Power Rankings: Preseason 15. This week: 25.
Where they stand: The Cardinals are 3-5, one game behind NFC West leaders St. Louis and Seattle. The road victory they own over the Rams could come in handy as a tiebreaker if the division race remains close. The Cardinals have arguably lost only one game -- against Tampa Bay at home -- that would have qualified before the season as a likely victory. But the team's failure to acquire or develop a quality quarterback has made this season feel like an overall failure. Return touchdowns against New Orleans and Oakland helped the Cardinals beat those opponents and stay competitive in the division. Teams generally cannot bank on such plays, but Arizona is proving otherwise. The team has an NFL-leading eight return touchdowns this season.
Falling: The right quarterback masks so many blemishes. The wrong quarterback -- or quarterbacks, in the Cardinals' case -- turns minor imperfections into liabilities. Derek Anderson played his best game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9, but the Cardinals punted eight times, gained only 225 yards and converted 23 percent of their third-down chances. Anderson failed to see open receivers, missed other receivers and threw his third pass of the game directly into the hands of linebacker Chad Greenway, who dropped the ball. Again, this was the best a Cardinals quarterback has offered all season. Max Hall tossed one touchdown pass with five interceptions before coach Ken Whisenhunt went back to Anderson. The turnovers and inefficiency have put extra pressure on Arizona's defense, which has lacked consistency. The offensive line appears worse without Kurt Warner beating pressure with accurate throws. Running backs Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower have also disappointed.
Rising: The Cardinals have generally gotten good contributions from the veteran players they added in free agency. Kerry Rhodes has been every bit the big-play safety Arizona lost when Antrel Rolle left as a free agent, a pleasant surprise for Arizona. Another newcomer, Joey Porter, has gotten more pressure on opposing quarterbacks lately, putting him on pace for 10 sacks this season. Inside linebacker Paris Lenon has provided competent play at a position of tremendous need. Guard Alan Faneca has proved he's not washed up. Among young players, kickoff returner LaRod Stephens-Howling has two return touchdowns. Rookie receiver Andre Roberts impressed with a 30-yard touchdown reception against Minnesota. Right tackle Brandon Keith is improving.
Midseason MVP: Steve Breaston stands out as a solid choice even though he missed three games because of injury. Breaston helped win the season opener at St. Louis with seven catches for 132 yards, plus a touchdown-saving forced fumble. He caught eight passes for 147 yards against the Vikings. Breaston even showed skills as a quarterback Sunday when he completed a 17-yard pass to Jim Dray, his second read on the play.
Outlook: A generally healthy roster and an easy second-half schedule should deliver the division title to Arizona on a platter, but quarterback trouble diminishes the Cardinals' chances. Arizona's game against Kansas City in Week 11 is the only remaining matchup against a team with a winning record at midseason. Five home games against non-winning teams give Arizona a realistic shot at its third consecutive NFC West title. Road games against 1-7 Carolina and 2-6 San Francisco give the Cardinals a chance away from University of Phoenix Stadium as well.