The Cardinals are counting on the return of quarterback Carson Palmer in 2015.
Bruce Arians was talking about his team's battle against the Seattle Seahawks – the NFC West rival who are the favorites to win a second straight Super Bowl – and the need to find a way past the Seahawks as one of the main steps going forward with his team.
"I'd like to play them with a first-string quarterback," Arians said.
The Cardinals went 0-2 against the Seahawks with one Drew Stanton start and one Ryan Lindley start, and while Carson Palmer didn't light up the Seahawks the last time he played against them, he did engineer a victory.
The Cardinals' season became exhibit "A" to the truth unfolding along with the NFL playoffs. There are many pieces a team needs to
succeed, but without a quarterback, competing is usually a run through quicksand.
Stanton did exactly what the Cards hoped he could do this season when Palmer couldn't play. He won games, the Cardinals didn't go off the rails, and when he got hurt (in part because of who the Cards had left to replace him) people clamored for his return like he would Joe Montana them to a playoff run.
The Cardinals would have been better off with Stanton than Lindley but the best option would have been Palmer, of course. That's why Palmer is the starter in the first place.
Palmer was officially 6-0 as a starter this season (although the Cardinals trailed the Rams in the game when Palmer's knee gave out, and Stanton threw the game-winning touchdown pass.) Statistically, he was in the midst one of his best seasons, especially in the category of touchdown-to-interception ratio (11-3). That was even while Palmer never truly had a chance to get into the rhythm of the season, missing three games (and a month of practice) with his nerve issue and then the last seven games of the regular season with the ACL injury.
There is a direct parallel between the teams that have reached the NFL championship games and the quarterbacks that lead them. All of them are considered excellent – Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers through their body of work, and Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson as the poster children for the next generation of stars. Each would be a fair choice if someone asked about starting a team.
There is a reason why Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles should jump on the Falcons' head coaching job if it were to be offered to him: Matt Ryan. A good quarterback in place? You can build around that.
No quarterback, and the path is often painful.
The Cardinals should have that guy back in 2015. It's not a simple process coming back from a torn ACL. Palmer said all along his goal is to be back by the offseason – training camp seems more realistic – although after watching Tyrann Mathieu and Alameda Ta'amu, returning to the field and playing well after returning to the field aren't necessarily the same thing.
(Stanton should be fine by the start of the offseason.)
Arians said he believes Palmer's abilities, including arm strength, are fine and there isn't a reason he couldn't play another two or three years. That's important as the Cardinals move on and wait to see if Logan Thomas indeed can develop into a starter or if someone else intriguing becomes available in the draft.
Peyton Manning didn't have the best finish to the season Sunday, with his arm strength faded and his body broken down. The Broncos' loss probably cost coach John Fox his job, although with the end of Manning's career in sight, what job is it? For whatever faults Manning might have, would the Broncos really be better off with Brock Osweiler?
"When you get to play with your quarterback, you can overcome a lot of the other things," Arians said this season, before Palmer ripped up his knee. "When it's your quarterback (out), that stability of your offense changes a little bit. That puts everybody at different spots."
This is the reality for teams – you find a quarterback and you do whatever you can not to let him go.
And the Cardinals will plan on Carson Palmer starting against the Seahawks next season.
A list of the Cardinals' top receivers in 2014