're all neat accomplishments for this point in the season."

To Warner, that's an important qualifier: at this point in the season. After a Super Bowl appearance last year, expectations for this team have risen. A 10-win season is nice, but a first-round exit in the playoffs will take the shine off that.

"I think what we'll remember this season by is what we do come playoff time," Warner said.

By the numbers

20-20 — Strong safety Adrian Wilson carved out a small spot in league history by becoming the 10th player to have at least 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career. Wilson had a sack in the fourth quarter against the Rams, giving him 20.5 sacks. His interception against the Rams was his 23rd. Wilson received a ball to commemorate the moment and former Cardinals great Larry Wilson, a Hall of Fame safety, congratulated Wilson in the locker room afterward. Adrian Wilson credited Larry Wilson for revolutionizing the game by introducing the safety blitz, and the two have been friends for several years.

Trending

Beanie Wells continues to receive considerably more carries than Tim Hightower, although Hightower remains the starter. Wells carried 17 times against the Rams, seven more than Hightower. That continues a trend that started a month ago. Hightower remains a viable weapon, however. He's become excellent at picking up the blitz and he is a solid receiver. Wells also has proven he can catch the ball, and his ability to make big plays gives him the edge over Hightower in run attempts.

Extra points

— K Neil Rackers is expected to kick in practice this week after missing two games with a torn groin muscle. Rackers might not return until the first round of the playoffs, however.

— WR Larry Fitzgerald suffered a left elbow contusion but is expected to be available for Sunday's game against the Packers.

— CB Greg Toler suffered a left elbow contusion, but X-rays revealed no fracture, and Toler is expected to return to action.

— WR Early Doucet caught the first touchdown pass of his career, an 18-yard pass from Warner.

— S Rashad Johnson played better in his role in the dime packages than the week before. CB Bryant Johnson gave up the Rams' only touchdown.

— LT Jeremy Bridges struggled in pass protection against Rams DE Chris Long. Long beat Bridges to the outside a handful of times and was effective against the run, too.

— OLB Will Davis could play this week after missing five games because of a knee injury. Davis practiced last week but was inactive for the game.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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