Earlier this week, our own Josh Kirkendall wrote a great piece on why Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer returning to Cincinnati wasn't a big deal. Without trying to put words in his mouth, Kirkendall's main points revolved around the Bengals getting the better end of the trade that sent Palmer to Oakland in the middle of the season last year, and that the Bengals franchise is in a better place thanks to them moving on to A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. And, oh, the bevy of draft picks. Let's not forget those.
It's hard to argue against those points. In fact, I'm not going to. The young stars have this team poised for a playoff run for the second straight season and they're set up nicely in next year's draft as well, with an extra second round pick from the Palmer trade and an extra third rounder from trading back in the first round this year. On Thanksgiving Day, Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver wrote his own quality piece on why Bengals fans should be graceful this Sunday when Palmer takes the field and not boo him. Basically, Silver (and former Bengals wide receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh) take the stance of "honor your past greats' service to the team", as well as echoing Kirkendall's points on the Bengals getting the better end of the deal.
There's no point in arguing against idea that the Bengals got the better end of the Palmer trade because every shred of evidence suggests that they did. Look at the direction of the respective franchises since Palmer stopped playing in Cincinnati and the subsequent trade: the Bengals are 14-13 (including the playoff loss to the Houston Texans) with a Wild Card appearance in 2011 and the Raiders are 11-15, mostly thanks to a 3-7 record this year. And truthfully, the Raiders' dismal record this year plays into Kirkendall's arguments of Palmer's return not being that big of a deal.
I don't disagree with the sentiments of Silver and Kirkendall; the Bengals are a better organization now without Palmer (as well as Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens and others), even though he did have some quality years here. After all, he does hold a few big franchise passing records. I think that I just look at the big picture a bit differently than . Palmer's return to Cincinnati does mean a lot for two reasons.
The first, and most important, is that this game has huge playoff implications for the Bengals. Currently sitting at 5-5, the Bengals are playing their best overall football of the season right now, which is a stark contrast to last season when they fizzled out at the end of the year. The oddsmakers have the Bengals generously favored by nine points and while I personally think that that is a bit too high, the fact remains that this is a game that Cincinnati should and must win. Falling to 5-6 in the wacky AFC would likely mean that the Bengals would have to win the rest of the games on their schedule to ensure a strong case to make the playoffs. The difference between 5-6 and 6-5 at this time of the year is monumental.
Secondly, and an admittedly more petty reason, is revenge. Yes, revenge on Palmer and his scorning of the team and the fans, but revenge more so on the demons of Bengals past. You see, the Bengals don't normally win these types of emotional games--be it "football karma", or whatever you would like to label it. When Palmer took that unfortunate knee injury in the 2005 Wild Card game, the Bengals were never able to fully recover and punch the Steelers back in the mouth (figuratively speaking) and win games against them over the years. Normally, other fans of other teams wouldn't have this attitude towards a former player. But, then again, players defecting against the franchise and opting for retirement over continuing to play for said franchise doesn't happen anywhere else in the NFL.
The biggest irony of the whole situation lies in the state of the franchises as they take the field of Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. Cincinnati is on it's way to do something that Palmer couldn't achieve in his eight-year career here--namely get the Bengals to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the Ken Anderson era. Palmer's successor, Dalton, would be the one leading that charge. Who is a major roadblock standing in the way of that achievement? The man who turned his back on everyone associated with the Bengals--Palmer. The irony is a major reason that Palmer's reason is a huge deal.
Call the desire for revenge against Palmer whatever you'd like: childish, petty, living in the past and not the present or future. All could apply. The fact of the matter is that we've seen the Bengals lose these games time and time again. Yes, the Bengals got the better of the Palmer deal that was gift-wrapped for them because of extenuating circumstances. But with all due respect to my buddy JK and Mr. Silver, the ribbon and bow on that gift would be a solid win against their old quarterback on Sunday in front of their home crowd. Call that poetic justice.