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Senior NFL Columnist

Monday Musings: Carson Palmer makes Cardinals a playoff contender

Andrew Luck and the Colts found out -- when Carson Palmer is on, the Cardinals are dangerous. (USATSI)
Andrew Luck and the Colts found out -- when Carson Palmer is on, the Cardinals are dangerous. (USATSI)

The Arizona Cardinals are legitimate playoff contenders. Carson Palmer is the reason why.

For some strange reason, Palmer is one of those quarterbacks who winds up as a piñata of sorts for the fans and the media. When the Cardinals started slowly on offense this season, he took the heat.

But with Arizona now 7-4, coming off an impressive blowout victory over the Colts on Sunday, nobody is laughing anymore. Palmer threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns to help the Cardinals beat the Colts 40-11.

In the past three games, Palmer has averaged 325 passing yards with six touchdown passes and one interception. He has been sacked nine times in those three games, so he's still getting hit, which continues to be a problem.

Larry Fitzgerald, who had two touchdown catches against the Colts, has been a constant for the offense. But the emergence of Michael Floyd on the other side really makes this a scary offense. Floyd has 13 catches for 297 yard and a touchdown the past two weeks. The running game also showed life against the Colts with 120 yards on the ground.

The Arizona defense is ranked ninth in the league and is second against the run. It is a unit that is getting better and better.

The Cardinals have a huge game this week at Philadelphia against the Eagles. After that, it's home against the Rams, at the Titans, at Seattle and home against the 49ers. The home game with the 49ers, who have already beat the Cardinals, could decide the final playoff spot in the NFC.

Credit goes to Cardinals general manager Steve Keim for making the deal to get Palmer, who fits the offense Bruce Arians runs perfectly.

This team has a real chance to play in the postseason -- and it's because of Palmer.

I got ripped to shreds on Twitter, including by many in the media, for saying I hate games in cold weather, and that the Super Bowl shouldn't be played outside in those conditions. I stand by what I said. Of course I do. It's OK to play conference championship games outside in those conditions. That right is earned. But to have a team get to the Super Bowl and be forced to change the style of play based on weather is absurd. It takes the game away from the quarterbacks. We want football. Not a survival test.

Let's not say Sunday's night's game between the Patriots and Broncos was a classic. It was close. It had a great comeback. But it wasn't played well. It was fitting that it was lost because of a turnover.

I still think Bill Belichick taking the wind in overtime was a stupid decision.

Why did Chiefs coach Andy Reid call timeout with 1:28 left when the Chiefs had a first-and-goal at the 5? That time on the clock was San Diego's. The Chiefs either score a touchdown or kick a field goal to tie it. The Chargers had two of their own timeouts, so they would have been forced to use theirs. When the Chiefs scored on the first play after the timeout, it left the Chargers with both timeouts. They used them both on the game-winning drive. Without Reid calling timeout, the Chargers might not have enough time to go down the field and score the game-winning touchdown, which they did with 24 seconds left. That was a bad move by Reid.

Philip Rivers is another quarterback who takes a ton of abuse, much of it unwarranted. But as he showed against the Chiefs, he is a heck of a player. That late-game drive was a thing of beauty. Rivers doesn't have a lot around him, but he somehow finds a way. Rivers is much better than people think he is as a quarterback. It's too bad some don't like him.

If either Justin Houston or Tamba Hali is out for any length of time, the Chiefs have big problems. Houston is the better of the two, and he would be missed more. But both are big parts of their defense. That outside rush is what keys that unit. They have some big games coming up with Denver this week and San Diego again next week.

The good thing for the Chiefs against the Chargers was how well the offense played. They moved it up and down the field. There were actually some big plays down the field, which they need going forward.

Can somebody explain to me why the Bears went for it on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 down 24-14? Take the field goal and make it a one-score game. Think, guys, think. The play was stuffed when Michael Bush couldn't get into the end zone.

Admit it. You were expecting Tony Romo to choke against the Giants. That's the assumption many make all the time in the fourth quarter, whether it's right or wrong. And I think it's wrong. Romo led the Cowboys on a big-time drive to the game-winning field goal. The Cowboys are now 6-5 heading into their Thanksgiving Day game with Oakland.

The Bears' defense is horrible. They've had a ton of injuries for certain, but to let the Rams run through them the way they did is inexcusable. St. Louis ran for 258 yards. That's like getting run over by a truck.

The Jets might have to sit down Geno Smith. He's playing bad football. Smith was 9 of 22 for 127 yards, no touchdowns and two picks. But what do they do? Play David Garrard? Matt Simms? Oh, boy.

Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson is a beast. He had two sacks against the Ravens and continues to be a force. If he doesn't make the Pro Bowl, it would be a huge shame.

You have to think Texans coach Gary Kubiak now sits on the hottest seat of all coaches. The Texans have lost nine consecutive games and lost to the Jaguars this week. It would be hard to imagine Kubiak coming back next season.

I have to say that Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew looked much quicker against the Texans than he has at any time this season. He looked almost done until this week. He ran for 84 yards and had a 44-yard run Sunday.

Ryan Fitzpatrick looked good for the Titans. He threw for 320 yards and two scores and drove the Titans to the game-winning score in the final seconds. He threw to Kendall Wright for the winning score.

Ed Reed showed why the Texans let him go, and it had nothing to do with Wade Phillips. Reed got beat on this deep pass to Jacoby Jones against his former team Sunday. Reed is done.

See what happens when Mike Wallace gets the ball? It's amazing that he doesn't get the ball more. Speed kills.

Nice to see the Rams have finally figured out that Tavon Austin can run. What took so long?

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