Perhaps the most surprising performance during week 1 of the NFL season came from the Arizona Cardinals, who nearly came away with a road win over the St. Louis Rams. The Cardinals are an easy team to forget about after being so irrelevant last season, not to mention the fact that they share a division with two of the NFL’s elite teams, the 49ers and Seahawks, as well as the Rams, who are likely to be the best third place team in the NFL this season. However, if week 1 is any indication, the Cardinals will be far more competitive this season than anybody thought, and the biggest reason for that is quarterback Carson Palmer.
Palmer was vastly underappreciated during the massive swap of second and third tier quarterbacks this past offseason, ultimately ending up in Arizona, where he became a massive upgrade over the Kevin Kolb-John Skelton combination the Cardinals used at quarterback last year. He proved last year in Oakland that he can still be effective throwing the ball, passing for over 4,000 yards despite a mediocre group of wide receivers and a less than competent offensive line. In Arizona, Palmer not only has a better supporting cast around him, but he will have an offensive-minded head coach in Bruce Arians, whose offensive philosophy blends well with what Palmer’s abilities.
Beyond just the head coach, Arizona has a group of talented wide receivers that will benefit from having Palmer as much, if not more, than Palmer will benefit from having them. First and foremost there is Larry Fitzgerald, who remains one of the most talented pass catchers in the NFL, but has had two or three down seasons recently because he hasn’t had a competent quarterback getting him the ball. But with Palmer, Fitzgerald now has a quarterback that can deliver accurate passes to him and get him the ball all over the field. Palmer and Fitzgerald haven’t yet developed chemistry with one another, but they’re two veteran players that should soon grow comfortable playing together. By the mid point in the season, if not sooner, Palmer and Fitzgerald should be a formidable combination.
Beyond Fitzgerald, the Cardinals also have talented wide outs in Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. Floyd showed flashes of brilliance last year even with poor quarterback play, and he should become a dangerous passing threat with Palmer throwing him the ball. As for Roberts, he has a chance to be a dangerous third receiver now that he has a quarterback that knows how to utilize him, as well as two big targets on the outside that teams will have to pay plenty of attention to, which should open up space for Roberts to make plays.
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Without a veteran quarterback that can make all the throws and get the ball downfield, the talent and depth that Arizona has at the wide receiver position would be wasted, even with Arians’ offensive philosophy. The addition of Palmer is what is going to make the Arizona offense function this season, and we’ve already seen that with Palmer throwing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns against the Rams on Sunday. Having Palmer doesn’t guarantee a certain win total, or even an improved win total over for the Cardinals over what they did last season, especially in the toughest division in the NFL. However, having Palmer guarantees that the Cardinals will be able to score points and be competitive in games. We’ve already seen that to be the case, which means that with Palmer as their quarterback, the Cardinals definitely won’t be irrelevant in 2013.