Rolling Cardinals ready for battered Vikings
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Coming off their worst home loss in 31 years, the Minnesota Vikings barely had time to catch their icy breath before heading to the warmth of Arizona.
Now, beaten up and missing three of their best defensive players, the Vikings must meet one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
Meanwhile, heading into their Thursday night matchup, the Cardinals (10-2) are on a roll. Coach Bruce Arians’ high-scoring outfit has won six straight, the franchise’s longest winning streak in 41 years. Only Carolina (12-0) has a better record.
The Cardinals have a two-game lead over Minnesota and Green Bay for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, which carries a first-round bye.
“We know where we sit,” Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We know how important each game is. You can’t help but notice it, and hear about it. ... This game means so much for us for that seed that we’re all shooting for. We’re very focused on that and we understand all the circumstances around us.”
The Cardinals didn’t break a sweat in practice this week, doing walk-throughs so well coach Bruce Arians said, “we’re walked out.”
″’The big thing in short weeks is regaining that energy and passion to play the game on that short of notice,” Arians said, “but I think our guys will be more than ready.”
Despite their offensive struggles — the Vikings are ranked 30th — Minnesota is in the thick of the postseason conversation at 8-4 and tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North. But that 38-7 loss at home to the Seahawks lurks uncomfortably close in the rearview mirror.
“We didn’t play good in any team phase,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We had two punts blocked. They got an interception right before the half. We couldn’t get the quarterback on the ground. It was ‘Bad News Bears’ all the way around.”
Expect the Vikings to give Adrian Peterson the ball a bit more last week. The NFL’s leading rusher with 1,182 yards this season managed just 8 in nine carries as Minnesota abandoned the running game after falling far behind Seattle early.
Peterson said the Vikings were “outplayed and outcoached” by the Seahawks.
Arizona will be making its fourth prime-time appearance of the season, and third in the last five weeks. The Cardinals have one more coming up: The NFL has flexed the Dec. 20 game against Philadelphia to Sunday night.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I’m usually a prime-time guy.”
Here are some things to look for when the Vikings meet the Cardinals:
BANGED-UP DEFENSE: The Vikings will missing three of their best defensive players, an ominous sign against the high-powered Cardinals. Safety Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring), linebacker Anthony Barr (hand/groin) and DT Linval Joseph (foot) all out.
Smith and Barr were injured again early last week against Seattle, and the Seahawks shredded a defense that had been one of the best units in the league when all three standouts were healthy. Safeties Robert Blanton and Antone Exum also are injured, forcing the Vikings to make some emergency moves just to get some healthy bodies to suit up.
AWESOME OFFENSE: Arizona enters the game leading the NFL in total offense (419.5 yards per game), points (382) and touchdowns (45). Palmer has thrown for 29 touchdowns, one shy of Kurt Warner’s single-season franchise record.
“Carson, he’s playing at the MVP level,” Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s the best player in the National Football League at this point. He makes miraculous plays week in and week out.”
BRIDGEWATER’S STRUGGLES: Second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has come under criticism in Minnesota for the offense’s inability to move through the air. A leaky offensive line is only compounding the problem, and last week Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin said Bridgewater looked “scared” while he was out there.
“I’m going to make sure I remember those words,” Bridgewater said. “But I can’t lock in and pay too much attention to that. We have a game here (on Thursday) and I have to shift my focus to that.”
ARIZONA DREAMING: Rumors swirled in the offseason that Peterson might be traded to Arizona, and the Vikings running back acknowledged he thought what it might be like to move to the desert and be a teammate of his friend Fitzgerald.
“When I was going through that process, of course Arizona was a place that grabbed my attention,” Peterson said, “especially with the type of season they had last year and the warm weather.”
HOME-FIELD DISADVANTAGE?: Expect a big contingent of Vikings fans to infiltrate the crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium. That always happens when the Vikings, Bears, Steelers or Packers come to town. Arizona season-ticket holders often sell their tickets to a game or two to cover their season-ticket costs.
Arizona has sold out all 100 games since University of Phoenix Stadium open. The Cardinals are 17-4 at home in three seasons under Arians.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL