Saints and Cardinals, both heading nowhere, meet in desert

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Two teams almost certainly headed nowhere collide in the desert Sunday.

The New Orleans Saints (5-8) and Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1) are in the homestretch of disappointing seasons.

There are some far-fetched scenarios that have either team reaching the playoffs. The New York Times put the chances of New Orleans making the postseason at 1 percent, Arizona at 2 percent.

So most everyone involved with this game is resigned that the season will end in three weeks.

''Just being real,'' Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

That doesn't mean the game is meaningless.

''That's what we're paid to do. We're paid to play games,'' Arizona center A.Q. Shipley said. ''We have to go out and perform to the highest level. Some of us are playing for futures. Some of us are playing for right now.''

The Saints have to win out to avoid a third consecutive losing season. But coach Sean Payton said this is a different team than those two 7-9 squads and he's encouraged by its progress.

''I'm encouraged with young guys we had a chance to play through injury,'' he said. ''We've overcome some, tough, hard-fought games. ... It's going to be important that this team finishes well though.''

One more loss and the Cardinals will have their first losing season in Arians' four years as coach.

New Orleans has lost three in a row in Arizona, most recently a 31-19 defeat in last year's season opener. Drew Brees completed 30 of 48 passes for 355 yards, but had only one touchdown with one interception.

''We haven't played real well when we've played there, so I think that's another challenge for us - turning that streak around,'' Brees said. ''We need to go to a place like that, a hostile environment, and be able to play well on the road.''

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer will try to survive behind a makeshift offensive line. Tackle D.J. Humphries is out with a concussion, so the lineup will include John Wetzel at left tackle, Taylor Boggs at right guard (in his first NFL start) and Earl Watford at right tackle.

Here are some things to consider when New Orleans meets the Cardinals:

JOHNSON MARCHES ON: Arizona's David Johnson can set an NFL record if he amasses 100 yards from scrimmage again Sunday. He would be the first player to top that mark in each of the first 14 games of a season. Right now he and Edgerrin James are tied at 13 in a row.

Johnson has his eyes on an even more impressive stat. He needs 255 yards receiving to join Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a single season.

NO FLOYD: Wide receiver Michael Floyd was released by Arizona on Wednesday, two days after police say he was found unconscious behind the wheel of a running vehicle at a Scottsdale intersection. Floyd was charged with driving under the influence and failure to obey a police officer.

He signed with New England on Thursday.

The abrupt departure of the team's 2012 first-round draft pick should mean even more action for the Cardinals' diminutive wide receiver J.J. Nelson, who caught two TD passes in last Sunday's loss at Miami.

After Larry Fitzgerald and Nelson, ''a bunch of guys'' will fill in for Floyd, Arians said. One of them is John Brown, who has been slowed by fatigue related to a diagnosis of a sickle cell trait.

OFFENSE VS DEFENSE: The Saints have the No. 1-ranked offense in the league at 418 yards per game. The Cardinals have the No. 1 defense, giving up 298 yards per game.

So something has to give.

''I guess that's kind of exciting, isn't it?'' Brees said.

New Orleans' offense ranks first in passing, too, at 314 yards per game. The Cardinals are second in pass defense, giving up 202 yards per contest.

OFFENSIVE WASTE: While the Saints are ranked No. 1 on offense, their inability to reach the end zone during the past two games helped their playoff hopes fade to black. New Orleans has scored just one touchdown in the past two games against Detroit and Tampa Bay. Five drives during that span have ended with field goals and six with interceptions.

IMPROVING D: Five weeks into the season, the Saints allowed four opponents to score 34 or more points and ranked 31st in the NFL on defense. Since then, they've held five opponents to 23 or fewer points and have climbed seven spots in the defensive rankings to 24th.

Some of that has to do with players returning from injuries. And it's evidence that chemistry across the defense and players' understanding of coordinator Dennis Allen's scheme have improved.

---

AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

---

For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.