Wild Card Push

The Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints are both still alive in the NFC's playoff race, but injuries to key players might prevent these clubs from qualifying for the postseason.

New Orleans will likely be without Reggie Bush again, while Arizona hopes its receivers are healthy enough to make an impact when the teams meet at the Superdome for the first time in 10 years Sunday.

Both teams are 6-7 and one game behind Minnesota - which hosts Chicago on Monday - for the final wild-card spot in the NFC, and both enter this contest banged up.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made New Orleans –3.5point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 48 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 72% of bets for this game have been placed on New Orleans –3.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Bush missed Monday's 34-14 win at Atlanta with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered during a Dec. 2 loss to Tampa Bay. It hasn't been announced whether Bush - the Saints' leading rusher with 581 yards and four touchdowns - will miss the rest of the season, but the injury will likely require at least a month to heal enough for him to play again.

Arizona, meanwhile, is hoping to get wide receiver Anquan Boldin back after he sat out a 42-21 loss at Seattle last Sunday with a dislocated toe on his left foot. Boldin is the Cardinals' second leading receiver with 48 catches for 552 yards and six touchdowns.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona's leader with 81 receptions, 1,139 yards and seven TDs, is also nursing a nagging groin injury and the Cardinals placed tight end Leonard Pope on injured reserve Wednesday with a dislocated right ankle. Pope caught 23 passes for 238 yards and five touchdowns this season.

With Bush sidelined Monday, Drew Brees completed 28 of 41 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns and third-string running back Aaron Stecker rushed for a season-high 100 yards to help New Orleans pull within two games of first-place Tampa Bay in the NFC South.

"We have guys that stepped up and played real well last night," Saints coach Sean Payton said Tuesday after he reviewed game film. "You're going to lose some players. ... You know you're going to have to rely on some other players during their time off. That's just the reality of our game. Hopefully you can still have consistency within your attack, either on defense or offense and in your kicking game."

New Orleans improved to 11-0 - including playoffs - when it runs the ball at least 30 times since Payton took over as coach last season.

"Any time you play well, you want to build on that," Payton said. "You want to look at the things you feel that you did well."

Arizona didn't do well last week, allowing its most points since also surrendering 42 to the New York Giants in the 2005 season opener. The Cardinals committed a season high-tying five turnovers, seven penalties and gave up five sacks.

"We're still right in the thick of things," Fitzgerald said Monday. "That last wild-card spot is something we all feel that we can attain. We're confident about our chances. Obviously, yesterday was a major setback, getting beat like that. But we control our own destiny from here on out."

After this game, the Cardinals end the regular season with matchups at home against a pair of 3-10 teams in Atlanta and St. Louis.

"We have to win out to have a chance," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

The Saints, meanwhile, host Philadelphia before closing out the season at Chicago in a rematch of last season's NFC championship game.

"I'm disappointed, surprised, but we still have a chance, that's all that matters," Brees told New Orleans' official Web site.

These teams are meeting at New Orleans for the first time since the Saints posted a 27-10 victory on Dec. 14, 1997. New Orleans has dropped two of the three meetings since, including a 34-10 defeat on Oct. 3, 2004.

New Orleans has lost four of six at home this season, including two straight, while Arizona is 2-5 on the road.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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