Cardinals back at work eyeing NFC West title, 1st-round bye
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — After a long weekend off, the Arizona Cardinals went back to work on Tuesday, preparing for their last regular-season road game, a trip to Philadelphia with a chance to clinch the NFC West title and perhaps a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The game has been flexed to Sunday night, the Cardinals’ fifth prime-time appearance in the last eight games.
“We know what’s at stake, no matter what time we’re playing,” Arizona safety Tony Jefferson said.
The Cardinals (11-2), winners of seven in a row, can clinch the NFC West crown if they beat the Eagles or Seattle loses at San Francisco. If Arizona wins and Green Bay loses at Oakland, the Cardinals clinch the NFC’s No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that goes with it.
With three games to play, the Cardinals are three games ahead of Seattle and two up on the Packers. They trail undefeated Carolina by two games for the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
With the Eagles game now scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff, the Cardinals will leave Arizona on Saturday, rather than Friday, as was originally planned.
“The biggest difference will be the next week,” coach Bruce Arians said, “because instead of getting back in bed by 10 (Sunday night), we won’t get back until 5 in the morning (on Monday). So the coaching staff will go straight to the office. It just puts more burden on that.”
After the trip to Philadelphia, Arizona concludes its regular season with home games against Green Bay and Seattle.
Fourteen-year NFL veteran outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said he’s been talking to younger players about how critical this time of year is to a team with big aspirations.
“This is December ball,” Freeney said. “Championships are kind of built from here on. It’s all momentum. You’ve got to start building momentum at some point and December is when you really start doing that. You want to be playing your best ball in December and January.”
Inside linebacker Deone Bucannon said the players aren’t thinking too much about what might be clinched on Sunday night.
“It’s big-time but you get wrapped up in that then you’ll kind of lose focus,” he said. “I feel like as a team we are on the same page. We want to win as many games as possible no matter what it is, because every game is a big game. It’s the NFL. I feel like that’s how we see it in this locker room. That’s how our leaders are seeing it, and I’m going to follow suit.”
The long-range Philadelphia forecast is for a high in the mid-40s on Sunday and it will be chillier than that come nightfall. There is no precipitation in the forecast, though. Arians said the team has dealt with cold weather already.
“It was icing in Pittsburgh. It was cold in Seattle and it was at night,” he said. “None of that matters, unless there is snow on the ground, then it affects the game.”
Arians gave the players four days off after the Cardinals escaped with a 23-20 victory over Minnesota on Thursday night. On Tuesday, they had what amounts to a bonus practice.
The coach said he watched a few football games on Sunday.
“Slept a lot, recovering from Saturday,” Arians said, smiling. “Father-son golf tournament, it was rough.”
Notes: Arians said he felt good about the chances of cornerback Jerraud Powers (strained calf) returning this week but said “we’ll see about Frostee” Rucker (ankle). ... Running back Andre Ellington (turf toe) didn’t sound too optimistic about the chance of playing against the Eagles. “It’s just a toe,” he said, “but at the end of the day, I play running back. I need both of my toes.” ... Running back Chris Johnson (fractured leg) expressed optimism of being ready for the Super Bowl if Arizona makes it that far. He said “this is nothing” compared to what he dealt with coming back from being shot in the offseason.
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