By BOB BAUM, AP Sports Writer
Arizona's chances to move into the NFC's No. 2 seed gained some traction when the Bears upset the Minnesota Vikings 36-30 in overtime on Monday night.
Now, Arizona can earn a first-round bye with a combination of three outcomes Sunday - the Cardinals beat Green Bay, Dallas wins at home over Philadelphia and Minnesota loses at home to the New York Giants.
If Minnesota wins or Dallas loses, the Cardinals will host a first-round playoff game against the Packers.
The Giants-Vikings game is one of the early kickoffs. Both the Packers-Cardinals and Eagles-Cowboys are late starts.
Given all the uncertainties, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said earlier Monday it could be a gametime decision whether to rest some of his regulars.
"I think that we'll go ahead and plan and prepare like we're playing Green Bay for a game of significance," he said. "If that changes, at least we've gotten a good week of preparation in because there's a chance we could play a Saturday game (in the playoffs) ... and that would be a short week."
Then there is the desire to keep the offense humming like it was in Sunday's 31-10 victory over St. Louis.
"You would think they could get by with not playing," Whisenhunt said. "But it's going to be awful hard to keep Kurt (Warner) or Larry (Fitzgerald) or Anquan (Boldin off the field. I'm just telling you that right now up front."
The Cardinals are 9-3 after a 1-2 start that had people wondering if Arizona would follow the pattern of Super Bowl losers failing to make the playoffs the next year.
Instead, Arizona has won 10 games, a regular occurrence for some franchises but a breakthrough for this one. In the 33 years since the Cardinals last won 10 games in 1976, they have lost at least 10 in a season a staggering 18 times.
In a low-key way, Whisenhunt has changed all that. In his three seasons, Arizona has gone 8-8, 9-7 and now 10-5.
"I think it's a sign that guys really believe in what we're doing and they have confidence in what we're doing," he said.
Counting last season's playoffs, Whisenhunt's coaching record is 30-21 with a franchise that, before he arrived, had one winning season since 1984 - four years before the Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Arizona.
"The young guys don't know because it's their first year or their second year coming in the league," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said after Sunday's game. "But for guys who have been around here playing at Sun Devil Stadium in those terrible uniforms, locked up in a little box locker room, it means a lot to us."
The Cardinals didn't lose two in a row all season, something they haven't done since 1975, and a victory Sunday would tie the franchise record for most wins in a season.
Whisenhunt, who has a year left on his contract plus a team option for a second, has done it with a low-key style, building confidence in his players and adjusting his preferred game to fit the talents of Warner, Fitzgerald and Boldin. Lately, he's added a much-needed running threat.
After doing it only once in the first seven games, the Cardinals have gained at least 100 yards on the ground in six of their last eight. Arizona has 16 rushing touchdowns, its highest total since 1998. Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells each had one against the Rams.
Whisenhunt is calling the plays after Todd Haley left to coach the Kansas City Chiefs.
On defense, Arizona is tied with Philadelphia for third in the league with 42 sacks. Only Minnesota and Pittsburgh have more. The Cardinals have 16 interceptions, led by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with six and Adrian Wilson with five. Both had a pick on Sunday.
Wilson also had a late-game sack that made him the 10th player in NFL history with at least 20 career interceptions and 20 sacks. The other active players on that list are Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins and Ronde Barber.
A year ago, after Arizona was routed in its next-to-last regular-season game at New England, a perturbed Whisenhunt put the players through a tough Christmas Day practice with pads in a driving rain.
This year, he gave them a sunny Christmas Day off.