Cardinals-Panthers matchup loses luster with rough starts

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Carolina Panthers hosting the Arizona Cardinals was supposed to be a marquee matchup this Sunday.

It was slated as a featured game in the late afternoon time slot, a tantalizing rematch of last season's NFC championship game.

Then the Cardinals dropped three of their first five games. The Panthers fared even worse, losing four of their first five. On Oct. 12, the game time was moved up to 1 p.m. EDT, with Atlanta-Green Bay taking its place.

It was a by-product of two teams that figured to be top contenders for the NFC title now trying to revive their seasons. The Cardinals (3-3-1) are coming off a rare tie and the Panthers are 1-5 coming off a bye week.

''This team right now is in a totally different place than when we went over there last year for the championship, and hopefully we can go somewhere else for the championship,'' Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. ''But this is next week's game, no more, no less. We've got to win.''

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it's surprising that neither team is the contender it was expected to be.

''Most certainly,'' Rivera said. ''Heck, the league thought that. We were the 4:30 game at one time, so we had an opportunity to do some good things and unfortunately that's not it. So the approach has to be you've got to win as many as you can going forward.''

The Cardinals not only have to travel across the country, they are still recovering from Sunday night's pounding during the 6-6 tie with the Seattle Seahawks. As a result, the team held a no-contact partial walk-through Wednesday.

''We basically played two games in one night the other night and not physically ready to do that much,'' Arians said. ''But it was a very good start to the week mentally, and we'll be ready physically by the time we get there Sunday.''

Quarterback Carson Palmer appreciated the lighter practice. He said he felt tired Monday and was glad to take the pads off Wednesday, which isn't normally the case.

''You're playing a team coming off a bye. They've had an extra week and you've played an extra quarter of football against a division opponent,'' Palmer said. ''So I just think with their rest that they have and with us playing Sunday night and playing late, we had a good outcome of guys just really walking through most of practice and not having pads on.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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