A glance at five top storylines for the Cardinals-Lions game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.:
All eyes on Stanton
He's had his dry run, thanks to Carson Palmer's nerve injury earlier this season. And now Drew Stanton knows he's in there for the long haul, because Palmer isn't coming back. There isn't insignificant pressure, because of the record the Cardinals have built and the opportunity ahead of them. Stanton says he's ready, and there is no reason to think otherwise. He was good against the 49ers, he was OK against the Giants and he struggled against the Broncos at times – not the least of which because the pass protection struggled. Detroit can get after the quarterback. They have the top-ranked defense. Points could be difficult to come by. But this is the Drew Stanton Show now.
Defense, just look in the mirror
The Cardinals have the third-ranked run defense in the league and have a penchant for coming up with stops when needed. The Lions have the second-ranked run defense and have a penchant for coming up with stops when needed. The Lions, in fact, have the top-ranked overall defense. It is that side of the ball that has put these two teams at the top of the NFC standings and the side of the ball that will ultimately determine how these teams do Sunday and beyond.
P-Twice versus Megatron
The battle between Patrick Peterson and Calvin Johnson won't be the only battle Johnson will face. There will be times Johnson sees Antonio Cromartie. There will be times Johnson gets zoned. But it'll be when Peterson covers Johnson when everyone will want to watch. Johnson got a couple of touchdowns in last year's matchup but the Cardinals won the game. Now that both players are healthy, it's the type of game within the game that's fun to watch.
I'll take the fourth
One theme both these teams have carried through their excellent start? Fourth-quarter magic. You can't be a good team unless you win close games, and both the Cardinals and the Lions have turned that into an art form this season. The Cardinals have outscored opponents, 91-34, in the fourth quarter and have four times won games while trailing in the fourth quarter. The Lions have won three straight with fourth quarter rallies, outscoring opponents 36-9 in those games and winning each game in the final two minutes. So maybe the team trailing going into the final quarter would be the one to favor.
A look at the players who have kept the Cardinals' defense among the NFL's best despite personnel losses
Staying atop the NFC
Does it matter that this game matches up two of the best teams in the NFC? "Hell yeah," Bruce Arians said. Maybe things will change after this game, but for now, this is monumental. Knocking off the Lions would give the Cards a two-games-in-the-loss-column lead on everyone in the NFC save for the Eagles – barring a Philly loss – but the Cards already beat the Eagles. Whether it is Stanton or not, the Cardinals are still in a position everyone in the league would love to be in, and with road trips to Seattle and then Atlanta on the schedule the next two weeks, stacking these wins at home are crucial -- especially against a team also vying for the best record in the conference.