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Dave Pasch: An early look at the Cardinals playoff picture

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson, right, catches a pass in front of San Francisco 49ers strong safety Jimmie Ward during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
LISTEN: Dave Pasch, voice of the Cardinals

No team has clinched a playoff berth yet, but the NFL playoff picture is starting to come together with five games to go in the regular season.

For the Arizona Cardinals, who have a three-game lead in the NFC West, the question has shifted from whether or not they’ll make the playoffs to which seed they’ll be.

The voice of the Cardinals, Dave Pasch, said Arizona’s fate will likely come down to two key games.

“It comes down to the Minnesota and Green Bay games, they have those at home,” Pasch told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Tuesday. “They’re going to win their division, it’s just a matter of if they win one or both of those games. I think they will.”

While Pasch predicts Arizona will ultimately finish atop the NFC West, he said the reality is that the NFC’s top seed will likely go to a different team.

“Carolina, I continue to be impressed by them,” Pasch said. “At first I thought — and they’re good in the turnover ratio — I thought it was all about the run game and the defense and that Cam Newton would at some point come back to earth. I know his numbers aren’t fantastic, but he’s a lot better than he was last year.”

Coming off of a 33-14 Thanksgiving victory over the Cowboys, the undefeated Panthers need just one win to clinch the NFC South. With only one opponent left on their schedule with a record above .500, Pasch has Carolina finishing atop the NFC, but in his eyes Arizona isn’t far behind.

“Watching the Dallas game, I do think Carolina’s really good. But I do think the Cardinals are going to get the two-seed and get a bye,” Pasch said.

While Pasch thinks the Cardinals will win the NFC West, it won’t come without a challenge. On Monday, Arizona’s top running back, Chris Johnson, was diagnosed with a fractured tibia.

“He’s been an important part of where the Cardinals are,” Pasch said. “It’s a big loss to me with the way he’s been playing. I think David Johnson is good, but the way Chris Johnson has been playing — it’s a guy that I don’t know that you can replace.”

Johnson is a significant loss for the Cardinals, but Pasch said Arizona still has the ability to succeed even without the NFL’s fourth-best rusher in terms of total yards.

“We’ve seen now, not just with this team but with so many other teams, you need more than one running back,” he said.

That being said, Pasch thinks if there’s any way for Johnson to return for playoffs, the Cardinals should go for it.

“I don’t think you’re basing your whole offense on David Johnson, although he does give you options because he’s a good receiver out of the backfield,” he said. “I still think that if you can get Chris Johnson back — and again I have no idea how bad the injury is, how long he’s going to be out — but if there’s a way to get him back in the playoffs, I think you do it.”

In the mean time, all eyes will be on Carson Palmer.

While Palmer ranks second in the league with 3,337 yards and 27 touchdown passes this year, Pasch said Arizona is reaping dividends because of his less successful seasons.

“The biggest thing that stood out to me about Carson…is just his ability to bounce back from adversity,” Pasch said. “Carson Palmer learned the hard way. He was on some poor teams in Cincinnati, but he got to the playoffs too. I think it was those times of adversity that shaped him and the Cardinals are receiving the benefits of that now because nothing phases this guy — he’s seen it all.”

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