MINNEAPOLIS — The Arizona Cardinals and the Minnesota Vikings were two of the biggest surprises in the first quarter of the season, two franchises believed to be in rebuilding mode before incredibly fast starts thrust them into playoff position.When the 4-2 teams meet on Sunday at the Metrodome, the outcome could go a long way toward helping one team stabilize after a stumble and send the other into a downward spiral that may be difficult to overcome.
The Cardinals started 4-0, with a stunning victory at New England going a long way toward establishing them as playoff contenders. They also beat the Seahawks, who have emerged as legitimate playoff hopefuls in the early going, and the struggling Philadelphia Eagles, all quality wins that raised expectations for the season.
But they've lost two in a row, at St. Louis and home to Buffalo, and quarterback Kevin Kolb is out indefinitely with rib and chest injuries. That means John Skelton, who won the job in preseason, will make his start since spraining his ankle in the opener. He'll face an improved Vikings defense, trying to jumpstart an offense that has scored just 19 points in the last two games.
"We have a lot of issues that we're working on offensively to get a little better at," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I hope that we can do that. We're going against a good defense this week."
A defense that is looking to bounce back after getting stung by Robert Griffin III last week. The Vikings won four of their first five games, riding a stingy defense and Percy Harvin's all-around brilliance to the top of the NFC North.
With Christian Ponder in his first full season as a starter and young players all over the secondary, most observers expected the Vikings to need at least another season of grooming before they were ready to return to contender status. But wins over San Francisco at home and Detroit on the road have raised hopes among fans that two straight last-place finishes were all they were going to have to put up with.