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Carson Palmer, Cardinals have chance to make Super Bowl run

The Arizona Cardinals closed out the regular season with a 36-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. They now move onto the playoffs with a first-round bye.

Reasons to be excited: Not only do the Arizona Cardinals boast a legitimate MVP candidate in quarterback Carson Palmer, they have one of the best wide receiver units and secondaries in the NFL. The offense, though, is what will take the Cardinals deep into the playoffs. Palmer has had the best season of his career, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald enjoyed a rebirth of sorts with his first 1,000-yard season since 2011 and first 100-catch campaign since 2007. But what can’t be measured is a team’s momentum. Everything seems to be going Arizona’s way, minus the loss Sunday, and the offense is putting up gaudy numbers -- 40 and 38 points in two of their past three games. They won nine in a row before stumbling badly against the Seahawks, but they already had home-field advantage wrapped up.

Reasons to be concerned: What concerns there are are fixable. One of the most notable is kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s struggles with extra points. He has missed five this season. Defensively, Arizona has small issues, such as making sure they peel on runners or fill the right holes. It’s difficult to determine whether more issues arose during its blowout loss in the season finale against Seattle or if Arizona simply was looking ahead to the playoffs with a first-round bye secured. Offensively, the biggest issue is long lulls. And during the playoffs, where every game is essentially a one-game season, that could cost them. Another minor issue is the inexperience of rookie running back David Johnson, but he has shown over the past five games that he is physically ready for the postseason. He also has displayed the mental fortitude to handle himself on big stages, but that was of course during the regular season. Everything changes in the playoffs.

How far they can go: All ... the ... way. This year’s edition of the Arizona Cardinals has what it takes to make a run to hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara, California, at Super Bowl 50. They are the most balanced team in the NFL, with the top-ranked offense and a top-five defense. And perhaps most importantly, they are playing some of their best football at the right time. They had won nine in a row and have a weekend off to rest all of their battered players. How the playoff bracket shakes out doesn’t matter for this team. They’re 7-1 on the road and 6-2 at home.