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The Cardinals celebrated after clinching their division title against the Rams last week, but they want to refocus with the Vikings visiting Sunday.

The division is clinched. A playoff appearance is guaranteed.

Significant achievements, yes, especially for a franchise that had gone a decade without the playoffs and 33 years without a division title. But the Cardinals don't want them to be their only accomplishments.

"It will take some time to convince guys who haven't been here before that this isn't the pinnacle," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "Because a lot of guys here

When: Sunday, 2:05 p.m.
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haven't been to the playoffs before, and that (contentment) is something we have to fight."

With the Minnesota Vikings visiting Sunday, the Cardinals will be immediately pressed into learning about themselves.

The Cards have the same record as the Vikings (8-5) and they can talk about their motivation. But the more desperate team is clearly Minnesota, which needs to win to stay ahead of Chicago in the NFC North race and is unlikely to make the playoffs without that division championship.

Hosting a playoff-caliber opponent may be the perfect situation for the Cards, who want to keep pushing themselves as the postseason approaches.

"We still have work to do. We can't stop right now," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "It is important for us as a team to continue to get better."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt repeated himself this week in talking about the Cards' need to improve their seeding. Despite the Super Bowls won by wild cards like the Giants and the Steelers, history shows the higher playoff seeds with the much better chance to advance.

The Cardinals technically are the fourth seed right now, behind the Vikings with a tiebreaker. But that will be rectified Sunday when the two meet and the head-to-head result will put the winner in control of the third seed.

The second seed is unlikely – the Cardinals lost head-to-head to the Panthers, who would now have to lose out while the Cards win out – but remains a scant hope.

The Vikings had hoped to have a chance to clinch their division title against the Cards, but that chance was taken away when the Bears won against New Orleans Thursday night. That should only increase the Vikings' intensity, since their closing schedule appears more difficult than Chicago's.

"It's served us best to not get out of our lane and focus all of our stuff on the Arizona Cardinals," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "We can't really be worried about what (happened) Thursday or what happens Sunday. It doesn't make any difference unless we're doing what we should be doing."

The Cards are trying to take the same tack. Warner, save for immediately after the NFC West-clinching win over the Rams, has been downplaying the Cardinals' championship.

His concern of his team's mental state is valid; the majority of the players in the Arizona locker room have never been to the playoffs.

"Anytime you have never done something, you don't know what to fully expect," said veteran guard Reggie Wells, in his sixth season but one of the playoff newcomers. "For guys who have experience in this league, I don't think it will be a problem. It is great to be in there, instead of knowing you're going to be at home watching another team playing."

The Cardinals have intangible reasons to win as well. The euphoria of their title would only be underscored with at least 10 victories, a level not yet reached by the franchise since it moved to Arizona. That would take at least two wins in the final three games.

Since the Vikings are playoff contenders as well as the Patriots – whom the Cards visit next week – winning such games would carry with them extra value.

"When you get to this point, you have to believe in your team," Warner said. "Anytime you play against the best teams in the league you can prove that to yourselves. That's what needs to be proven to everybody here: That we can play with anybody any given Sunday and we can beat anybody.

"Because that is what it will take in the playoffs. We will have teams that are quote-unquote better than us, and we'll have to beat them to reach our ultimate goal."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 12/13/08.

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