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The Beginning Or The End

Cardinals' most important journey starts now

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The Cardinals will try and repeat their run to the Super Bowl starting against the Packers.
 
 
The playoffs have arrived, and for the Cardinals, that's all that matters.

The talk about what the Cards did or didn't do against Green Bay in the season finale is rendered moot, as is discussion about injuries. The losses that hurt – against the 49ers or the Panthers, for instance – don't matter, nor do the 10 victories for the first time since 1976.

"These first 20 weeks or whatever," Kurt Warner said, "is solely for this moment."

Sunday's Wild Card playoff game against the Packers is where the Cardinals' season really begins. Or ends.

One loss means the offseason, a frightening reality for any team that has gotten this far. But each victory puts a team that much closer to a Super Bowl, making each game an exhilarating, tension-filled moment in time.

"It's fun to be here because otherwise, I don't know the reason for playing the other 16 games unless you're going to have a chance to do this," Warner said. "This is fun. Opportunities are great. I think we showed last year that once you get to this point, anything is possible. That's the fun part of it."
 
The winner of the game will play at New Orleans Jan. 16 in the Divisional round. Dallas will play at Minnesota on Sunday in the other NFC Divisional matchup.


The Cardinals made their spectacular run a year ago, an unexpected journey that almost ended in a title. While this year's team has smartly tried to turn last season's postseason accomplishments into ancient history, those results have also undoubtedly raised expectations both inside the locker room and with the fan base.

Those results also confirm recent NFL history. The Giants won the title after the 2007 season as a wild card; the Steelers (when coach Ken Whisenhunt was there) won as a wild card in 2005.

"If you get into the playoffs and you just happen to hit that streak, then it doesn't matter if you're the first seed or the sixth seed," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. "If you hit that stride and get some momentum, you find yourself in the Super Bowl."

Last year's Cards were a No. 4 seed, same as this season, although many see the Packers – a No. 5 seed – as the team that will prevail Sunday.

Many national pundits don't know exactly what the Cards are bringing Sunday, however. Sitting back and doing nothing – by design – in last week's 33-7 loss has added an element of surprise.

Not everyone would cop to it -- "We didn't hold nothing back," defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. "What you saw is what you'll probably see on Sunday" – but there is little question the Cards wanted to unveil something new.

"If you guys tune in on Sunday," defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said, "we'll show you some of those tricks."

The Packers did play their starters longer and unleashed more of their playbook, but they have insisted throughout the week they too held some things back for the playoff rematch.

The Packers are also mostly healthy. The only player not expected to play is special teamer Derrick Martin (the Packers had long ago lost starting cornerback Al Harris and pass rusher Aaron Kampman). For the Cardinals, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee, toe), defensive end Calais Campbell (thumb) and safety Antrel Rolle (thigh) will all play, although they likely will not be at full health.

Nevertheless, "there's no such thing as not being 100 percent," Rolle said. "If we're in the game, there are no excuses."

The Cards probably won't have wide receiver Anquan Boldin (ankle, knee), although Boldin and Whisenhunt said all week they won't make the decision on Boldin's status until Sunday.

Whisenhunt carries with him a confidence the Cardinals are in a better position than last year, when the vast majority of players had yet to experience the playoffs. That's not a problem anymore.

"Being the defending champions doesn't really mean anything," Whisenhunt said. "This is a new season. We're certainly excited we're in the playoffs, especially after losing the Super Bowl. I think we know who we are as a football team."

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