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Honors begin for the Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2016 – 10:34 am

The Cardinals are hoping they still have weeks left in their season, but with the regular season completed, the postseason awards are going to start — and with the year the Cards have, they will be mentioned often (like when the Pro Bowl rosters were announced.)

Wednesday, Pro Football Focus unveiled it’s all-pro team. Not only were the Cardinals well represented, but Carson Palmer was named the quarterback, a significant nod in a year where Cam Newton and Tom Brady were excellent. A look at those picked by PFF, and what was said about the Cards:

Palmer: “What a year for Palmer, who not only came back from what many presumed to be a career-defining injury, but did so by playing better than he ever has. What made Palmer so impressive was his ability to destroy defenses deep, with an impressive 34 deep completions (10 of which went for touchdowns).”

Larry Fitzgerald, slot receiver: “Reinvented as a slot threat, Fitzgerald rolled back the years to show how productive—and dangerous—of a receiver he still is.”

Patrick Peterson, cornerback (beating out Carolina’s Josh Norman, it should be noted): “It isn’t easy tracking the top receivers in this league. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be, but clearly Peterson didn’t get that memo, because he’s had no difficulty doing so. His consistent, shutdown play is something we don’t often witness.”

Tyrann Mathieu, slot cornerback: “It’s a real shame that Mathieu had his season cut short, but he still put enough on tape that his inclusion as our slot corner was never really in doubt. He does it all from the spot, and his ability to contribute is every phase of the game is something to behold.”

Justin Bethel was named second team special teams, and the PFF guys even said it “feels like heresy” to not name Bethel first team, but that Miami’s Michael Thomas was that good.

PFFBlog


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Seahawks aftermath, before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2016 – 8:06 pm

It was ugly yes, and whether Bruce Arians did indeed see it coming, I’m not sure there is a way to stem that mindset the Cardinals played with Sunday against the Seahawks. It wasn’t anything like the team had played like all season – not like the losses to the Rams and the Steelers, even though they were sluggish in those too.

Larry Fitzgerald said the game reminded him of the Packers finale at the end of the 2009 season, also a home game in which the Cards were hammered because there was nothing to play for, also as the Cards prepared to go into the playoffs (I tweeted the same during today’s game.)

But you know what game this really reminded me of, after it was over: The lost trip to New England in 2008. At least in 2009, coach Ken Whisenhunt had basically said the Cardinals were going to pull back if they had nothing to play for. But that trip to New England, it was messy because the players simply weren’t ready to play, didn’t want to play, didn’t want to be in the snow. They lost 47-7, and they were called the worst playoff team ever, and we know how that turned out.

I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened Sunday, because I believe this current team is stronger mentally than the 2008 squad. But the Cards didn’t show up against the Seahawks, like they didn’t against the Patriots, and it means, well, not a whole lot, really.

If the Cards were to be upset in their first playoff game, it won’t be because they lost against the Seahawks in the Week 17 game. This team has proven it is very good, and potentially great. For all the chest-pounding some of the Seahawks were doing after the game, they just lost to the Rams at home themselves.

Not the way you want to finish. But as Carson Palmer said, there is no panic, and talking with the veterans, it’s not just a brave face. This team understands they must do better. But they are not worried.

(UPDATE: Here’s the playoff info.)

— There were a couple of bright spots. OK, bright moments. Dwight Freeney got his eighth sack. The Cardinals finally had an opponent miss a field goal for the first time all season (which is unbelievable).

— And there were some record breakers. Smokey Brown surpassed 1,000 yards receiving, finishing with 1,003 on the season (although it was Smoke that was Richard Sherman’s target of his taunting penalty, which Sherman said was to mime Brown going to sit on the bench  — not a faux pulling his pants down.) Fitzgerald broke his own team record for receptions in a season (he finished with 109 catches). Palmer broke the franchise record for passing yards in a season (4,671).

— Some other cool numbers took a beating – the point differential, the defensive rankings – but no one will care if the Cardinals go on to win a Super Bowl. No one will really care if they don’t, in the end.

— Special teams reared its ugly head, whether it was the punt coverage on Tyler Lockett or a fifth missed extra point by Chandler Catanzaro. Catanzaro missed a field goal as well.

— After all that, the Cardinals seemed to come out pretty healthy. Center Lyle Sendlein limped off late – Bruce Arians said it was a bone bruise of some kind – but Palmer is OK, as are the top guys. Plus there is two weeks to get ready.

— That’s all for now. There’s two weeks to talk about the next game. And not much to say about this one.

AfterSeaBLOG


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Friday before the finale against the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2016 – 4:00 pm

The first game of Russell Wilson’s career started with a loss at University of Phoenix Stadium. It was close, but the Cardinals held on as one of those wins in their mirage of a 4-0 start back in 2012. It was before anyone really knew Russell Wilson was Russell Wilson. It was also the last time the Cards beat the Seahawks at home.

The last two years haven’t been close, even though it’s been in a tremendous upgrade of the Arians era. It’s the only team the Cards have had issues with at home. The first game, Carson Palmer and the offense weren’t ready yet (and the Seahawks defense was at its peak in 2013). Last year, Ryan Lindley started and, well, you know.

We bring up this history lesson in part to understand why Arians is looking to play Sunday’s game straight. Sure, there’s a chance things will change as the game goes along, if the Panthers start to pull away (although Arians said that won’t be a factor) or if the game itself gets sideways.

But mostly, I expect Carson Palmer throwing to Floyd and Smoke and Patrick Peterson covering Doug Baldwin (mostly). Yes, there are risks. But there is still something to play for.

— Speaking of that something to play for, no, I do not expect the Buccaneers to win in Carolina. Never say never.

— The Cardinals aren’t going to get nine sacks a week – especially when Markus Golden, who quietly has had a very, very good rookie season, is sitting out – but their pass rush is rounding into form. Dwight Freeney has been impressive, clearly. But the Seahawks are without starting guard J.R. Sweezy and likely will be without starting tackle Russell Okung. There could be some opportunity to take down the slippery Wilson.

— Bruce Arians said the Cardinals will practice three days next week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Each day will be spent on different potential playoff opponents. The plus the Cardinals have is that, aside from the Redskins (whom the Cards did see in 2014), the Cardinals will have played every single other one of their possible playoff matchups in the last month – Vikings, Packers, Seahawks.

— Since the Cards beat the Seahawks earlier this season, Wilson has thrown for 21 touchdowns and only one interception.

— A bunch of potential milestones well within reach of the Cardinals going into this game.

* Larry Fitzgerald’s first catch will give him a franchise record 104 in a season.
* Palmer needs 73 yards to set a franchise record for passing yards in a season.
* Smokey Brown needs 42 yards receiving to reach 1,000 this season. (Michael Floyd needs 167 to get to 1,000 – I don’t see that happening.)
* Chandler Catanzaro needs four points to set a franchise record in a season.

— Defensive tackle Red Bryant, who played the first six years of his career in Seattle and won a Super Bowl, gets the first chance to play against his former team.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” Bryant said. “I’m excited. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. I’m not bitter. I had six great years, accomplished a lot. Now I’m trying to help this team win. I’m not going to have a lot of emotion in terms of feeling I have to prove something. I’ll let my preparation do the talking.”

— With all of Arians’ talk about playing as normal, it doesn’t not look like first-round pick D.J. Humphries will be active for a game this season. And while Golden is down, I don’t expect to see fifth-round pick Shaq Riddick much if at all, given that Arians said Kareem Martin and even Alani Fua could see time in his spot.

— One more, and then on to the playoffs.

Befporehawksblog


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Fitzgerald at the forefront of jersey swapping?

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2015 – 2:38 pm

Long gone are the days in the NFL when there was little or no personal interaction postgame. Win or lose, many players come together to say hello when the clock hits zero, as former college teammates, teammates at one point in the pros, or just friends they’ve made throughout their time in the league.

And some take the time to swap jerseys, giving each player a memento from the other. Larry Fitzgerald has done this many times. In fact, “I was probably one of the first ones to start doing it,” the wide receiver said Thursday.

The first time was in 2005, when Fitzgerald, at that point coming off his rookie season, asked for and got the cleats of then-Broncos wide receiver Jerry Rice after the preseason finale — a game in which it turned out was the last time Rice stepped on the football field as a player. He did the same thing with Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown, Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. (And pictured below, swaps with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and then-Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall.)

“Some of the guys I really looked up to,” Fitzgerald said. “I started collecting some things and it grew from there.”

He’s swapped jerseys with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, asking him prior to the game they played, but other times, Fitz said he doesn’t know the player and simply asked afterward, telling them he respected the way they played and it would be an honor to have their jersey. It probably helps that Fitz has some name recognition and a jersey worth getting himself. And Fitz understands not all situations postgame are the right situations in which to ask.

“I am respectful,” Fitzgerald said. “I have some couth and some tact. I know when to ask and who to ask.”

FitzJerseyBLOG

 


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Packers aftermath, now with more sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2015 – 8:54 pm

The last time the Packers played in Arizona, it was highlighted by a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers. It only made sense that this time the Packers came to Arizona, it was highlighted by a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers. Actually, two. And actually, that’s the only thing those two games had in common.

That game long ago was seemingly who was going to have the ball last because Rodgers and Kurt Warner were so excellent that day (kinda ironic it ended on a defensive stop, so …) Sunday wasn’t that. Sunday was Cardinals’ domination, the kind of game that has to make any team that has to come to Arizona in the playoffs pause.

Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald both said they don’t think the Cardinals are peaking, and that’s in part because they would rather the team peak in about three or four weeks, when the playoffs begin. But the Cards were pretty good against an admittedly banged-up Packers team (although with the Cards without Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson, sympathy wasn’t forthcoming) and don’t have a whole lot of complaints.

Now, next week is going to be interesting. The NFL officially moved the Panthers-Bucs game to a late kickoff, matching it with the Cardinals, so the Cards can’t just base their playing time on the Panthers outcome (A Panthers loss and Cards win and the Cardinals are the No. 1 seed.) Meanwhile, you don’t know what the Seahawks are going to do. Do they definitely want to escape the sixth seed, which is still possible? The difference between going to frigid Minnesota/Green Bay or Washington in that case might mean something to the Seahawks.

So much to consider.

— There seemed to be a lot of concern about the right index finger (wrapped, as you can see below) of Palmer that was jacked up in Philly. He only missed one play, but some thought it was going to be an issue. Didn’t look like it to me.

— The Cardinals now have 57 touchdowns this season, soaring past the franchise record of 53 set in 1948. So, so many touchdowns.

— How’s this for interesting: With their nine-sack game Sunday, the Cardinals have 35 on the season – the same number as the Seahawks. The teams are tied with the Eagles for 14th in the league. The Cards are tied with Denver for fourth in scoring defense, at 18.5 points a game.

— Veteran DT Cory Redding couldn’t get to the end zone in Detroit, getting tackled after an interception after a 30-yard return down to the Lions 4. After he picked up a Packers fumble Sunday at the 36, it wasn’t going to happen again.

“I would not be denied,” Redding said. “My boys and teammates gave me a hard time the first time. Letting the quarterback tackle you, blah, blah, blah.

“I picked up the ball and tried to go as far as I could. I had a nice little convoy. (Packers RB Eddie) Lacy tried to (get me), I didn’t even know it was him. I just shoved off somebody and kept running.”

— Crazy Palmer numbers: He is now 29-8 as a starter for the Cardinals, and 26-4 in his last 30 starts. Quite a happy birthday for a guy who turned 36 Sunday.

— It was funny to see Larry Fitzgerald dress so quickly Sunday to try and do his interview at the podium. Usually Fitz is among the last but he wanted to get out of there. He was ready to go after Calais Campbell – except Dwight Freeney already thought he was next. Freeney, told he was going to go after Fitz, fixed that quickly. He pulled rank, telling Fitz he was older. So Freeney went first, and Fitz sat in the corner waiting, legs out like he was a kid waiting for his mom to finish shopping.

— Freeney has had three sacks in a game six times before Sunday, but Sunday was the first time since 2006.

— In three seasons, Bruce Arians – after taking out the Packers Sunday — has already beaten every NFC team at least once.

— Many asked during the game if David Johnson was hurt. He was not. He came out because of the big lead and Andre Ellington’s need to work. Arians said Johnson is fine.

— The amazing touchdown-to-punt ratio stat held up for another week. The tally now is 57 touchdowns for the Cardinals this season, and 55 punts. It’s hard to fathom if the Cardinals can make that hold up through the season finale.

PalmerPackBloguse


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For Christmas, Peterson and Fitz talk bikes

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2015 – 7:00 pm

It was a tale of two Christmas experiences, all about the bike.

Both Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald said their favorite gifts growing up were bicycles. Their stories are slightly different.

“My favorite gift as a child definitely was a bike,” Fitzgerald said. “The only thing that sucked was, growing up in Minnesota, I couldn’t ride my bike until April. So it sat in the basement, and I would sit on it all the time. I’d set it up on the Yellow Pages so the back wheels could go but I wasn’t going anywhere. It was the best I could do in the basement.”

Fortunately for Peterson, he grew up in Florida.

“I was a bicycle guy,” Peterson said. “I used to get a Mongoose or a Huffy every other year. I loved being outdoors. I wasn’t really a gamer, so I always wanted a bike.”

Wait — a new bike every other year?

“My Grandma would spoil me,” Peterson said. If Peterson wanted a new bike, he got it, and the old one would either be donated to Goodwill or given to another kid in the neighborhood.

Of course, that was when they were kids. Now, Fitz said, he’s still getting great Christmas gifts.

“This is definitely the best gift my teammates could have ever given me,” Fitzgerald said. “To win 12 games in a season, that’s something money can’t buy.”

BikesBlog

 


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Friday before the Eagles, and Fitz tackles

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2015 – 4:14 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has made it clear he doesn’t necessarily like to block. But he likes to tackle.

Sometimes, it’s a subtle attempt at a takedown, like when he was giving Michael Floyd grief near the end of the win in St. Louis when Floyd didn’t come down with a diving TD catch and slowly moved into position before the lighting quick lower-leg takedown on the sideline. (I have been on the receiving end of that move a couple of times over the years.) Sometimes, it’s full speed, like when he took down Smokey Brown after his TD against the Eagles last year (spooking Brown enough that he rushed his TD dance against the Rams later in the season for fear of a Fitz hit). Or, for instance, last week.

Dwight Freeney had just sacked Teddy Bridgewater to seal the Cardinals win. And Fitz sacked Freeney.

“Listen, we’re the two oldest guys out there and you’re running full speed and I’m sitting there wondering what he’s going to do,” Freeney said. “And then I’m like, ‘Oh God, he’s jumping.’ The whole game I’m healthy until that damn play.”

Fitzgerald – who complained he was whacked on the head by guard Ted Larsen’s helmet when Larsen, helmet in hand, went to hug Freeney – said he just got excited.

“I’ve known Dwight for a very long time, a long time,” Fitz said. “To be able to see him do that at that moment, for that number, a $200,000 sack, that was big.”

Ahh, the cash. Freeney hit the $200,000 incentive in his contract for his fourth sack, and he gets incentive money for each sack going forward. Fitz doesn’t miss stuff like that.

“I appreciate that,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m going to appreciate every single one for him here on out, too.”

Maybe there will be a sack-tackle in Philly too.

— Every Friday, both the offense and defense leave for a players-only meeting after practice ends. It’s usually just a wrap-up reminder from unit leaders about the game plan, imploring focus. Most of the time, the defense is gone for 15 or 20 minutes. They met for much longer Friday. After the mistakes made against the Vikings – and what can happen with similar mistakes against the high-tempo Eagles – there has been a drive to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

— The Cardinals haven’t turned the ball over in three straight games, which has helped considering two of them were close (weird to think in the three games before those, the Cardinals lost the turnover battle yet still won, which feels statistically impossible in today’s NFL.) It feels like turnovers will be the deciding factor Sunday night. If the Cards stay clean, I don’t see the Eagles beating them.

— If Rashad Johnson can’t play, I’ll be very interested to see how the defense reacts and what it means. Patrick Peterson said this week he can’t imagine life without Rashad behind the defense. Will they have to find out? (And given that Johnson is a free agent-to-be, could it be a trial run for 2016?)

— If you haven’t seen “Bruce Arians: A Football Life” you might not know that the Cardinals last year adopted the song “I’m About To Whip Somebody’s Ass” for pre-game. Safety Tyrann Mathieu said he is the locker room DJ before games and is the “only one with that song” on the team. Arians sent it to Mathieu during a text conversation last year, Mathieu liked it, and it became part of the team’s pre-game ritual.

“Every game, home or away, it doesn’t matter,” Mathieu said.

It doesn’t hurt that the Cardinals have won many of those games.

— Michael Floyd grinned, admitting again how he probably stole the pass for Fitzgerald last week that ended up being a 42-yard TD for Floyd, with Fitz blocking. Fitzgerald was asked if Floyd was going to buy him dinner in exchange.

“Mike is the cheapest dude on the team,” said Fitzgerald, who never seems to pass up a chance to needle his fellow Minnesota native. “Mike don’t even pay attention. That’s how cheap he is.”

— Yes, the Cardinals are on the road, but in anticipation of what is expected to be an influx of Packers fans next week after a noticeable amount of Vikings fans at University of Phoenix Stadium last week, Fitzgerald isn’t thrilled.

“Nothing that irks me more than seeing that,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to create that same tradition here. I know we have only been here since 1988. … Hopefully we can change that tide.”

— Freeney signed so late in the season he got a locker not with the linebackers but where there was an open stall. It happened to be between quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.

“It was kind of funny,” Freeney said, who added with a smile, “but I like being near quarterbacks.”

— Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, on the possibility of throwing at Peterson, who has been as much of a shutdown cornerback as anyone in the league this season.

“Well, I would probably prefer not to,” Bradford said. “Obviously, Patrick’s a great player. He’s proved that in his time in the league. But, if we have the opportunity and it’s there, you’ve got to throw it. You can’t let one guy take away a whole half of the field.”

— Kyle Odegard did a great job writing about running back David Johnson’s journey to the NFL. Check it out if you haven’t already.

— I think Johnson, who has 99 and 92 yards rushing in his two starts, cracks 100 yards this week.

— Next stop, Philadelphia.

FreeneyFitzBLOG


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Palmer leads Cards’ final Pro Bowl list

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2015 – 11:45 am

Quarterback Carson Palmer was the top vote-getter for the Cardinals now that the public part of Pro Bowl voting has ended. Palmer got the fourth most votes of any player — 514,967, to be specific — and was also fourth overall in the NFL, since QBs all finished ahead of him (Brady, Newton, Dalton).

Free safety Tyrann Mathieu dropped a spot to third at his position, but Frostee Rucker made a late surge to get into the top 10. In all, 11 Cardinals were ranked in the top 10 in votes at their respective positions. Players and coaches vote later this week league-wide to come up with the final Pro Bowl tallies/roster, and they get announced Dec. 22.

The full Cardinals’ list:

— QB Carson Palmer fourth

— RB Chris Johnson eighth

— WR Larry Fitzgerald fourth (with an impressive 410,095 votes)

— G Mike Iupati fifth

— DT Calais Campbell fifth, Frostee Rucker seventh

— CB Patrick Peterson fifth

— SS Rashad Johnson seventh, Deone Bucannon 10th

— FS Tyrann Mathieu third

— Special teams Justin Bethel fourth

ProBowlBLOG

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Vikings aftermath, with a playoff berth

Posted by Darren Urban on December 11, 2015 – 12:33 am

Sure, Michael Floyd had his fourth 100-yard outing in his last five games and Smokey Brown broke off a 65-yard touchdown catch and Larry Fitzgerald is (probably) headed to the Hall of Fame. But look out for Mike Iupati as a receiving option.

The mammoth guard caught a batted Carson Palmer pass on what turned out to be the Cardinals’ game-winning field-goal drive and plowed forward 10 yards for a first down.

“He got some yards,” Palmer said. “We might have to put a screen in for him or maybe a quick flat route down on the goal line. We have one in for (backup center/jumbo tight end) A.Q. (Shipley). But I think Mike is proven now. We have it on film. He can go in and I’ll fight for him. I’ll lobby for him to get a pass.”

Palmer called it a weird night, and it doesn’t get much weirder than Iupati not only making a catch, but averaging 10 yards per reception. It might’ve been weird because of the short week, although the players said no. What it was was a team in the Vikings who were embarrassed at home by Seattle and desperately needed to rebound.

It’s not like the Cardinals were bad. They looked like a team dead set on stopping Adrian Peterson which, except for the first drive, they pretty much did. Teddy Bridgewater completed passes, but the defense forced fumbles, and whether you say it was lucky they did – the Vikings were in at least field-goal range on all three of the fumbles – or you say they made the plays they needed to make for a stop, it still equates to a good enough defensive effort.

“We’d like to keep them out of the red zone if we can,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. “But they played great.”

Hey, a win is a win. The Vikings are going to be in the playoffs, in all likelihood.

— The Cardinals clinched a playoff spot. Their magic number to clinch the NFC West is one. Interestingly, the Seahawks play twice before the Cardinals play another game – this Sunday against the Ravens, and then the Seahawks will play their game Dec. 20 against the Browns before the Cardinals kick off their game in Philadelphia on “Sunday Night Football” – so the Cards have two opportunities they could win the west before playing again.

— No, I don’t think the Seahawks are going to lose to the Ravens or the Browns.

— Adrian Peterson had just 13 yards on 11 carries in the second half.

— Palmer’s footwork within the pocket on the touchdown pass to Brown needs to be on an instructional video for young quarterbacks.

— Here’s why it was good that Dwight Freeney made that great strip-sack at the end of the game: It was inevitable that Blair Walsh would boot the game-tying field goal. It’s statistically odd, but Cardinals’ opponents have yet to miss a field goal this season – now 22-for-22.

— Wide receiver blocks were big. Fitzgerald led the way for Floyd’s long TD, and J.J. Nelson had a Brittan-Golden-in-Seattle-on-the-sideline block to free Brown streaking to the end zone.

Fitz pancaked Vikings safety Anthony Harris, but as usual, he didn’t want to dwell on his blocking. He’s a receiver.

“It’s part of the job, but catching touchdowns is much more glorious,” Fitzgerald said. “You’re not as sore, you don’t have to get in the cold tub as much, but it’s a role I’m privileged to have because I know it’s a dirty job but I’m capable of doing it.”

— There is nothing better than a mini-bye if you can get the win in a Thursday game. The Cardinals should be getting a good chunk of their banged-up guys back for Philly. Even running back David Johnson could use a couple of days. He said he was fine, but admitted he took a shot to his right thigh early in the game, which is why he limped off after his final catch. He came back in, but rest will do everyone some good.

— Rest sounds good about now anyway. I’m going home.

Campbellaftervikes


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Wednesday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2015 – 3:56 pm

The closing stretch for the Cardinals makes everyone take notice. Sure, the Cards are home for three of the four games, but thanks to the Eagles’ upset of the Patriots last weekend, every opponent is in playoff contention.

“Makes it real easy to practice every week,” coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t have to say (expletive).”

Next week is “Sunday Night Football” in Philadelphia. The last two games are home games against the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. And tomorrow, of course, is “Thursday Night Football” against the Vikings.

(For the many wondering about a flex to SNF for the Packers game, it seemed unlikely after the Cards’ game in Philly was switched and in fact, Arians said he’s hearing it will stay as an afternoon game. “I don’t think FOX is giving that one up,” Arians said.)

— The Cardinals, by the way, clinch a playoff spot with a win. They clinch the NFC West if they win (or tie) and the Seahawks lose in Baltimore Sunday.

— Arians said the Cards have three padded practices left this season but he isn’t sure if he will use them, or when. The most important thing is keeping players fresh at this point.

— Adrian Peterson can be a scary matchup. But even if he gets loose a little, it’s hard to imagine the Vikings having enough offense to hang with the Cards – assuming the Cardinals play as they are capable and don’t turn the ball over. The Vikings are missing four defensive starters. Advantage, Carson Palmer.

— Larry Fitzgerald this week, when I asked him about this receiving corps compared to 2008’s Fitz-in-his-prime, Q-in-his-prime, Steve Breaston group, said it’s the versatility that is so much different. Fitz is a better wide receiver in terms of knowledge and range these days. And while Brown and Nelson and Floyd are the deep threats, what strikes me about this group is the fact that Fitz could still go deep if needed. And Smokey Brown or even Nelson have shown they can go over the middle.

All that said, Fitz is satisfied right now of his role and why he has his role (setting a pace to set career-highs in catches and yards doesn’t hurt.)

“I can still go down and make plays,” Fitzgerald said. “But the fact is Mike and Smoke and JJ are much faster than I am at this point. They can get behind the defense easier.

“Everyone is comfortable in their roles and I think everyone is genuinely happy when they have success. We’re a close-knit group.”

That happens when you are throwing for at least 350 yards a game and everyone gets their bite at the apple.

— Adrian Peterson, by the way, drew some attention this week when he said the Vikings, among other things, were outcoached in their blowout loss to Seattle last week. Peterson didn’t see his criticism as a big deal, and actually made a good point about it.

“When the players don’t play well, or a guy throws an interception, or a guy fumbles, or a guy gives up a sack, or the defense doesn’t play well, it’s so quick for people to say, ‘Oh, the defense didn’t play well,’ or ‘This guy threw an interception at a critical time,’ ” Peterson said. “Like, that’s always OK. But, then when someone mentions something about coaches and being outcoached, it’s always like a big issue. To me, it’s not a big issue. We are a team, so we win together and we lose together. And we lost together, you know? We didn’t play well as players and the coaches didn’t coach well.”

— New safety D.J. Swearinger, who was signed to the practice squad when running back Chris Johnson was put on injured reserve, was promoted to the active roster when guard Earl Watford was put on IR this week and Arians said Swearinger will have a role in the defense. True, Tony Jefferson might not be able to go (or be limited) with a hamstring issue, but either way, Arians said Swearinger – a former second-round pick of the Texans – will have a defensive role.

— There is a toy drive at the game Thursday. If you are attending, please bring a new or gently used toy to any of the stadium entrances.

— John Brown hurt his hamstring way back in the Detroit game Oct. 11. He is still listed on the injury report as the Cardinals try to protect him, but Smokey is just about healthy. He showed that in his 68-yard bomb last week in St. Louis. And even with the injury, and a game he didn’t play in Cleveland and being slowed other times, Brown is just 183 yards shy of 1,000 this season.

— Excellent video of the quarterbacks getting their coach, Freddie Kitchens, a former Alabama signal-caller, to run a 40-yard dash.

— Set the DVR: “Bruce Arians: A Football Life” will debut on NFL Network Friday at 7 p.m. Arizona time, 9 p.m. Eastern.

— Speaking of TV, yes, the Vikings game will be on the NFL Network, but locally it will also be on CBS, Ch. 5, in the Valley.

— Interesting story in the Wall Street Journal, ranking the 10 most “unwatchable” teams in the NFL this season based on eight factors, such as fair catches, fewest big plays, pre-snap penalties, things like that. (The Colts topped the list.) No, the Cardinals aren’t in there, but I did notice that the Cardinals lead the league in a couple of their categories – most failed challenges of replay, and most rushes for no gain.

— One final anecdote: Rookie running back David Johnson had a good first start last week (Arians said he’d get 25 touches, D.J. ended up with 24) as the Cards rushed for 175 yards. Johnson came out late to give Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor some work, and it cost him a 100-yard game. Johnson finished with 99 yards on 20 carries.

The funny thing is, Johnson not only knew he was close to 100 yards, he actually thought he got it – to the point where he took the ball and brought it to the sideline so he could have a memento.

Guess he’ll have to do it all over again. The Vikings await.

WednesdayVikings


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