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STRUGGLING: DEFENDING SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS NEED A VICTORY SUNDAY TO GET TO .500.

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The New York Giants could use a pushover Sunday. Welcome to Giants Stadium, you Phoenix Cardinals.

Unfortunately for the struggling NFL champions, Phoenix has been anything but a patsy recently. The Giants have won five straight against the Cardinals, but the total difference in the last three games has been five points."We have a healthy respect for Phoenix," Giants coach Ray Handley said. "No one has played us any tougher than them in recent years."

Everyone has been tough for the Giants this season. They needed a last-second field goal by Matt Bahr to beat San Francisco in the opener, then lost to the Rams and Bears before struggling past Cleveland 13-10.

Last Sunday, New York made several critical mistakes and Handley made some questionable coaching decisions in a 21-16 loss to Dallas. For the past few days, Handley has tried to fight off budding dissension after an unidentified player criticized him in a New York tabloid.

"I have an open-door policy," Handley said. "If anyone's disgruntled, they are more than welcome to come to me. I've yet to entertain any of those people up in my office.

"I think we're all on the same page as far as we all want to start winning. As far as I'm concerned, that's the No. 1 thing."

Phoenix, meanwhile, is 3-2. After a pair of road victories, the Cardinals lost twice before beating New England last Sunday. Tom Tupa threw for a career-best 312 yards and the Cardinals offense rolled up 435 total yards.

They are not intimidated about facing New York. The Giants had to score 10 points in the final 5:38 for a 20-19 win at Giants Stadium last October, then Phoenix rolled up 452 total yards in losing 24-21 in December.

The Cardinals lead the league in takeaways with 16 recovered fumbles and three interceptions for a plus-9 turnover ratio, also best in the league. The Giants have 10 turnovers, only four fewer than in all of 1990.

"We're using a zone concept," Cardinals coach Joe Bugel said of his team's defense. "Nobody turns his back on the quarterback. If you get seven to eight people on the ball, you are going to get a few knocks on them and knock a few balls loose."

Elsewhere in the NFL on Sunday, it will be Denver at Houston, Miami at New England, Minnesota at Detroit, the New York Jets at Cleveland, Philadelphia at Tampa Bay, Seattle at Cincinnati, Washington at Chicago, Dallas at Green Bay, San Diego at the Los Angeles Raiders, and Pittsburgh at Indianapolis at night.

The Monday night game is Buffalo at Kansas City.

Atlanta, the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans and San Francisco are idle this week.

Like the Giants, the Vikings are 2-3 and trying to straighten out before it's too late. They have a difficult assignment Sunday against Detroit at the Silverdome - the Lions have won four in a row.

"The fact is we're not getting the job done offensively," Vikings coach Jerry Burns said. "You put 49 points on the board in five games and you feel a change has got to be made."

So Rich Gannon is replacing Wade Wilson at quarterback. Gannon isn't a novice, having started 12 games for the injured Wilson last season.

"Rich started last year when Wade went out, so I don't have any problem with Rich in there," receiver Anthony Carter said. "I don't think Wade is getting a fair shake for what happened on Sunday night (a 13-6 loss to Denver). One guy shouldn't be blamed for everything, but the coaches make those decisions and all I do is play."

Detroit's Barry Sanders, the NFC Player of the Month for September, can't play much better. In the Lions' four wins, Sanders has carried 107 times for 524 yards and six touchdowns.