- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - The Cardinals have quietly stayed near the top of the standings this season, while much of the national attention went to the Patriots, Broncos, Panthers, or even Arizona’s division foes in Seattle.

Five prime-time appearances in an eight-week span are changing that. It’s hard for a pro football fan to avoid watching this high-scoring, entertaining bunch lately.

“It’s about time,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “I believe we’ve been playing good enough to have that shot. We’ve been putting on a great show.”

At 11-2, Arizona is tied for the second-best record in the NFL. The Cardinals have won seven straight going into their Sunday night game Philadelphia.

And quarterback Carson Palmer could care less whether the Cardinals are mentioned in the same breath as New England, Denver and Carolina.

“No, that comes in mid-January, early February,” he said. “That’s what we’re aiming for. National respect, there’s nothing you can do about it but win.”

And that the Cardinals have done. They are 4-0 in prime time - with victories over the Ravens, Seahawks, Bengals and, most recently, a 23-20 victory over Minnesota on a Thursday night.

So what is the national perception of this Arizona team?

“Oh, I don’t know,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Probably in Seattle and St. Louis they hate us. We’re probably resilient and entertaining. We take every damn one to the (last) minute, the last second. East coast people are probably (ticked) off that they can’t go to sleep.”

All four prime-time games have gone down to the final play - or close to it.

One possible reason for Arizona’s slow arrival into the national the football psyche is geography. The Southwest is a long way from New York, where much of the NFL media is based. And Phoenix is perceived to be a small market, even though it is the nation’s sixth-largest city.

Of course, there’s the Cardinals’ sorry history. Owner Bill Bidwill moved the franchise to Arizona from St. Louis in 1988 and for the next 20 years the Cardinals had one winning season. That was in 1998, when Arizona won its last three games - by a combined eight points - to go 9-7. There was talk that this was a franchise on the rise. Then came eight more losing seasons before going 8-8 in 2007, Ken Whisenhunt’s first season as coach.

The next year, with Kurt Warner at quarterback, the Cardinals won the NFC West at 9-7 and mounted an unlikely run to the Super Bowl, where they barely lost to Pittsburgh. The Cardinals won the NFC West again in 2009, but went into a tailspin after that - until Arians arrived in 2013.

When he got there, the Cardinals had three winning seasons in the past 29 years.

Now they have won at least 10 games three years in a row. A victory at Philadelphia would not only clinch the NFC West for Arizona, but give the franchise 12 wins in a season for the first time in a history that dates to 1920.

Larry Fitzgerald knows how different it is from those ugly old days.

“It makes you really appreciate it,” he said. “It’s not that far removed to when we were not a very good football team. … You definitely never forget the bad times. I think it motivates you when things are going well.”

Not coincidentally, the Cardinals’ recent success came after Bidwill’s son Michael taking over control of the franchise.

He hired Arians and promoted Steve Keim to general manager.

The result has been a team that ranks first in the league in offense (417.5 yards per game), second in touchdowns (47) and points scored (31.2 per game) and fourth in defense (322.4 per game).

That’s hard to ignore. And the players say they’ve barely scratched the surfaces of what they can be.

“There is no area,” Palmer said, “that we’re patting ourselves on the back about.”

___

AP website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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