Whether you think Arizona is a potential playoff team -- and for the record, the Cardinals are tied with the 49ers at 6-4 in the NFC West, in the heart of the wildcard spot race -- you have to admit that the team is riding a nice little wave lately.
After losing back-to-back 12-point games to the 49ers and Seahawks in the middle of October, Arizona has reeled off three-straight wins, scoring exactly 27 points each week in beating the Falcons, Texans and Jaguars. Obviously, their opponents lately have been some of the worst in the NFL, but that doesn't mean the Cardinals aren't an improved group from earlier this season.
Now, they play host to the Colts on Sunday, and the gambling gods have deemed Arizona a 1.5-point favorite. I can understand why they're tiny favorites entering the game, but I'll also make you understand why Arizona will cover the spread vs. the Colts. Here are three reasons.
1) The Colts offense has been horrendous in the first half of Indianapolis' last three games, and frankly, it's a little hard to understand. As we pointed out last week, the combined score in the first halves of the past three contests is 66-9 for Indianapolis' opponents. "That's something we have to work on and get corrected," tight end Coby Fleener said. If not, the Cardinals might make a second-half comeback tough for the Colts. In the past three games, Arizona's defense has allowed a total of 14 points in the second half.
2) The Cardinals defense is a top-10 unit that is adept at stopping the run. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who probably deserves the chance to run his own team, has taken the defense that current Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton remade and made it slightly better. The Colts, meanwhile, have a tough time running the ball, meaning quarterback Andrew Luck will have to take on an even bigger role. But considering Arizona has allowed only one 300-yard passer this season (Drew Brees in Week 3), Luck's task won't be an easy one.
3)Carson Palmer isn't the same quarterback he was in Cincinnati, though he's probably better than the quarterback he was in Oakland. Either way, Palmer is really no better than an average quarterback, but that also means the Cardinals are getting the best quarterback play since Kurt Warner roamed the sidelines. And that also means Larry Fitzgerald is getting better chances to stake his claim as a top-five receiver. But even more important than that is that Palmer is also feeding the ball consistently to Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. It's not a great passing unit, ranking 15th in the league, but consider this: the last time the team finished that high in the passing rankings was in 2009, the last season of Warner's career. Teams can take away Fitzgerald with double teams. They find it much harder to do so now that Floyd is having a career year.
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