The Cardinals will play the Colts and the Giants on "Sunday Night Football" this season.
Thanks to their status as NFC champions, the Cardinals are going to be part of the NFL's marquee TV game twice in 2009.
The Cards will appear on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" both at home – against the Indianapolis Colts Sept. 27 – and on the road – against the New York Giants Oct. 25. Add in an ESPN "Monday Night Football" appearance in San Francisco Dec. 14, and the Cardinals will have seen one of the lingering upsides to their remarkable 2008 playoff run.
The TV dates are the biggest highlights of the schedule, which was released by the NFL Tuesday.
The night game with the 49ers is the third straight year the Cards will play San Francisco on Monday. The Cards also will open with the 49ers for a fourth straight season, when San Francisco visits University of Phoenix Stadium Sept. 13.
It's only the third time the team has appeared in primetime games three times in a season, following 1995 and 1999.
"It's a little bit like the Pro Bowl, which we had five guys in there this year, because it's a sign of respect with what we are doing," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "That is an indication that people are looking at us as a team of interest, which hasn't necessarily been the case on a national level."
The bye week comes early, after just three games – after hosting the 49ers, the Cards go to Jacksonville and before the Colts' game. The Cardinals do get to close the season with two straight home games – against the Rams Dec. 27 and the Packers Jan. 3 – but before that have a stretch of four road games in five weeks.
"Getting off to a fast start helped us last year and that will be a focus this year," Whisenhunt said. "I was not thrilled the bye week being after the third week of the season, but I went back and looked at the Super Bowl teams from last year and it was the same thing. So that's part of the scheduling thing."
Both the Super Bowl XLII participants – New England and the Giants – had their bye weeks after three games in 2008.
That the NFL would place the Cards-Giants or Cards-Colts game on NBC isn't a surprise. The Cardinals were the NFC representative in the Super Bowl, the Giants will likely remain the NFC favorite to get there and the Colts are a perennial AFC contender.
The Cards-Giants also had a high-scoring game last season, with the Giants pulling out a 37-29 win in Arizona. The Cardinals haven't played the Colts since 2005, when the teams met in a meaningless finale and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning played only three snaps. Whisenhunt said he expected the Colts' game to "like a playoff game" in its excitement.
Following the bye, the Cards remain at home, taking on Houston Oct. 11. Then come back-to-back road games in Seattle Oct. 18 and in New York.
The Panthers visit Glendale Nov. 1, with the Cards going to see Jay Cutler and the Bears in Chicago Nov. 8. Road trips to St. Louis (Nov. 22) and Tennessee (Nov. 29) come next before the Cards host Minnesota and Adrian Peterson Dec. 6.
Weather does not seem to be a potential factor, save for maybe the Tennessee trip.
"You never know for sure," Whisenhunt said. "I don't want to use weather as an excuse, but it's always a little more comforting when you see a team like New York on your schedule and you know you will get them in the early part of the season as opposed to later when you could get some bad weather.
"I say that, and I've probably jinxed myself."
After the Monday night game in the Bay Area, the Cards are at Detroit Dec. 20 prior to their final two-game stretch at home.
"I like the way the schedule is laid out," Whisenhunt said. "I especially like the final two games are at home. Hopefully if there are playoff implications for us we know what an atmosphere University of Phoenix Stadium creates for us."
The preseason schedule was already all but set. The Cardinals play on ESPN for a fourth national telecast Aug. 13 in Pittsburgh – a Thursday night game. The Cards then host San Diego (Aug. 22) and Green Bay (Aug. 28) before closing the preseason in Denver Sept. 3.
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 4/14/09. Updated 4/19/09.