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Like A Playoff Game

Cards and Bengals each facing must-win to keep postseason hope alive

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Safety Kerry Rhodes needs every part of his athletic ability to knock down a pass during the game against the Browns last week.


CINCINNATI -- Plenty of players in the Cardinals' locker room have been to the playoffs before.

This Saturday, at Paul Brown Stadium, isn't it.

It might as well be, the way the Cards have snaked their way back into postseason talk, regardless of how slim the chance. Multiple losses from multiple teams are needed for the postseason, but all the games the Cards will be watching begin after the Cards and Bengals play. It's like a playoff game, without the extra checks.

"Nothing compares to the playoffs," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "But, in theory, you can really sell that point and Coach has done a good job of doing that. From here on out, we have to play it like that because if we lose we are done. Trying to simulate a playoff atmosphere, it's hard to do. But it's close."

The Bengals (8-6) are in the same spot as the Cardinals (7-7). A loss would be crippling.

Not surprisingly, both coaches have worked hard to eliminate the p-word from their teams' collective vocabulary. When a team has to win every game just to enter playoff discussion – as the Cardinals have basically for more than a month – it makes sense.

There was something about beating the Browns last week and reaching. 500 that seems to have changed the equation.

"All you can do is hope that the focus we have had the last six or seven weeks, which is just that week, will help carry you through," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We have a lot of young guys that, this time of year, you never know how they will respond to that. We've given them the message every day. You hope that because we have been in this mentality the last six or seven weeks … it will help us."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has made it even more simple: "I told our guys this: 'Don't even answer the question. Don't even waste our energy or time, it doesn't matter."

The Cardinals have won just two of seven road games, but two of the last three has they have flipped the season and the confidence has grown to heights that couldn't have been predicted back in mid-October.

That still pains many of the Cards, who, regardless of where they are now, can't help and think of what happened earlier in the schedule.

"This is like the playoffs just because of the situation we are in," linebacker Daryl Washington said. "If we won those games we should have won, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

The matchup seems to be an even one, and the Cardinals did win in their last trip to Cincinnati, although that was during the 2007 season when the roster of both teams looked little like they do now. The Bengals ride a solid defense and the running of Cedric Benson, although rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and rookie wide receiver A.J. Green show a scary potential already.

The Cardinals have been almost all defense and an offense that isn't as consistent as needed but unbelievably timely. With Kevin Kolb limited all week because of lingering concussion issues, John Skelton is expected to start again at quarterback.

Scoreboard watching isn't necessarily going on, although the timing of the games will help the Cards' focus in that regard.

"During the game, you engulf yourself with what is going on," Rhodes said. "But after the game, I promise you, we will try to see what is going on, no question."

First, it takes a victory to keep hope alive.

"It's meaningful and you always want to play in meaningful games in December," safety Adrian Wilson said. "To say it's a playoff atmosphere, yeah. That's important. We are looking at it as a must-win and I am pretty sure they are looking at it the same way."

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