Patriots - Cardinals: Game Preview

The Arizona Cardinals have their playoff ticket punched, but the New England Patriots do not. With a winter weather advisory set for parts of the region on game day, the Patriots welcome the Cardinals to unfriendly surroundings both on and off the field. Week 16 Preview.

Arizona Cardinals (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/21/08
SURFACE: FieldTurf
STADIUM: Gillette Stadium
WEATHER: Weather Underground Forecast
TV: FOX (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa)

SERIES: 12th regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead the series, 6-5, but the Patriots have won the past four. The Cardinals are making their first regular-season appearance at Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002. The Cardinals have played in New England just three times since 1970. The Cardinals haven't won a road game against a team outside of the NFC West this year. They also are 0-4 in their past four games against teams with winning records and have lost three of their last four overall.

PREDICTION: Patriots 30-27

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cardinals have not played well on the East Coast this season, and their pass-dependant offense could be slowed with temperatures predicted to be below freezing with possible snow showers. The Patriots' secondary can be exploited, but coach Bill Belichick will also devise plenty of blitz packages to comes after Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, who has nine turnovers in his past five games. If Arizona falls behind, watch out. ... The Patriots need good decision making from QB Matt Cassel in what shapes up to be a shootout. If New England can jump out to a lead, it knows Arizona will abandon its running game and the Patriots can dominate time of possession. RBs Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan are starting to give New England a better presence on the ground, and Cassel's mobility should buy him plenty of time to attack CBs Rod Hood rookie and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Key Injuries: Cardinals: WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder) is expected to play. Patriots: LT Matt Light (shoulder) is expected to play; S James Sanders (abdominal) is uncertain.

Need to know: With 91 receiving yards by WR Steve Breaston, the Cardinals would become the fifth team in NFL history to have three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. ... Patriots WR Wes Welker is just the eighth player in NFL history with 100-plus receptions in consecutive seasons.


--OLB Clark Haggans probably is out for the year with a sprained Lis Franc joint in his left foot. Haggans is wearing a cast and hopes to return for the playoffs but that seems doubtful.
--FB Terrelle Smith returned to practice Thursday after missing most of the past two weeks due to a death in the family.
--QB Matt Leinart has been wearing a glove on his left hand this week in practice to become accustomed to throwing in cold conditions. Leinart liked how the glove felt, he said, but he's not going to start wearing them full time like Kurt Warner.
--WR Sean Morey is dealing with a painful shoulder injury that's limiting his effectiveness. A key special teams player, Morey is playing through the injury but coaches are trying to limit his snaps.
--WR Early Doucet practiced on Thursday after missing Wednesday's workout with a hamstring strain. He is expected to play against the Patriots. He probably will be the team's fourth receiver, moving up one spot due to Anquan Boldin's shoulder injury.

--LT Matt Light was not on the field during media availability at practice Thursday after separating his shoulder in Oakland. The injury is believed to be a mild separation and Light might be able to play through it this weekend.
--S James Sanders also wasn't on the field at the start of practice Thursday. He missed last week's game with an abdominal injury and was replaced by veteran Lewis Sanders.
--LB Tedy Bruschi was the third and final player not on the field at the start of Thursday's practice. He suffered what is believed to be a season-ending knee injury, though he has not been placed on injured reserve.
--Talking Thursday about the passing of his father, QB Matt Cassel said there was no doubt in his mind he would play against the Raiders, adding, "I think that's what my father would've wanted."
--WR Wes Welker, who already joined an elite crowd by catching 100 passes for the second year in a row, also leads the league in yards after the catch with 689 -- no surprise since the Patriots use him a lot on screen passes where his speed is an asset in the open field.



Two key offensive players are likely to miss Sunday's game at the Patriots because of injuries.

Anquan Boldin has a sore left shoulder and running back J.J. Arrington is nursing a troublesome right knee. Both likely could play this weekend if a playoff berth was on the line.

But it's not. The Cardinals clinched the NFC West almost three weeks ago and coach Ken Whisenhunt's inclination is to be cautious.

"Obviously, in this type of situation, where you have a (playoff) game two weeks away, you want to make sure you got as many of your guys available for that game," Whisenhunt said. "That's got to take priority."

Whisenhunt didn't rule either player out, but then he rarely does that. He gave strong hints, however, about their availability.

"I think that both these guys want to play and if they're ready to go, they'll play," Whisenhunt said. "But I think also, you have to be smart with that situation.

"If this was a game that for us meant to get into the playoffs, it would be a completely different scenario."

Steve Breaston likely will start in Boldin's place with Tim Hightower and Edgerrin James absorbing Arrington's role.


They've asked for help from everyone from Deltha O'Neal to Lewis Sanders. Now the onus falls on a young rookie with limited experience.

Once considered an afterthought in this overcrowded, yet unimpressive secondary, cornerback Jonathan Wilhite has suddenly emerged from the pack as a key factor with the New England Patriots fighting for their playoff lives.

Coming out of training camp, it was fellow rookie Terrence Wheatley, not Wilhite, who got most of the attention. In fact, many pegged Wheatley as a starter when the Patriots cut Fernando Bryant in the camp. Wilhite, meanwhile, played second fiddle.

For most of the season, the rookie duo barely saw the field on defense with limited roles on special teams. Then the injuries set in. Soon, Wheatley was pressed into duty and Wilhite eventually got his chance, too, when his rookie teammate went down for the season with a wrist injury.

Formerly an inside slot defender on sub packages, Wilhite is now a starter opposite Ellis Hobbs. The rookie made his presence felt out west against Seattle and Oakland and even recorded his first career interception against the Raiders.

Wilhite will face another stiff test this weekend against the pass-happy Cardinals, who boast the best receiving duo in the league in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, along with former NFL MVP Kurt Warner at quarterback.

"It's crazy going against a great quarterback with all that experience and an offense that has three guys with almost 1,000 yards (receiving)," Wilhite said. "It's going to be a big challenge for us in the secondary, and as a defense period."

Wilhite has come a long way since his first real test against Indianapolis, in which he replaced Wheatley in the lineup after the rookie left with an injury and subsequently got torched by Peyton Manning. Warner may try to do the same, but Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is confident Wilhite can handle the challenge, otherwise he'd go to someone else.

"Jonathan has done a good job the last few weeks. He's had an opportunity and he's been able to capitalize on it," Belichick said. "The challenge for him is now that teams have seen more of his play, they might start attacking him. Sometimes when you are a young corner, you don't get too much of that until they get enough of you on film."

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