TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -The Arizona Cardinals have clinched the NFC West title with three games to spare. They are assured their first home playoff game in 61 years.
Now coach Ken Whisenhunt's challenge is to make sure there is no letdown over the final weeks of the regular season. This is, after all, foreign territory.
He believes the team has one big incentive.
``We've got to improve our seed,'' Whisenhunt said on Monday. ``That's the first and foremost thing. ... That's what these next three weeks are about, putting ourselves in the best position we can going into the playoffs.
``We can officially now say we're in the playoffs. Now we want to get into the best spot that we can.''
If the playoffs began Monday, the Cardinals would be the NFC's No.4 seed. They could move up to No. 3 by beating the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings at home on Sunday. Either way Arizona would host a first-round playoff game the weekend of Jan. 3-4.
na 5-1 at home this season and 11-3 there since Whisenhunt took over as coach in 2007.
After facing the Vikings, Arizona plays at New England, then finishes the regular season at home against Seattle. Whisenhunt holds out hope the Cardinals could climb to the No. 2 seed and get a first-round bye.
``I'm certainly not going to rule that out,'' Whisenhunt said. ``The only thing I don't like about it is we need help. I think that we have to win the rest of our games and we do need help, but it's something that we can fight for and there is a chance.''
Tampa Bay and Carolina are battling for the No. 3 seed. Whichever of those teams loses that fight probably will be a wild-card team and a potential first-round opponent for the Cardinals.
This is heady stuff for a franchise that has had one winning season since 1984 and will be in the playoffs for only the second time since moving from St. Louis to Arizona two decades ago.
The longest-tenured member of those Cardinals teams is safety Adrian Wilson, who has spent all eight of his NFL seasons with Arizona. He talked about the difference between the teams that failed and this one, which won the franchise's first division championship in 33 years.
d. There is nobody that is trying to hide. That is the difference between this team and every other team, the accountability.''
Whisenhunt said he received many messages of congratulations, including a text message from his friend, Miami coach Tony Sparano, who has his team in a three-way tie for first in the AFC East. Whisenhunt and Sparano were together on the staff of the 2-14 expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999.
Whisenhunt said he took his family out to dinner Sunday and had a mostly sleepless night. It was similar to the sleepless night he had after the team's 38-20 Thanksgiving debacle in Philadelphia.
``Only this time it was a good thing,'' Whisenhunt said.
A three-game slide to a second consecutive 8-8 record would severely dim the glow the Cardinals are feeling.
The fact that Minnesota, Arizona's next opponent, is fighting for a playoff spot will help avoid an Arizona letdown, Whisenhunt said.
``I think it helps with our preparation,'' he said. ``I know that coming off a game like this, where we've just won the division, there's a lot of distractions that come with that, as well as a lot of excitement. Realizing that we're playing a good football team that is a playoff-type team that we have to prepare for is a good thing.''
There is little thought of resting players to get them fresh for the postseason.
``It really depends on how things shake out in the next couple of weeks and where we potentially are,'' Whisenhunt said. ``I really believe that we want to keep our foot on the gas.''

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