A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Panthers game Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.:
**Just who does Palmer throw to?
Carson Palmer said the Cardinals are "not sweating it," but the health of their normally deep receiving corps is messing with plans this week. Michael Floyd is dealing with a hamstring. John Brown is trying to battle the issues that come with his sickle-cell trait. Even if both are able to play, the question is how much and how well they are able to perform. Larry Fitzgerald continues to be the rock. J.J. Nelson has played well, assuming he doesn't get dinged up again himself. Tight end Ifeanyi Momah is a wild card in the equation if the Cards find themselves down some wideouts. All the more reason the run game will remain important – but at some point, the Cards have to find a passing game that clicks for points.
Brutal vs. the bye
The Cardinals were beat up against the Seahawks, playing five full quarters and playing late on Sunday. It was rough enough that practice Wednesday, especially for the offense, was simply a walkthough. There is no question the Cardinals are at a disadvantage this week, battling with the Seahawks last week in a game was draining both mentally and physically, while the Panthers enjoyed their bye weekend. The Cardinals have to find a way to grind through the game. On a positive note – their own bye is on the side, so rest is coming.
Russell Wilson couldn't run the ball last weekend. Too banged up. Cam Newton has been a little more leery – understandably – to run after suffering a concussion this season. The Cardinals were still ready for Wilson and they will be ready for Newton, but it's something to consider. There were many things that went wrong for the Cards in their last trip to Carolina but part of the issue was dealing with Newton, as big as he is, running the ball. That's a threat that can kill both on a zone-read play in short yardage and on passing downs when Newton scrambles.
Special choices in transition
The special teams group had a couple of games where the unit played well and we important in the Cardinals' victories. But there was a serious step back last week with a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and a missed field goal. Change just one of the three and the Cardinals most likely win the game. Instead, the Cards tied and coordinator Amos Jones has to regroup his troops again. It's probably safe to assume Kerwynn Williams won't be blocking on the wing in punt protection, and we'll see if the Panthers try to emulate the Seahawks with the field-goal jump up the middle. The Cardinals can't have such things go sideways. As has been evident, it's impacting the season pretty significantly.
At the midpoint, some self-reflection
This game takes the Cardinals to the midway point of the season. Whether the record is 4-3-1 or 3-4-1, expectations clearly have not been met. (No, we're not considering 3-3-2.) There is a sizable gap between the two record, however. A win, and the Cardinals look back on the first half as disappointing but headed in the right direction with a 3-0-1 record over the last four games. A loss, and the playoffs become less likely. It probably will take 10 wins to reach the postseason. With only eight games left after Sunday, opportunities to build that kind of win total leaves little room for error.