TEMPE, Ariz. — A short week hasn’t allowed the Cardinals to prepare for the Minnesota Vikings as much as they would have liked, but Arizona is not shying away from the significance of Thursday night’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“You can’t help but notice it, know it and hear about it,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “(Coach Bruce Arians) said (Monday), a couple times, that this is the playoffs. This is that next game, ‘you’ve got to win game’ type of feel that we’re going into this game with because we know where they sit, we know where we sit and we can think about that because this game is that important.
“This game means so much for that seed that we’re all shooting for. We’re very focused on that and we understand all the circumstances around us.”
In practical terms, a win over the Vikings (8-4) would put the Cardinals (10-2) on the doorstep of securing a first-round bye and a home game in the second round of the playoffs. It would also end the Vikings’ hopes of a first-round bye, assuming Carolina (12-0) wins one more game, because the best Minnesota could do is tie the Cardinals in the standings and Arizona would own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
To lock up the bye, the Cardinals would then either need to win two of their final three games, or beat Green Bay on Dec. 27 while Seattle loses one more game.
“I’m not a scoreboard watcher or anything like that but I know we might play these guys again and I’d like for it to be at our house,” Arians said of the Vikings.
While Arians expects top-level preparation every week, he admitted that these late-season games with playoff implications ratchet up the preparation another level, beginning with players’ and coaches’ attention to details.
“You need to put 20 more minutes a night in to just make sure you’re not the guy who has that one mental error that screws up the whole thing,” Arians said. “Your accountability goes up because the stakes have raised.”
The Cardinals can clinch a playoff berth this weekend if a number of scenarios play out, but that seems like a fait accompli anyway. What the Cardinals can really do with another prime-time win on Thursday is whip the Valley into a frenzy of anticipation.
The Cardinals haven’t hosted a playoff game since Kurt Warner’s epic performance in a 51-45, overtime victory over the Packers on January 9, 2010. If they can secure a bye this season, they would not only host a home playoff game, they’d be one win away from just the second NFC Championship game in franchise history.
“It makes it real easy to practice every week,” Arians said. “I don’t have to say sh**. They know who they’re playing and they’ll be ready.”
The greater Phoenix area has had several unsuccessful flirtations with a major pro sports league championship since the Diamondbacks captured the city’s only title in 2001 by defeating the New York Yankees, four games to three. Here’s a look at each team’s most recent close call.
Here are the scenarios under which the Cardinals can clinch the NFC West or a playoff berth with win over Minnesota on Thursday.
Arizona clinches NFC West division if:
— Arizona wins and Seattle loses or ties at Baltimore
— Arizona ties and Seattle loses
Arizona clinches a playoff spot if:
Arizona wins or ties
Tampa Bay loses to or ties New Orleans and Atlanta loses or ties at Carolina
Tampa Bay loses or ties and Green Bay defeats or ties Dallas