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Weak NFC keeps Cardinals’ playoff hopes alive

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2016, file photo, Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians watches the action in the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C. Halfway through their season, the Cardinals are one of the league’s biggest disappointments. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone, File)

TEMPE, Ariz. — If you’re still reeling from the first half of the Cardinals’ season — and we admit we contributed to that sense of gloom — here’s a cheery thought for your Monday morning.

Ladies and gentlemen, your top three NFC Wild Card contenders: the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins and the Detroit Lions.

Nothing screams hope like the image of the three imposters limping ahead of you, three teams that have all allowed more points than they have scored, three teams that will not inspire a shred of confidence when the playoffs begin.

Yes, dear Cardinals fans, hope is still alive in this cesspool of mediocrity the NFL labels parity. Heading into Monday night’s game between the Bills and Seahawks in Seattle, the Cardinals (3-4-1) even have a chance at the NFC West Division title.

Nobody in this conference but the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons’ offense looks elite. No NFC team looks capable of derailing Tom Brady and Co.’s march to a fifth Super Bowl title in Houston. The NFC playoff race is wide open; its waters anybody’s to master.

Sunday’s action underscored this theory. The Giants beat the Eagles to take over the top Wild Card spot while Philadelphia continued to perplex its fan base with either dominant or flat performances.

Green Bay lost at home to Indianapolis, Detroit (yes, Detroit!) won at Minnesota to send the injury-ravaged Vikings to their third straight loss, and the Redskins mercifully had a bye week to lock down the No. 2 Wild Card spot, percentage points ahead of those scary Lions.

Out in L.A., Bruce Arians’ characterization of Jeff Fisher-coached teams is looking more and more generous; New Orleans is back in the thick of things, Tampa Bay… OK, not really… and even Carolina is looking around with a startled recognition of life despite a 1-5 start.

The odds are probably long for the Cardinals with left tackle Jared Veldheer out, safety Tyrann Mathieu out and this team looking nothing like Arians editions of the past, but there is no point in handicapping the Cardinals’ chances because nobody has any idea what will happen in this league on a week-to-week basis.

At least we can all agree that if the Cardinals can’t beat the 49ers on Sunday at University of Phoenix, we should probably just start talking about our promising winter sports (sarcasm font). With a win Sunday, Arizona would be 4-4-1 with that pesky tie playing an unknown role in its postseason fortunes. Then it’s on to road games at suddenly reeling Minnesota and Atlanta. A few weeks ago, we would have said the Cardinals needed to win them all. Now, we’re not so sure.

No Wild Card team has made the NFC playoffs with less than 10 wins since Philadelphia went 9-6-1 in 2008, but this does not feel like an ordinary year. This feels like an avert-your-eyes year.

Somebody has to seize the day, or at least gently grip it. It might as well be the Cardinals.

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