Cardinals gather momentum ahead of playoffs

Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones (89) and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel (28) © Mark J. Rebilas / USA TODAY Sports
The Carolina Panthers' bid to emulate the 2007 New England Patriots' 16-0 regular season record fell at the 15th hurdle as the Atlanta Falcons recorded a 20-13 victory on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals continued their impressive form.

Quarterback Cam Newton and his Panthers team have stolen many of the recent headlines in their bid to cement their place in history, but another NFC team have quietly emerged as genuine Super Bowl 50 contenders – the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals followed up their 40-17 demolition of the Philadelphia Eagles with a hugely impressive 38-8 blowout of the Green Bay Packers to move to 13-2 for the season. While the Panthers still hold the best record in the NFL, it's the Cardinals who boast the best numbers.

They now lead the way in offensive scoring at 32.2 points per game, while 18.5 points a game conceded places the Cardinals equal fourth with the Denver Broncos. The Panthers' defeat against the Falcons leaves them with 30.8 and 19.9 respectively.

The best offense coupled with one of the tightest defensive units is every coach's dream entering the playoffs, and while Carson Palmer might not quite beat Newton or Tom Brady to the MVP award, he is a potent force as quarterback.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald already has over 1,000 yards from Palmer's passes, while John Brown and Michael Floyd could also break the four-figure barrier.

The Cardinals were in similar form last season before losing Palmer to injury, but if he stays healthy a trip to the Super Bowl could be on the cards this time round.

Head Coach Bruce Arians says his team have benefited from last year's disappointment.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.

"Our goal was to learn from the 9-1 situation we had last year," Arians said. "We did not play well enough to win. We need to learn how to play well enough to win and we still really haven't done anything other than get a bye. You don't get rings for byes - you only get t-shirts and hats."

Victory in their final game at home to the Seattle Seahawks, coupled with defeat for the Panthers at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would see the Cardinals become the top-seeded NFC team - something that wasn't mentioned during Carolina's undefeated streak.

Green Bay, Seattle, the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings complete the NFC play-off picture, with just the final positions to be decided in the last round of games. Green Bay's clash with Minnesota is the most notable match-up, with the NFC North crown and No 3 seed up for grabs.

In the AFC, New England need a win at the Miami Dolphins to secure top seed, but defeat could see them pipped at the post by the Cincinnati Bengals if they win their final two games.

The Kansas City Chiefs are assured of their play-off place, while the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts are all still in the hunt.

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