Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (left) and Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer in their regular season openers.
CHICAGO – Stacked side by side, the NFL resumes of Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler are nearly indistinguishable.
Palmer, the Cardinals' quarterback, is 70-73 with a quarterback rating of 86.6 in his 12-year NFL career. He's completed 62.6 of his passes and has a 1.46 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Cutler, the Bears' signal-caller, is 61-58 with an 85.0 rating in his 10 seasons. He's completed 61.6 percent of his passes with a 1.40 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
But as they prepare to lead their teams into Sunday's showdown at Soldier Field, Palmer and Cutler are viewed in such stark contrast that it feels more like a comparison of Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.
Palmer and the Cardinals continue to rise, heading into the game as road favorites after an impressive 31-19 win over the Saints in Week 1. Palmer threw for 307 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in his return from a torn ACL, as the team won its seventh straight game in which he starts.
There was a moment in the 2013 coach-hiring flurry when it looked as if Bruce Arians was going to get the Bears job. He was passed over for Marc Trestman, eventually joined the Cardinals, then acquired Palmer to be his starting quarterback. The team is 22-11 since.
"It's been a blast," Palmer said. "He's coached for a long time, won Super Bowls and done everything you want to do as a coach, except win the ring himself as a head man. To have that opportunity, it's an amazing opportunity for him and a huge opportunity for me because I don't have a ring and that's what we're here for."
Chicago made it to the NFC Championship game with Cutler in 2011 but has been in a steady decline since, with no playoff appearances and a drop from tens wins to eight to five the past three years.
Cutler has been about a league-average quarterback in that span, but a lucrative contract, costly interceptions and even poor body language have made him a polarizing figure in the Windy City. While Cutler said he's become better-equipped to handle the criticism as he's gotten older, it's impossible to tune it all out.
"I think still to this day some things bother me, but you can't control a lot of these things outside," Cutler said. "We just try to control what we can control. You will hear some things, and whether you like it or not, there's not much you can do about it."
The Cardinals will aim for a 2-0 start in advance of two straight home games against NFC West foes San Francisco and St. Louis. While their roster looks more talented on paper, it's still a road game, and one against a Bears team which will be hungry after dropping their Soldier Field opener last week against the Packers.
"Nobody wants to lose two at home," cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "Any game you play on the road, you expect it to be hostile and tough. It's nothing different that we're preparing for, but you definitely know they're going to come out with a little edge or chip."
Both teams could be without key pieces. Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (knee) didn't practice all week and will miss the game, as will Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati, who is still on the mend from knee surgery. Safeties Tony Jefferson (hamstring) and Deone Bucannon (groin) are questionable.
Bears star wideout Alshon Jeffery (hamstring/calf) played last week against the Packers but is listed as questionable. Chicago doesn't have a good pass-rush to begin with, and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (wrist) is also listed as questionable.
The Bears replaced Trestman with John Fox this offseason, and he brought in new coordinators Adam Gase (offense) and Vic Fangio. While some see a rebuilding year, Cutler believes the Bears can be competitive.
"We're going to get it," Cutler said. "We're heading in the right direction. We have the right head coach, the right coaches around him, we've got great schemes offensively and defensively, and we're got the right players. It's just a matter of time."
The Cardinals have already scaled that mountain, and hope to keep it rolling behind their reinvigorated quarterback and the reigning coach of the year. Palmer was asked this week if he ever thought about where his career would be if Arians ended up with the Bears in 2013.
"No," Palmer said. "But I'm glad he didn't."
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Chicago Bears