Loaded Cardinals use bye week to prepare for 3 possible foes
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Loaded at pretty much every position, the Arizona Cardinals are in a ''win now'' mode.
That's true of their 63-year-old coach and especially true of their 36-year-old quarterback. Carson Palmer finally is in position to go for the first playoff victory of his 13-year NFL career, and knows he won't have many more chances like this.
With a 13-3 record, the Cardinals earned a first-round bye. They will play at home Jan. 16 against either Minnesota, Washington or Green Bay.
They wasted no time in preparing for those three potential opponents.
Each of their three practices during the bye week zoned in on one of them: Green Bay on Wednesday, Minnesota on Thursday, Washington on Friday.
It will give the Cardinals a head start when practice resumes next week.
''There will be some minor touches when we find out who we play,'' coach Bruce Arians said. ''But the majority of all three game plans is finished.''
The Cardinals are convinced their 36-6 home loss to Seattle in their regular-season finale was an aberration.
''We believe that if we play our game,'' Larry Fitzgerald said, '' we can beat anybody.''
Arizona had won nine in a row entering the game and had sewn up the No. 2 seed in the NFC (behind No. 1 Carolina) the previous week, so the Seahawks game hurt nothing except the Cardinals' pride.
''We had a very great stretch and now I see the same thing in their eyes,'' Arians said. ''There's something to play for. There's something to prepare for, just like we did for nine weeks.''
Palmer, a Heisman Trophy winner at USC and drafted by Cincinnati as the No. 1 pick overall in 2003, has played in 162 NFL games, but just two in the postseason. The first came in 2005, his second season as a starter.
Arians watched from the opposite sideline as Pittsburgh's wide receivers coach when Palmer dropped back on his first passing play and completed a 66-yarder to Chris Henry. But Palmer never saw the completion. He was hit, went to the ground writhing in pain with a torn ACL and MCL.
Then came his bitter holdout with the Bengals in 2011 and a brief, difficult time with the Oakland Raiders before he was traded to Arizona, essentially for just a sixth-round draft pick, after the 2012 season.
Through it all, Palmer said, he never lost hope that he'd appear in the playoffs again.
''Just knew it would happen,'' he said. ''I didn't know when or how, but I just expected it and prepared for it.''
The Cardinals made the playoffs last year as a wild card. But without Palmer and his backup Drew Stanton, both out with knee injuries, Arizona was down to third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley in a 27-16 playoff loss at Carolina.
Now Palmer enters the postseason at the controls of an offense that leads the NFL in total yards (408.3 per game) and is second in scoring (30.6 points). He has thrown for franchise records of 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Fitzgerald, in a renaissance season, caught 109 passes to break his decade-old franchise mark as the leader of a talented group of receivers that includes John Brown and Michael Floyd. Fitzgerald and Brown each topped 1,000 yards receiving and Floyd probably would have had the start of his season not been slowed after he dislocated three fingers in training camp.
David Johnson took over for the injured Chris Johnson at running back and has been another big-play threat, both as a runner and receiver. Johnson, who leads the team with 13 touchdowns, was chosen NFL offensive rookie of the month for December.
''If he would have played more earlier in the year I think he could be rookie of the year,'' Fitzgerald said. ''He's a dynamic player.''
The Cardinals' defense dominated in a 38-8 rout of Green Bay two weekends ago, then came out flat and was steamrolled by Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
''That put a nasty taste in your mouth,'' cornerback Jerraud Powers said. ''It's not like basketball where you can get beat by 20 and then 24 hours later you've got a new game. We have to wait a little bit and that's kind of been the drive during practice. Guys just can't wait to be in our home stadium next week, play whoever we're going to play.''
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