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Playoffs In View As Cardinals Host Vikings

"Thursday Night Football" matchup has big implications as both teams eye first-round bye


Running back Kerwynn Williams and the Cardinals will look to keep rolling on "Thursday Night Football" against the Vikings.

It's number-crunching time in the NFL. With four weeks remaining in the regular season, playoff scenarios abound across the league.

The Cardinals are lucky, though. While some teams need a TI-89 calculator to unfurl all their possibilities – looking at you, NFC East – the Cards can count their to-do list on one hand.

The Vikings come to town for "Thursday Night Football" and are one of two teams with a realistic shot at catching the Cardinals for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Packers are the other, and with a two-game lead and head-to-head matchups looming against both, the Cardinals know continuing to win will make for a cheerful holiday season.

"We've pretty much got the math figured out," safety Rashad Johnson said. "We know where we're at. We've just got to make sure we put all that to the side and execute."

The one-game-at-a-time mantra is spewed so commonly in NFL locker rooms it causes eyes to glaze over, and in a nice breath of fresh air, quarterback Carson Palmer said Monday the team is at a point where it can look ahead. The Cardinals (10-2) are one win away from clinching a playoff berth, but their goals are higher.

A win over the Vikings would keep the Cardinals very much in the catbird seat in the quest for a bye and a subsequent home playoff game. A loss to Minnesota wouldn't change where they are in the standings, but would tighten the collar down the stretch.

"We know where we sit and we can think about that because this game is that important," Palmer said. "This game means so much for that seed we're all shooting for. We're very focused on that and we understand all the circumstances around us."

If both teams play like they did last week, this won't be much of a showdown. The Cardinals ran up 524 yards of total offense and dominated the Rams defensively in a 27-3 win. The Vikings were besieged by a surging Seahawks team and never had a chance in a 38-7 defeat.

Minnesota, though, is 8-4 on the year. It has the league's top running back in Adrian Peterson and a defense which has been stout – although it will be missing four starters on Thursday. Beyond the personnel, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians knows the Vikings will be coming in with something to prove after that drubbing.

"I normally don't like to see that happen, because you're going to get more than their best shot the next time any time you get beat like that," Arians said. "And I know what Seattle can do to you. But every week's different."

The Cardinals offense remains No. 1 in the NFL in both points and total yards after last week's win, and now the defense has started to pick it up. The 49ers and Rams combined to score only 16 points the past two weeks, vaulting the Cardinals to a tie for No. 4 in points allowed at 19.3 per game.

With that combination, it's no wonder the team is a healthy favorite against an opponent fighting for a division crown of its own.

"Those guys (on offense) are putting up points and we're not allowing points," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "That's a good recipe for winning football."

This game brings the extra hurdle of a short week. It's not an ideal circumstance but every team must deal with it once per year, and the Cardinals are glad to play this one on their home turf.

The players barely broke a sweat in practice this week, and while practice squad running back Abou Toure wore a No. 28 jersey to signify Peterson each day, it wasn't exactly a replication of what the defense will face.

"It's hard to do it in walkthroughs," Arians said. "Line up about eight-and-a-half yards deep and walk fast."

The Cardinals are confident they will be ready for their fourth primetime game of the season and will try to extend their winning streak to seven games.

For each of the past two years, the team went into the final regular season week with huge implications on the line – a playoff berth in 2013 and the NFC West title in 2014 – and watched helplessly as others derailed those possibilities.

As the regular season goes into its final quarter of 2015, there's no one in the way of a coveted first-round playoff bye.

"If we win out, we'll be a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "It's pretty much that simple. We control our own destiny, and we have to go out there and execute and perform at a high level. If we don't, we're the ones to blame."

Images of the key players for this week's opponent, the Minnesota Vikings

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