Pats Host Cards
Foxboro, MA - Eight wins were enough for the Arizona Cardinals to secure their first division title in more than 30 years.
Eleven victories may leave the New England Patriots out of the playoffs altogether.
The Patriots will try to keep pace in the crowded AFC playoff chase on Sunday against Arizona, which will be looking for just its third win in its last 22 trips to the Eastern time zone.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Patriots –9 point spread favorites for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. Current NFL Public Betting Information shows that 53% of more than 5,283 bets for this game have been placed on the Patriots -9.
New England (9-5) sits in a three-way tie atop the AFC East and still has a chance to go 11-5 without reigning NFL MVP Tom Brady, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the team's opening game.
But even if the Patriots win their final two games, they could become the second team to miss the postseason at 11-5. The 1985 Denver Broncos didn't make the playoffs after posting that record.
In order to win the division, New England would have to win out and need the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins - who face each other in Week 17 - to each lose one of their final two games. The Patriots could also earn a wild-card berth if they win twice and Baltimore loses one of its last two.
"I'm not even thinking about it. I'm not sure exactly what all the scenarios are. It doesn't make any difference," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "There's a million things that can happen and the only thing we can control is how we prepare and play against Arizona."
The Patriots took care of business on their recent West Coast trip, edging Seattle 24-21 on Dec. 7 before spending the following week in San Jose to prepare for last Sunday's 49-26 drubbing of Oakland.
Against the Raiders, Matt Cassel threw for 218 yards and a career-high four touchdowns just six days after the death of his father, while the Patriots piled up 277 rushing yards - their most in a game since 1985. Sammy Morris led the way with 117 yards on the ground.
New England's recent victories have come despite a bevy of injuries. Aside from Brady, running back Laurence Maroney and safety Rodney Harrison, all of whom are on injured reserve, the Patriots are also playing without linebackers Adalius Thomas, Tedy Bruschi and Pierre Woods, prompting them to sign veterans Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin.
Left tackle Matt Light injured his shoulder against the Raiders and could miss Sunday's game.
"Everybody has to lean on each other because we knew once Tom, Hot Rod's (Harrison) and all the other injuries happened, that everybody else was going to be against us and we had to pull together and carry each other," second-year safety Brandon Meriweather said.
Meriweather, who forced a key fumble to clinch the win in Seattle, leads the team with four interceptions, while rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo is the leading tackler.
The youngsters and the rest of New England's patchwork defense should have a tough test against the Cardinals (8-6), who have already clinched the weak NFC West - their first division title since 1975. They will be making their first playoff appearance since 1998.
Arizona has succeeded thanks in part to the second-best passing offense in the NFL. Behind quarterback Kurt Warner and Pro Bowl receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals rack up 299.0 yards per game through the air.
"The quality of the whole group is really outstanding. It's hard to zero in on one guy," Belichick said. "They have a very diversified passing game, one that attacks all areas of the field, and it's very well executed."
The last time Belichick faced a Warner-led offense was on Feb. 3, 2002, when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl by defeating Warner's heavily favored St. Louis Rams 20-17. Even at 37 years old, "(Warner) looks pretty much the same," Belichick said.
This time, however, the Patriots will be favorites, as Arizona will be looking to bounce back after losing three of its last four.
All but assuring they will enter the NFC playoffs as the No. 4 seed, the Cardinals managed a season-low in points in a 35-14 home loss to Minnesota last Sunday, allowing 35 or more points for the third time in their last four contests, including four touchdown passes to Minnesota backup Tarvaris Jackson.
"We don't have any room for letdowns or games like this," Warner said. "We've got to keep getting better."
Arizona can't get much worse when it travels east. The Cardinals are 2-19 in their last 21 games in the Eastern time zone, including losses against Washington, the Jets, Carolina and Philadelphia this season. They've allowed an average of 38.8 points in those games.
They haven't beaten the Patriots since 1991, losing four straight, and they haven't won in Foxborough since 1984. Their only visit since was a 31-0 defeat on Sept. 15, 1996.
Top Public Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
NEW ENGLAND is 4-0 against the spread versus ARIZONA since 1992
NEW ENGLAND is 4-0 straight up against ARIZONA since 1992
3 of 4 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
There were no past matchups in this series during this time period.
All games played at NEW ENGLAND since 1992
NEW ENGLAND is 1-0 against the spread versus ARIZONA since 1992
NEW ENGLAND is 1-0 straight up against ARIZONA since 1992
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Key Player Injuries
[LB] Pago Togafau missed last game, "?" - Knee - 12/14/08
[LB] Clark Haggans missed last game, "?" - Foot - 12/14/08
[LB] Ali Highsmith IR - Knee - 11/03/08
[FS] James Sanders missed last game, "?" - Abdominal - 12/14/08
[S] Tank Williams IR. - Knee - 08/09/08
[LB] Gary Guyton injured last game %27?%27 - Undisclosed - 12/14/08
[LB] Shawn Crable IR - Shin - 11/05/08
[CB] Terence Wheatley IR - Wrist - 11/17/08
(!) [QB] Tom Brady IR - Knee - 09/07/08
[LB] Tedy Bruschi injured last game, downgraded to expected to miss the rest of the season. - Knee - 12/09/08
[S] Rodney Harrison IR - Knee - 10/21/08
[OT] Matt Light injured last game %27?%27 - Shoulder - 12/14/08
[LB] Eric Alexander IR - Hamstring - 11/21/08
[RB] Laurence Maroney IR - Shoulder - 10/17/08
[LB] Pierre Woods IR - Jaw - 12/13/08
[LB] Adalius Thomas IR - Forearm - 12/05/08
[CB] Jason Webster IR - Ankle - 12/03/08
Posted: 12/17/08 8:59PM ET