It's teams like the Panthers and Eagles drawing all the attention as playoff contenders heading down the stretch. But like I said two weeks ago, don't sleep on the Cardinals. They're making a push for the playoffs and it's in large part because of the surprisingly effective play of quarterback Carson Palmer.
One of the least impressive signal callers at midseason, Palmer's been lights out the last three games, all victories for the Cardinals.
In that stretch, the 33-year-old QB's gone 63 for 92 (68.5%) for 832 yards (9.04 YPA), 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The hallmark of Palmer's season prior to Sunday's win over the Jaguars was him throwing an interception in every single game thus far. He broke that streak and his lack of mistakes the past few weeks is impressive.
Now the success hasn't been totally on him. Palmer probably owes Michael Floyd and/or the Jags defense an adult beverage for at least one of the touchdowns.
Don't expect Palmer to slow down over the next few weeks, either. He's more comfortable in Bruce Arians system and he's got matchups against the Colts, Eagles and Rams coming up. Those are three winnable games against sub-par secondaries. If the Cards can rip off three wins in that stretch, there's a strong chance they can hop the 49ers -- set to play the Redskins, Rams and Seahawks -- in the NFC West and wild-card standings. (The 49ers currently hold the tiebreaker.)
Make no mistake: it's Arizona's defense that is pushing this team towards the playoffs. But Palmer is the guy who has to push them over the top.
Matt McGloin, @McGloinQB11, is 1st undrafted rookie QB to throw 3+ TD passes without INT in game in common draft era (since 1967)— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) November 18, 2013
McGloin beat a bad Texans team but don't discount the performance because of their record. He went on the road, in front of a hostile crowd and tossed a trio of touchdowns -- without making any major mistakes -- to give the Raiders their third win of the season. No wonder the Raiders staff was high on him. (But what took so long?)
Bobby Rainey, RB, Buccaneers: Next man up isn't just a cliche saying in the Rainey household. Formerly the fourth-string running back for the Bucs, the ex-Hilltopper stepped into the starting role for Tampa and lit up the Falcons defense to the tune of 30 carries, 163 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Rainey was named the NFC Player of the Week for Week 11 and it's a good thing that the Bucs aren't playing the Browns down the stretch, because things could be awkward for Cleveland. The Browns have no rushing attack to really speak of but they cut Rainey in October and he was snatched up by the Buccaneers. He wasn't producing much for Cleveland but his blowup against the Falcons has to be a head-slapper for the Browns front office. It's also further proof that you can find running backs anywhere.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: A week's worth of trade rumors culminated in ... Roethlisberger winning the AFC Player of the Week. Big Ben went 29 for 45 for 367 yards and four touchdowns and pretty clearly took all the rumors personally. It was a stark reminder of just how important having a franchise quarterback is -- without Roethlisberger, the Steelers get blown out against the Lions, especially with Matthew Stafford throwing for more than 300 passing yards in the first half. Calvin Johnson was unstoppable and Roethlisberger kept them in the game. Then he casually led a 10-point comeback and set the Steelers up with a game-winning drive. The Steelers are still on the fringe of the playoff race and the only way they're getting back into the postseason is on the arm of Roethlisberger.
Mike Shanahan, HC, Redskins: Shanahan's 'Skins are now 3-7 and quickly fading out of any on-field relevance. They're remaining important from a national discussion standpoint but not for good reasons. Robert Griffin III says the Eagles basically knew what kind of playcalls were coming on offense, which is like me saying that this article sucks because my bosses told me to write it. The relationship between Shanahan and Griffin's been frosty ever since he injured his knee in the 2012 postseason against the Seahawks. You could chalk it up to offseason over-analysis before, but at some point the thinly-veiled shots catch up to you. This is particularly true when a team's 3-7 and sinking down the stretch of 2013 as quickly as they soared just last year.
Reggie Bush, RB, Lions: So is Bush's issue the two fumbles in three games? Or is it because he's not a "mudder"? Jim Schwartz says it's the latter but there's really no reason why Bush would be off the field in favor of Theo Riddick, a rookie who is not Reggie Bush. Yet Bush was on the sidelines for much of the second half, and probably would've been there longer had Joique Bell not been injured. The reality is Matthew Stafford -- and the entire Lions offense -- is better when Bush is on the field. It's bizarre that Schwartz thinks weather might be a factor.
Gary Kubiak, HC, Texans: Feels bad to beat on a guy who just returned from an absence as a result of a medical illness, but what was Kubiak thinking when he benched Case Keenum for Matt Schaub midway through the Texans loss to the Raiders? The home crowd proceeded to boo Houston mercilessly but make no mistake: the boos were directed at Kubiak. The Texans are now a miserable 2-8 and just lost to an undrafted free agent rookie at home. Andre Johnson stormed off the field before the end of the game and somehow the Texans season manages to get worse with each passing week. It's hard to imagine Kubiak surviving this season at the helm of the Texans with the way things are going.