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Playoffs Coming Into Focus For Cardinals

Arians wants better play, but NFC West, postseason bye within reach

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Defensive tackle Calais Campbell (right) air-bumps wide receiver Michael Floyd after Floyd's touchdown catch during the Cardinals' 23-20 win over the Vikings.


Bruce Arians got a text after the Cardinals beat the Vikings to clinch a playoff spot.

"Hey, you punched your ticket," it read.

Truth, but Arians didn't hesitate in his response. "We're trying to upgrade to first class," he sent back.

The Cardinals have tied the franchise record for wins in a season with 11 and have won seven straight. But with three games remaining,

there is much more to gain, and – after an uneven performance against Minnesota – things to fix if that regular-season success is going to translate in the postseason.

"We have bigger goals," quarterback Carson Palmer said.

That starts with both an NFC West title and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The magic number for the NFC West is down to one – one Cardinals win or one Seattle loss will give the Cards their first NFC West championship since 2009. The magic number to clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC (and a bye) is two with Green Bay – any combination of two Cards' wins or Packers' losses.

With the Cardinals (11-2) playing on Thursday and not again until "Sunday Night Football" at Philadelphia in a little over a week, Arians' club could conceivably clinch both before they even play another game.

That is unlikely. The surging Seahawks (7-5) play in Baltimore (potentially against quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who was recently signed by the Ravens) and then host woeful Cleveland. The Packers (8-4) are home against the Cowboys and then play at Oakland.

The Cards wouldn't mind wrapping things up sooner rather than later. Their last two games after the Eagles are home games against the Packers and then the Seahawks. Then again, the Cardinals completely control how this turns out. They are in the command position, even if they need to play better.

"You want to have momentum going into January, and December wins are huge and crucial," linebacker Dwight Freeney said. "We are still

fighting to lock down that two seed and hopefully a one seed if something happens. We have to take every game serious like it is a playoff game."

Arians said the Cardinals, with an extra practice Tuesday following a four-day weekend for the players, will likely work in pads one day next week. Even with the winning streak, Arians acknowledged the Cardinals were fortunate to win against the Vikings.

The Cardinals gave up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, the fourth time in five games in which they have blown a lead in the final quarter. The flip side is that the Cards keep finding a way to rally.

Arians said he puts that failure more on the offense than the defense, because the offense has failed to score enough. Against the Vikings, Minnesota had cut the lead to seven when the Cardinals went three-and-out, failing to pick up a first down on third-and-1.

"That just can't happen with our offense," Arians said. "We need to answer a score with a score."

That work will begin again next week. For now, it's time off, and maybe a little scoreboard watching -- but not much.

"You appreciate winning the most and then there's always time to correct, and it's a lot easier correcting when you win," Arians said. "The games that we're playing now, Philly's in first place, Green Bay's in first place, Seattle's chasing us. So, as far as getting ready to play, that's not an issue. It's just getting ready to play good."

ARIANS HAT UP FOR AUCTION

Arians wore his famous "Gatsby" hat on the sideline against the Vikings for the first time Thursday. It is not approved sideline apparel for the NFL – Arians said the league did not approve him wearing it Thursday either – but he wore it to raise awareness for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

Arians' wife, Christine, started volunteering for 15 years ago. CASA helps abused or neglected children in the court system.

The Arians Foundation presented CASA of Maricopa County with a $150,000 check before the Vikings game, and then Arians wore the cap during the game to raise awareness. The hat he wore is now up for auction at ariansfamilyfoundation.com to raise more money.

INJURY UPDATE

Arians sounded optimistic the Cardinals can get defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle), tight end Jermaine Gresham (knee) and cornerback Jerraud Powers (calf) back at practice next week. Cornerback Brittan Golden is going through the concussion protocol, but Arians thought he would be OK. Running back David Johnson has a thigh bruise, but he said after the game it was more annoying than anything.

Arians also said linebacker Sean Weatherspoon dislocated his finger late in the game, and Weatherspoon's rush to get off the field was why the Cardinals ended up with a too-many-men penalty.

As for running back Andre Ellington, Arians said that is wait and see, calling Ellington's return from turf toe a "pain tolerance" issue. He said Ellington's role – and whether Johnson remained starter – will depend on how much Ellington can go when he returns.

The top individual performances for the Cardinals in Thursday night's win over the Vikings



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