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Vikings vs. Cardinals 2015, 'Thursday Night Football' preview: Arizona on verge of clinching playoff spot

The Cardinals are looking for their first seven-game win streak since 1974.

If it weren't for the undefeated Carolina Panthers, the Arizona Cardinals would be the hottest team in the NFC. They've won six straight games and have established themselves as the biggest challengers to Carolina for conference supremacy. Arizona can join the Panthers in the postseason party as early as this week by beating the slumping Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football.

This is truly a great time to be a Cardinals fan. They've already secured their third straight 10-win season, something the team has only done once before in its history (1974-76). This is also just the second time they've won 10 of their first 12 games -- and that magical run came way back in 1948 when they were based in Chicago. Another victory on Thursday would give them a record-tying 11 wins this season and also secure their first seven-game win streak in more than 40 years.

But Arizona is aiming for much more than a few notable marks in the franchise record books. The Cardinals are firing on all cylinders and have solidified their status as a top Super Bowl contender. In fact, ESPN's Football Power Index now has them as the favorites (25 percent odds) to win the ring, edging out the Panthers (19 percent) and Patriots (18 percent). The Cardinals are coming off another dominant win Sunday and are showing no signs of slowing down as they enter the final stretch of the season.

The Vikings, meanwhile, have stumbled in recent weeks but are still looking good in the overall playoff picture. They are in a virtual tie with the Green Bay Packers atop the NFC North and have a two-game cushion on any other contender for the second Wild Card. Football Outsiders gives them an 81.7 percent chance to make the postseason and 38.4 percent odds to win the division.

Despite their solid outlook, it has to be concerning that Minnesota has been blown out by its last two quality opponents. The Packers trounced them, 30-13 in Week 11, and last Sunday the Seahawks handed them their worst loss (38-7) since 1984. The Vikings don't appear to be able to compete with the league's heavyweights, and while their postseason spot is fairly secure, it's hard to imagine them making any noise in January.

Digits

The Cardinals might not be able to match the unbeaten Panthers in the loss column, but they can still make a legit claim to be the league's best overall team. Arizona has the highest margin of victory in the NFL -- which is historically a strong predictor of success -- and is the only club that has a top-five ranking in Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics on both offense (fourth) and defense (third).

Carson Palmer is putting up MVP-caliber numbers in directing the Cardinals' high-powered offense, which ranks first in the league in points, total yards and first downs. At the age of 35, Palmer has positioned himself as the NFL's best quarterback this season. He is first in Total QBR, second in yards per attempt and third in passing yards. With 29 touchdowns, he needs one more to match Kurt Warner's single-season franchise record and four more to set a new career high.

The Vikings burst out of the gate by winning eight of their first 10 games, but have quickly fallen back to Earth as a sub-.500 team over the last three weeks. The reasons for Minnesota's regression aren't hard to pinpoint. Its normally stout defense was shredded in losses to the Packers and Seahawks, giving up a combined 68 points and more than 750 total yards.

They were not at full strength last week in Seattle, missing three of their best defensive players due to injuries -- Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith. The Vikings will have to face the Cardinals and their explosive offense without those same key defenders, as the trio has been ruled out for Thursday night's game.

The Vikings' biggest concern going forward is their one-dimensional offense. They rank 31st in passing yards and yards per attempt, while ranking fifth in rushing yards and fourth in yards per rush. Because the aerial attack is so limited, if you can stop Adrian Peterson, you're going to have a good chance of beating Minnesota. The Vikings are 0-4 when Peterson has fewer than 19 rushes, and 1-3 when he averages less than 4 yards per carry. He is averaging 44 yards in their four losses and 126 yards in their eight wins.

Who to Watch

Following the Vikings' embarrassing loss to Seattle, Peterson expressed his frustration with his lack of touches and questioned the coaches' play-calling. He has been the bedrock of the team's offense all season, but on Sunday was held to the third-fewest yards (18) and fourth-fewest carries (eight) in a game in his career.

This isn't the first time Peterson has been bottled up this season, though, and each time he has responded with a string of monster performances. Following his 31-yard effort in Week 1, Peterson ran for 134 yards and 126 yards in Weeks 2 and 3. After rushing for just 60 yards in Week 6, he averaged 132 yards in his next four games. And when he was held to 45 yards in Week 11 versus Green Bay, he put up 158 a week later at Atlanta.

Getting back on track won't be easy for Peterson against the Cardinals' third-ranked rushing defense. Only one player -- Todd Gurley in Week 4 -- has topped the 100-yard mark against Arizona this season.

How to Watch

When: 8:25 p.m. ET

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

TV: NFL Network

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

OnlineNFL GamePass

Preliminary Judgment

The experts are unanimous is picking the Cardinals to beat the Vikings. Every person at CBS Sports and SB Nation has Arizona improving to 11-2 this season.

Odds

The Cardinals are a 7.5-point favorite and the over/under is 46.5, according to OddsShark.com.

Further Reading

To catch up on the Vikings, head over to the Daily Norseman. To read about the Cardinals, visit Revenge of the Birds.