CARDINALS VS. LIONS

SUN­DAY, 1 P.M. ET, FORD FIELD, DETROIT uTV: FOX, DIRECTV 712

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NL WEST - Ari­ans’ Car­son Palmer ry Fitzger­ald Chan­dler Jones Tyrann Mathieu, John­son. thew Stafford Haa­son Red­dick Jim Cald­well’s LarMatNum­ber crunch­ing: 54. Greg Robin­son Dar­ius Slay, Glover Quin John Brown, Justin Bethel.

An­nounc­ers: Chris My­ers, Daryl John­ston, Laura Ok­min

About the Cardinals: Af­ter a 7-8-1 record fol­lowed three win­ning sea­sons, two play­off berths and one di­vi­sion ti­tle in coach

first four years, there is a re­newed ur­gency as QB and WR

inch closer to re­tire­ment. Al­though that pro­lific con­nec­tion re­turns, gone are back­bone DL Calais Campbell; Kevin Min­ter, their snaps leader at line­backer; and three start­ing de­fen­sive backs, in­clud­ing their tack­les leader (S Tony Jef­fer­son) and in­ter­cep­tions leader (Mar­cus Cooper). Ari­zona still has the NFL’s most pro­duc­tive edge-rush­ing duo ( and three-time all-pro DBs and

and the No. 6 scor­ing of­fense, cat­alyzed by do-ev­ery­thing RB

Quick con­tri­bu­tions from two top rookie de­fend­ers, LB and S Budda Baker, could be key.

About the Lions: With a rather large or­der of busi­ness out of the way — mak­ing QB

the high­est-paid player in NFL his­tory with a five-year con­tract ex­ten­sion — Detroit turns its fo­cus to try­ing to reach con­sec­u­tive post­sea­sons for the first time since 1994-95. To pick up where they left off in early De­cem­ber, when coach club was 9-4 be­fore Stafford dis­lo­cated his right mid­dle fin­ger and they lost four in a row to end the sea­son, the Lions must take pres­sure off their freshly minted passer with ma­jor im­prove­ments on the ground and by more fre­quently pres­sur­ing and pick­pock­et­ing other quar­ter­backs. Cald­well is a lame duck de­spite two play­off ap­pear­ances and a 27-21 record.

Detroit spent the 21st over­all pick on Davis for th­ese types of matchups. John­son is per­haps the game’s best re­ceiv­ing back, and Davis’ speed and in­stincts are crucial to lim­it­ing John­son’s dam­age.

Player to watch: Lions DE Ezekiel An­sah: He’s the most im­por­tant non-quar­ter­back on the Lions, whose 30th-ranked pass rush will be with­out its top three sack pro-

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

duc­ers from last sea­son. An­sah is more tal­ented than all of them, but he en­ters a con­tract year af­ter miss­ing the pre­sea­son be­cause of the same an­kle in­jury that sab­o­taged his 2016 sea­son.

Week 13 of the 2013 sea­son, or 54 games ago, Reg­gie Bush rushed for 117 yards on 20 car­ries — Detroit’s last in­di­vid­ual 100-yard rush­ing per­for­mance.

KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Ex­pen­sive blind side: With start­ing LT Tay­lor Decker open­ing the sea­son on the phys­i­cally un­able to per­form list, 2014 No. 2 over­all pick must pro­tect Detroit’s $135 mil­lion quar­ter­back from Jones and Golden, who com­bined for 231⁄ sacks last sea­son. Robin­son made im­pres­sive strides af­ter be­ing ac­quired in June.

2. Steal­ing pos­ses­sions: Detroit went its fi­nal five games last year with­out reg­is­ter­ing a take­away. Palmer will take risks with the foot­ball, though, po­ten­tially an op­por­tu­nity for CB

FS and the rest of the Lions’ ma­ligned sec­ondary.

3. Smoke de­tec­tor: Ari­zona has a fu­ture Hall of Famer in Fitzger­ald and then a lot of ques­tions at re­ceiver. The key to the pass­ing at­tack might be who has the speed Ari­ans’ ag­gres­sive of­fense needs.

4. Bull’s-eye Bethel: Per­haps no Car­di­nal will re­ceive more at­ten­tion than new start­ing CB That’s the life of play­ing op­po­site Peter­son, and Bethel, a key spe­cial­teamer with­out much start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, must prove he can hold up.

Arthur Arkush

RAJ ME­HTA, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Bruce Markus Golden), Pa­trick Peter­son

David Matthew Stafford en­ters his ninth sea­son as Lions quar­ter­back.

Matchup to watch: John­son vs. Lions rookie MLB Jar­rad Davis:

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