Still Something to Play For

Though they'll miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, the Arizona Cardinals appear encouraged heading into their 2007 finale. The same certainly cannot be said for the St. Louis Rams as they deal with turmoil on the sidelines.

The Cardinals will try to finish at .500 as they host the woeful Rams on Sunday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Arizona -6 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 47.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 55% of bets for this game have been placed on Arizona -6 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals (7-8) already have their most wins in a single season since 2001 and are in position to avoid finishing with a losing record for the first time since going 9-7 in 1998, when they made their only playoff appearance since moving from St. Louis a decade earlier.

Whisenhunt had mixed feelings on the significance of a potential .500 finish for a team that averaged just over five wins a season since last reaching the playoffs.

First, he said, "8-8 is not where I want to be. I feel we're a better team than that. We will be a better team than that," but later added a .500 record would "be a significant change record-wise for this team."

"I heard a number of our players say yesterday that they'd never won this many games in a season," Whisenhunt said. "If we can win another one, it will hopefully lay the groundwork for a good season next year."

Heading into 2008, Whisenhunt will probably stress how close his team was to a playoff berth. Six of the Cardinals' defeats were by a touchdown or less and another came after they had a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"There probably are three or four plays that's the difference between us sitting here at 9-6 or even 10-5," Whisenhunt said. "That's frustrating."

A former offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, Whisenhunt has started to cultivate an effective offense in Arizona. The Cardinals have scored at least 20 points in seven consecutive games for the first time since 1983-84, and their five 30-point games are the team's most in 23 years.

The Cardinals also are going for their first three-game home winning streak since Oct. 3-Nov. 13, 2004, and their third since moving to the Southwest. Last Sunday, Neil Rackers kicked a 29-yard field goal as time expired in regulation, and added a 31-yarder in overtime for a 30-27 win over Atlanta.

"A lot of things came together that didn't happen for us earlier in the year," Arizona's Kurt Warner said. "Maybe that's a sign of us growing up."

Warner was 36-of-53 for 361 yards with three touchdown passes, including two to Anquan Boldin, who had 13 catches for 162 yards. A two-time league MVP with the Rams, Warner was expected to be a backup this season to Matt Leinart, who broke a collarbone on Oct. 7 in Arizona's 34-31 win at St. Louis.

Warner passed for 190 yards and a touchdown with an interception in that game. He's thrown nine interceptions in the last five games, but has thrown for at least 337 yards in three of them while eclipsing 3,000 passing yards for the first time since 2001 when he led St. Louis to the Super Bowl.

The 36-year-old Warner has 24 TD passes this season, four short of the franchise record shared by Neil Lomax and Charley Johnson. The Rams' pass defense is tied with Atlanta for 19th in the league with 220.9 yards per game and has given up 22 TDs this season, part of the reason St. Louis has given up an NFC-worst 390 points.

In three starts against the team he helped guide to its only Super Bowl win in 2000, Warner has passed for 868 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Arizona, though, has gone just 1-2.

The Rams (3-12) haven't played since Dec. 20 when they lost their fourth in a row, 41-24 to Pittsburgh. Late in that game, wide receiver Torry Holt was caught on camera screaming at coach Scott Linehan following an interception by Marc Bulger that was returned 51 yards for a touchdown for the final margin.

Linehan, 11-20 in two seasons with the Rams as a first-time head coach, downplayed the incident.

"It's not a big deal, not to me," Linehan said. "It something said in the heat of the battle to his coach and it's over as far as I'm concerned."

Rams president John Shaw said earlier this month that Linehan couldn't be evaluated fairly this season because seven starters, including All-Pro offensive tackle Orlando Pace, were on injured reserve.

"I felt the last month or so that the obstacles were somewhat insurmountable for him," Shaw said. "From Day 1, it was almost impossible to evaluate him."

Bulger passed for 208 yards and a season-high three touchdowns against the Steelers, but also had two interceptions to give him five in his last three games.

A loss will send the Rams to their worst season since 1991. St. Louis, though, has won four of its last five in Arizona.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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