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Carson Palmer gives the Bengals a better chance to win, but by how much?

One of the storylines this off-season, for those that splash in gallons of Kool-aid about optimistic forecasts, is the return of Carson Palmer. After spending much of 2008 injured with a bum elbow, a second-stage "return" is commencing that will be similar to his pre-2006 comeback, with the obvious difference between a team that finished 2005 in the playoffs, and a team that finished 2008 as a reminder of who owns this team. Hype will likely be downgraded considering the differences with the severity of his injuries, however, it matters not, for the question is with or without Carson Palmer.

We like to believe that Palmer is a difference maker. We like to believe that he's a great quarterback, or one in training to achieve greatness. If you take the simplicity of a quarterback's over winning record as your benchmark for a calling a quarterback great, then one has to argue Palmer's 32-33 career record doesn't describe greatness, or even the promise of it. Dynamically, the argument branches. Some claim the record, while others list achievements; of which Palmer is doing well; especially franchise records held by two quarterbacks with Hall of Fame arguments. It's just those stinking wins, or lack thereof, that's caused a directional argument, both with justified points; which are ultimately subjective.

Note that while we're not making that argument because he's not even close to being finished, but we wanted to breakdown two things. How Palmer's numbers look between wins and losses and how his numbers look against playoff teams. If you're chomping at the bit to claim that it's a team game and if the defense is terrible, or if the rushing offense is stalled, then quarterbacks are thrown into a unfair advantage because they can't do it all. While the point is understood, that's not how quarterbacks are realistically judged. Excuses tend to fade with time, while the rock solid numbers of wins lasts. If you want to dig into the Mike Brown is satan argument, by all means. We're avoiding such things for now, unless something badass happens, because we get tired of talking about the same thing over and over; but if someone else wants to, go for it.

Reading the disparities between wins and losses, Carson Palmer's career numbers rarely fluctuated, with the exception of a higher completion rate and over a half-touch average per game; some would call those critical numbers. His yards, interceptions and completions are eerily similar.

  Comp. Attempts Comp% Yards Tds INTs
Avg. during wins (32) 21.2 31.2 68% 241 1.9 1.0
Avg. during losses (33) 21.3 35.4 60% 240 1.3 1.1

Did you know that since 2004, the Bengals have played 30 games against playoff teams during Palmer's 65-game career? The Bengals are 11-19, with the last win on November 25, 2007, in a 35-6 win over the Tennessee Titans. We spent all of 2008 without beating a playoff team, while Palmer faced and lost to the Ravens and Giants. However, you'll note that Palmer has field days against non-playoff teams, which includes an increase of, well, just about everything including a .5 interception-average spike -- which means the Bengals is opening up against poor teams; where he's 21-14.

  Comp. Attempts Comp% Yards Tds INTs
Avg. against playoff teams 19.3 31.0 62% 226.6 1.4 0.9
Avg. against non-playoff teams 22.9 35.3 65% 252.3 1.9 1.4

Based on wins/losses since 2004, the Bengals are better with Palmer, by six hundreds of a percentage point. Before the season, Palmer was three games above .500; but at losses to the Ravens, Titans, Giants and Cowboys, he dropped to .492, which is similarly on par with Marvin Lewis' drop from a winning record (42-38, .525) to not winning record (46-49-1, .484) after 2008.

Bengals with Carson Palmer 32-33 (.492)
Bengals without Carson Palmer 6-8-1 (.433)

Granted, judging a quarterback after six seasons, and 65 career games is rather foolish. Just like judging any NFL draft, before the standard three seasons afterwards, there's no telling where the Bengals go from here with Palmer. We just know he makes us better than not being there.