A setting sun in Arizona means temporary relief from the intense heat. It means something much different for Carson Palmer, who is 37 and presumed to be entering the final year of his career as an NFL quarterback.
The Cardinals are hearing the cliches — the sun is setting, the window is closing — because they are coming off a losing season and the end appears to be near for their quarterback, coach and top wide receiver. But that can be a positive combination, too, because deadlines tend to create a sense of urgency and achievement.
Palmer and coach Bruce Arians have the most to prove. Two years ago, when Arizona won 13 games, Palmer and Arians reached the peak of their success. After the Cardinals slipped to 7-8-1 last season, both are feeling the heat.
So was last year’s six-win slide an aberration or the beginning of a downward trend? The stakes are raised in Arizona, and there are reasons to believe Arians, Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald can make one more good run.
Palmer will be a spectator tonight in Canton, Ohio, where the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the 2017 season. Arians is sitting most of his starters for the Cardinals’ preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys, who are 2-point favorites and also care more about avoiding injuries than winning this one.
Palmer’s health is a major key to Arizona’s season. Drew Stanton is his backup, and if Stanton is forced to start a few games or more this season, it won’t be good for Arians’ health. Blaine Gabbert will quarterback the first half tonight, with rookie Trevor Knight taking over for the second half.
The Cardinals were not as bad as perceived last season, when their plus-56 point differential ranked fourth in the NFC behind Atlanta, Dallas and Seattle. In games decided by seven points or fewer, Arizona went 2-5-1. Arians blamed a 23-21 loss to New England in Week 1 for the season spiraling in the wrong direction.
Palmer compiled decent numbers, passing for 26 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. But after his phenomenal 2015 season, when he passed for 35 touchdowns, the decline was a warning sign. That’s why the pressure is on him again.
But he can rely on David Johnson, who emerged as one of the NFL’s elite running backs, and a big-play receiving corps. Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, when he also totaled 80 receptions for 879 yards. Johnson, 25, is in his prime. Fitzgerald, who turns 34 this month, led the league with 107 receptions and still can get the job done.
Arians, a self-acclaimed quarterback whisperer, can coach another big year out of Palmer. Arizona ranked sixth in scoring offense (26.1 points per game) in 2016 despite offensive line problems and a poor kicker.
It’s easy to forget the Cardinals ranked No. 2 in the NFL in total defense. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden return after combining for 23½ sacks. The departures of Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson could hurt, but the secondary still is strong with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, and Arizona added defensive help early in the draft.
The schedule is manageable. The Cardinals and Seahawks are in a two-team race in the NFC West. Three of Arizona’s first eight games are against the bottom-feeding Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers (twice), and starting 5-3 or 6-2 looks realistic.
The biggest early test for the Cardinals will come against the Cowboys on Monday, Sept. 25. That game will be in Glendale, Ariz., and it will mean something.
Arizona’s regular-season win total has been bet up to 8½, after the South Point sports book opened 7½ three months ago.
The Cardinals are worth a wager to make the playoffs at plus-170, the price currently posted at the Westgate.
This is not the Arizona team that won 13 games two years ago, but it’s also better than the 7-8-1 team of a year ago. If Palmer stays healthy and remains productive — there are always pivotal if factors with every team — he can point the Cardinals back to the playoffs.
South Point opening win totals: https://www.vsin.com/south-point-opens-nfl-season-win-totals/
NFL win total opinions: https://www.vsin.com/play-on-the-patriots-and-more-opinions-on-win-totals/
Teams testing the Bounce Theory: https://www.vsin.com/are-raiders-for-real-or-due-to-regress/
Top games of the 2017 season: https://www.vsin.com/rodgers-roethlisberger-showdown-on-nfl-must-see-list/
NFL “Yes/No” Playoff Props
(Posted at Westgate sports book)
Will these teams make the playoffs in 2017-18?
Arizona Cardinals Yes plus-170; No -200
Atlanta Falcons Yes -150; No plus-130
Baltimore Ravens Yes plus-145/No -170
Buffalo Bills Yes plus-550; No -800
Carolina Panthers Yes/No -110
Chicago Bears Yes plus-1,000; No -2,000
Cincinnati Bengals Yes plus-140; No -160
Cleveland Browns Yes plus-2,000; No -10,000
Dallas Cowboys Yes -200; No plus-175
Denver Broncos Yes plus-210; No -260
Detroit Lions Yes plus-280; No -360
Green Bay Packers Yes -330; No plus-260
Houston Texans Yes plus-145; No -170
Indianapolis Colts Yes plus-200; No -250
Jacksonville Jaguars Yes plus-350; No -450
Kansas City Chiefs Yes -130; No plus-110
Los Angeles Chargers Yes plus-220; No -270
Los Angeles Rams Yes plus-900; No -1,600
Miami Dolphins Yes plus-350; No -450
Minnesota Vikings Yes plus-150; No -180
New England Patriots Yes -2,500; No plus-1,100
New Orleans Saints Yes plus-230; No -280
New York Giants Yes plus-120; No -140
New York Jets Yes plus-2,000; No -10,000
Oakland Raiders Yes -135; No plus-115
Philadelphia Eagles Yes plus-160; No -190
Pittsburgh Steelers Yes -360; No plus-280
San Francisco 49ers Yes plus-1,400; No -4,000
Seattle Seahawks Yes -500; No plus-375
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Yes plus-210; No -260
Tennessee Titans Yes plus-110; No -130
Washington Redskins Yes plus-300; No -400