With playoffs still in reach, Cardinals not panicking

Playoffs still within reach for Cardinals, who aren't making panicked changes after two straight losses.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When asked after a 34-22 loss to the Seahawks last Thursday if he still liked the Cardinals' situation, coach Bruce Arians said: "Absolutely. All our goals are still in front of us."

When asked if he was considering a quarterback change after Carson Palmer threw his 12th and 13th interceptions of the year in that loss, Arians said: "Carson's my guy."

Arians' opinions can change in a hurry -- just ask Levi Brown -- but there is some sense in sticking with the status quo. First off, Palmer is still the team's best option at quarterback, and there is almost nobody around the team who will dispute this. Drew Stanton hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season game since December 2010.

Second, the Cardinals are very much alive in the hunt for at least an NFC wild-card berth. And this week's game against the Falcons could be a major step in that direction.

Sunday's game will mark just the midpoint of the NFL season, but it has already become apparent that, barring a torrid streak by somebody, the second NFC wild-card spot will fall to a team with major flaws.

Let's assume that Seattle goes on to win the NFC West since the Seahawks have looked like the best team in the division, far and away. Let's also assume that New Orleans wins the South, Green Bay wins the North and Dallas wins the putrid East by default. 

Finally, let's assume San Francisco grabs the first wild-card spot. That leaves a collection of 4-3 and 3-4 clubs scrambling for the final spot. 

Chicago (4-3) won't have QB Jay Cutler for at least four weeks (or maybe a defense for the rest of the season), St. Louis (3-4) has lost QB Sam Bradford for the season, and Arizona has already defeated Carolina (4-3) and Detroit (4-3). If the Cards can hand the Falcons their fifth loss and knock them even further down the standings, they'll have wins against three key competitors for that final playoff spot, with a game against the 3-4 Eagles in December.

What could hurt the Cardinals is that they already have four conference losses, particularly since they still must play the 49ers and Seahawks again, but the first tiebreaking procedure for wild card-teams from separate division is head-to-head competition, so Arizona is in good shape right now.

"It's a long, long season," Palmer said. "There are a lot of weird things that have been going on in the NFC, and in no way are we out of anything.

"We have a stretch of very winnable games coming up. Sometimes it just takes one. It takes one game to get that roll and confidence and get moving."

Following the game against the Falcons, the Cardinals get their bye week before hosting the Texans (2-5) and playing at the Jaguars (0-7). If they stumble over that stretch, then it may be time to move onto to a new quarterback. For now, Arians' reasoning seems sound.

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