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Cardinals not where they hoped, but are also not out of it

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, file photo, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) is helped up after a getting sacked against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Ariz. Cleared to practice, Palmer is back with the Cardinals as they begin preparation for a Monday night game against the New York Jets. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The playoff picture for the Arizona Cardinals is no masterpiece.

It’s also not drawn outside the lines in crayon.

Halfway through the season, the team is 3-4-1, and a glance at their standing in the NFC shows they are currently on the outside looking in, though they are knocking on the door of playoff contention.

The NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks are 4-2-1, while the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants — both of whom are currently wild card teams — are each 4-3.

The Cardinals are also trailing the Philadelphia Eagles (4-3), Washington Redskins (4-3) and Detroit Lions (4-4) in the standings.

Not great. Not out of it. Still time to turn things around.

“Well, that’s the only good thing right now,” head coach Bruce Arians said of where his team is at with regards to trailing Seattle. “We’re not happy with the first half of the season, but for the second half of the season, to be a game or a game-and-a-half or whatever the numerical is, but knowing that we’re going to play them again.

“If we can take care of our business, that game (on Dec. 24 in Seattle) shouldn’t matter. And, we’re in the hunt for our division which automatically gets us in the playoffs, so we’ve got a ton of stuff to practice and prepare and play for.”

They just have to play better.

“Yeah, we are getting hit in the mouth,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “We have to stop the bleeding before it’s too late.”

Though the Cardinals are seventh in the NFL in total offense, they are 18th in points per game. Things are better on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank first in yards allowed per game and sixth in points allowed per game, but the strong play there has not been enough to carry the team.

Yet, while they have not been impressive nor given the look of a Super Bowl caliber team, the fact of the matter is few in the league — and especially the NFC — have.

When it comes to making the playoffs, the Cardinals do not have to finish with the best record; they just have to be good enough.

Thus far, they have not been.

“We’re still in the mix,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “We’ve got to get back to the drawing board. Don’t read into what everyone is saying, but just keep concentrating on us.”

As Jefferson went on to note, half of the regular season still remains, which offers ample opportunity to right the ship.

“We’re not scared of nobody on the schedule,” he said. “Whoever is up is up and we’ve just got to play to the best of our ability and try to beat them.”

Following their bye week, the Cardinals will host the San Francisco 49ers before hitting the road for consecutive games against the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. Arizona will then return home for a date with the Washington Redskins before traveling to Miami to face the Dolphins. They will host the New Orleans Saints in Week 15, then finish up at Seattle and then at the Los Angels Rams.

Five road games and four of the final eight are against teams currently ahead of the Cardinals in the standings.

So yeah, there is time to move up. There is also reason to believe they won’t, chief among them a growing injury list.

On Tuesday, the Cardinals placed left tackle Jared Veldheer and tight end Ifeanyi Momah on injured reserve, letting them join running back Chris Johnson, safety Tyvon Branch, tight end Troy Niklas, cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Elie Bouka and linebacker Alani Fua. Arizona will also be without safety Tyrann Mathieu, at least for a few weeks, as he recovers from a shoulder injury.

What was once seen as the most talented roster in team history has taken some hits, though its experience with the “next man up” philosophy, which served them well in 2014 when the team was ravaged by key injuries, could help.

“It helps the guys that have been here,” Arians said. “The guys that have been through this, they know.”

The coach professed confidence in John Wetzel, who will take over for Veldheer, noting he has proven himself to everyone on the team. Arians also pointed to tight end Hakeem Valles as someone who has stepped in and played well when injuries forced him onto the field.

“So they know the next man up means something here,” Arians added.

If the Cardinals are to turn their season around and make a run, it will have to.

The bye week comes at a good time for the Cardinals, not only because they are coming off a pair of physical games and are a bit beat up, but also to clear their heads and hit a reset button on the season. It was not long ago where this team was seen as a Super Bowl favorite, and though it is no longer that, there is still a considerable amount of talent on the roster.

That’s a big reason why there is still confidence that things will improve, so long as the team takes the necessary steps for it to happen.

“It’s really on us to look deep,” Minter said. “What team do we want to be? Do we want to be home in January or do we want to be playing for a championship? Do we want to be contenders or pretenders, like Coach always says.”

The answer to Minter’s question will need to wait at least another week and half, and there are many around the league wondering how Arizona will respond. Will the Cardinals come out swinging, looking like a team ready to make good on preseason predictions? Or will they continue their slide and let the injuries be the final blow to a wobbly season?

“When you go into a bye week, you can’t go different ways. We have to stick together,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We know that we are a good football team. People on the outside may not think that, but we believe in each other and we will continue to believe in each other and we will continue to fight.

“There is a lot of football left. We are at the halfway mark, we have been on rolls before and we’ve won a whole bunch of games in a row. Looking forward, there are a bunch of winnable games and really tough games and really tough road games, but we’ll stick together and we’ll fight.”

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