TEMPE, Ariz. -- In a perfect world, playoff-bound Arizona would rest its starters in the meaningless regular-season finale against Seattle on Sunday.
In the Cardinals' world, the starters will play as the NFC West champions try to pull out of a late-season tailspin.
Arizona is groping for answers after dropping four of its last five games, including blowouts against Minnesota and New England in the two weeks after it clinched its first division title in 33 seasons.
The lowly Seahawks (4-11) may be just what the Cardinals need to find themselves.
"I think the most important thing that we have to do is play well," coach Ken Whisenhunt said after a chilly morning practice Friday. "So that's what we're looking to do."
Whisenhunt is the first Arizona coach to ponder a choice between resting his players for the playoffs or trying to keep them sharp despite the risk of injury. The only other time the Arizona Cardinals made the playoffs, in 1998, they slipped in as a wild-card entry on the season's final Sunday.
The Cardinals (8-7) are locked into the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs. They'll play host to their first postseason game since 1947, when they nested in Chicago, but the date and opponent aren't known.
The game will be either Jan. 3 or 4, and Atlanta, Dallas and Carolina are the possible opponents.
At the moment, Whisenhunt is more concerned about his team than its potential playoff opponent. That's why Sunday's game against the Seahawks has taken on added significance.
"I think what we've learned from this team is that we need to stay sharp and play well," Whisenhunt said. "So that's what our focus is this week, because we haven't played well the last two weeks because our focus hasn't been where it's needed to be. So in order to get ready for the playoffs, it's important that we play better."
Still, Whisenhunt doesn't plan to push it with players nursing injuries.
The most notable is receiver Anquan Boldin, who missed the New England game with a shoulder injury and has sat out the last three days of practice. He's listed as questionable.
Boldin has 11 touchdown catches, tied with Randy Moss for most among NFL receivers, but he hasn't scored in his last three games.
Whisenhunt said he'd like Boldin to play Sunday, even if it's only briefly.
"We'll see Sunday," Whisenhunt said. "He's gotten a lot better. We'll work him out and see."
A victory Sunday would give the Cardinals a 9-7 record for only the second time since they moved to Arizona in 1998. They would also finish 6-0 against the NFC West, their first perfect division record.
But those encouraging numbers tell only part of the story.
The Cardinals are 3-7 outside the woeful NFC West, with their last non-division victory coming Oct. 12 against Dallas, a possible playoff foe.
The Cardinals have been outscored 405-393 on the season. The only other teams that have conceded more than 400 points are Detroit (0-15), Kansas City (2-13) and St. Louis (2-13).
And Arizona is averaging 71.1 rushing yards per game, last in the NFL.
Whisenhunt said he was "embarrassed" by his team's rushing production "because we feel like we're a better team than that."
With Kurt Warner throwing to fellow Pro Bowl starters Larry Fitzgerald and Boldin, the Cardinals will live or die in the air. But Whisenhunt would like to see the Cardinals' running game gain a little traction heading into the postseason.
"It'd be nice to get into a game where we could have a chance to run it in the fourth quarter, or in the second half, where we're not having to play from behind like we have the last two weeks, even though we weren't making much ground doing that," Whisenhunt said. "That's why I think it's important that we play better this week."