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NFL Preview - Arizona (5-4) at Jacksonville (1-8)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Given a 1-11 record in the final 12 games of the 2012 season, not many would have assumed looking past a foe would be a 2013 issue for the Arizona Cardinals.
But this week marks the perfect storm of opportunity and momentum.
Arizona's defeats of Atlanta and Houston in weeks 8 and 10, respectively, have put it in the position to win three straight for the first time since last September, when it reeled off season-opening victories over Seattle, New England, Philadelphia and Miami.
Week 11 brings a visit to EverBank Field and a meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are feeling their own oats after ending an eight-game losing streak last week at Tennessee.
"Looking ahead will get you in trouble, but I like where we're at right now," coach Bruce Arians said. "All of our focus is on Jacksonville. If we lose any sight of that, they'll beat us.
"They're playing really well right now."
Just 1-3 on the road alongside a 4-1 mark at home, the Cardinals have scored 23.6 points per game in their last five games. Quarterback Carson Palmer has thrown four touchdowns in the two victories in the Cardinals' existing win streak, including two last week in a 27-24 defeat of the Texans. Additionally, only two of his 15 interceptions in 2013 have come in those two wins.
He has three TDs and one INT in two lifetime meetings with Jacksonville.
Joining him in the backfield is rookie Andre Ellington, who's averaged 7.2 yards per carry and scored twice in nine games. Nonetheless, Arizona ranks just 24th in the league in rushing, averaging 93.6 rushing yards per game.
The defense chipped in with a fumble return for a touchdown last week and the unit has recorded at least three sacks in three consecutive games and in four of the last five. Veteran John Abraham, new to the Cardinals after 13 years in the NFL, has five in his last three games.
Arizona dropped 44-10 and 24-17 decisions to the Jaguars in 2000 and 2005, then scored its first defeat of Jacksonville, 31-17, when the teams last met in 2009. Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has played in the last two of those three games, catching a TD pass in both.
The Jaguars will enter the week looking to construct some momentum of their own.
Jacksonville hasn't won consecutive games since Dec. 5 and 12 in 2010, but has the chance after ending its 2013 drought with a 29-27 victory at Tennessee. Prior to defeating the Titans, the Jaguars hadn't won a game of any kind since defeating the same foe last November.
Jacksonville had been outscored in this season's eight defeats by a 22.3-point average margin and had heard more than a few suggestions of historical ineptitude.
"(It was a) middle finger to all the people who want talk about the Jaguars not winning the game or being the worst 0-8 team in history," guard Uche Nwaneri said. "It's kind of, 'Eat this.' That's kind of how it feels."
Ironically, coach Gus Bradley has tried to reel in his players' strutting in this week, though the team is still dead last in the NFL in scoring offense (12.8 points) and total offense (278.4 yards).
Maurice Jones-Drew carried 21 times for 41 yards and scored a TD against Tennessee as part of the team's 214 total yards. Quarterback Chad Henne threw for 180 yards and failed to produce a scoring pass while throwing two interceptions. His last TD throw was in a Week 8 loss to San Francisco - a 29- yarder to Mike Brown.
In three home games this season, the Jaguars have been outscored, 89-11, and have not scored a touchdown. The team could be without linebacker Paul Posluszny this week after he sustained a concussion against Tennessee and is deemed questionable. Definitely out of the fold is another linebacker, LaRoy Reynolds, who was suspended for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy.
"(Bradley) always talks about eating crumbs, and that's what we're going to do," center Brad Meester said. "Sometimes after you have that big win, you want to go out and eat that big meal, go out to Ruth's Chris. But it's about humility. You've got to continue to stay focused and not get overconfident because you've got one win. You've got to continue to do the things that you do, and that's what we need to do in here."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Run rookie, run.
Ellington, a sixth-round steal for the Cardinals last April, has shown a penchant for gobbling big chunks of yardage through his first eight NFL appearances -- averaging at least five yards per carry in all but one of the games in which he's had at least three runs.
That big-play ability could come in handy against a Jacksonville defense that's worst in the league defending the run and has allowed 4.6 yards per run over nine games -- equaling an ugly 153 yards per week.
Take Palmer to the deep water.
A young Chad Pennington was the scourge of NFL defenses before coordinators realized he couldn't consistently complete deep throws. Seemingly overnight, the middle was taken away and Pennington became less a prolific passer and more a spunky game manager.
As a veteran in Arizona, Palmer has drifted far from the downfield persona he'd had in Cincinnati and is just 8-for-38 on throws of more than 20 yards. If the Jaguars can employ a Pennington strategy here, they jump a big hurdle to win No. 2.
OK, it's been proven that the Jaguars aren't going to go 0-16 and they might not be the very worst team to ever assemble at an NFL stadium.
But even in the afterglow of a road win against a .500 opponent, they're still not very good either. The Cardinals are no one's reincarnation of the 1985 Bears, but they are strong enough on offense and sturdy enough on defense -- third against the run, 13th against the pass -- to negate any tactics Jacksonville might consider employing.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Cardinals 27, Jaguars 17
11/14 13:08:37 ET