The Bengals will face off against former franchise quarterback Carson Palmer in Week 11 of the 2015 season for only the second time in the regular season. If you'll recall, the Bengals trounced Palmers' Oakland Raiders in a 34-10 win when last they met in 2012. Now, the Bengals will face off against Palmer's new team, the Arizona Cardinals.
All petty grudges aside, the real story here is the upcoming battle between two teams that started off hot in 2014 but cooled off enough to be knocked out of the first round of the playoffs at the end of the season. Both teams will be looking to get back to that competitive state in 2015 and, assuming they do, they will be poised for an exciting playoff-race matchup in Week 11, which could determine the fates of both teams' seasons.
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Week 11: Sunday, November 22, 2015, 4:05 p.m.EST
Bruce Arians has been the head coach of the Cardinals since taking over for the departed Ken Whisenhunt, who had fallen out of favor since leading the team to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. The offensive coordinator of that Steelers' team? Bruce Arians.
In his very first season with the Cardinals, he brought in Carson Palmer and improved the team's record from 6-10 to 10-6, leading many to speculate that he should have been named NFL coach of the year. On that note, due to an even better record the following year despite at one point being forced to start the fourth quarterback on the roster, he did receive the award in 2014.
Recapping Last Season:
The Cardinals entered 2014 with playoff ambitions, after barely missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record due to a very strong NFC pool and an especially strong NFC West division. With Arians and Palmer in their second year together and health seemingly on their side, it looked like the sky was the limit for a Cardinals team that had a playoffs sized chip on their shoulders. The Cardinals entered week five of two remaining undefeated teams (along with the Bengals), losing in not-so-glorious fashion to the Denver Broncos, 41-20.
Following the loss in Denver, the Cardinals reasserted their position as one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL with a four game winning streak through Week 9. Unfortunately, Palmer tore the ACL in his left knee in the fourth quarter the following week against the division rival St. Louis Rams.
The stomachs of every Cardinals fan watching the game at the time immediately dropped, as Bengals fans can surely sympathize with. But, backup quarterback Drew Stanton came in the game late in the fourth quarter to lead the Cardinals to a miracle 21-point fourth quarter comeback to extend the Cardinals' win streak to five games. It seemed like things in Arizona would remain stable the following week when Stanton lead the team to a 14-6 win over the white-hot Detroit Lions, extending their win streak to six games and improving their record to 9-1.
It appeared as though the Cardinals would survive Palmer's absence to remain the team to beat in the NFC, but the Cardinals lost two of their next four with Stanton before he, too, went down in the Cardinals' next game against the Rams. The Cardinals won that game, and the next, but lost their final two games to finish 11-5 and relinquish the division title to the Seattle Seahawks. With Ryan Lindley starting for the Cardinals in the Wild Card round, the 7-8-1 Panthers proved too much for them and the Cardinals began the long offseason, hoping for a speedy recovery for Palmer.
2015 Season Outlook:
The Cardinals will be looking to finish what they started last season with a newly healthy Palmer behind center, but it is hard to imagine them recapturing the magic of their 2014 start. Even if you assume that Carson Palmer will make a full recovery, a large part of what helped the Cardinals to survive Palmer's injury and still make the playoffs was former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' masterful coaching of the Cardinals' defense. The Cardinals also lost key defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie to free agency. Though, Dockett has since been cut. The Cardinals lack depth at receiver and running back, and have yet to have a chance to really show that their offensive line is as improved as it's been made out to be.
All that said, the Cardinals do still have miracle-worker Bruce Arians at the helm, an incredibly talented Carson Palmer under center, and perennial All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson defending against air attacks. Therefore, counting them out after two seasons in which they made virtually every critic look like an idiot, at least in the regular season, is not advised. Still, I wouldn't be too surprised to see them finish around 9-7 this season, due to how much they've lost.
Very Early Outlook:
The Bengals and Cardinals will meet in the mid-afternoon on a Sunday. The Bengals are known for falling apart in primetime during the Dalton-Green era of Bengals football, but that comes with an interesting note that they have been particularly good in mid-afternoon games. Over the last four years, the Bengals have won five of their six mid-afternoon games, and that one loss was in 2011. Granted, they didn't play a mid-afternoon game at all last season, but the trend is still real.
It's way too early to call which way this one will go, but the Bengals will see a significant advantage if Andy Dalton can have a good game. With the Cardinals' noted issues at offensive line, as well as their lack of depth at running back, the Bengals' running game with Jeremy Hill is likely to seriously out-pace the Cardinals' running game. An effective game from Dalton would give the Bengals' a depth to their offensive game plan that the Cardinals simply would not be able to match, and they could use the resulting mismatch to spur a winning streak heading into the climax of the playoff race.
Again, this game will not happen for another three months. Literally everything about both teams' rosters and coaching staff could change by then, so it is nearly impossible to say how things will pan out with any certainty. But, from where I'm standing, this should be a fun game for the Bengals to go beat up on their former franchise quarterback.