The Cardinals remind me of the Bengals. Both franchises were dormant for decades and had been laughingstocks, both rose to become regular playoff participants, neither has looked particularly potent in those postseason games and now both look like their best chance for a Super Bowl in the near future may have passed.
The Cards are in worse shape in some ways to me, however, with Carson Palmer, a descending quarterback who is nearing the end. Palmer was battered and abused and picked off too often again Sunday. There's also the fact that Arizona is stuck in a division with perhaps the best team in football, the Seattle Seahawks. It's actually more astonishing that a team that looked Super Bowl-bound for much of last season is now just 4-5-1, after finding a way to lose to free-falling Minnesota on Sunday, despite having the league's best defense in terms of yards allowed per play.
The offense is simply not good enough. Palmer is searching and hoping for big plays, but turning the ball over far too often. His pick-six on Sunday, which Xavier Rhodes returned for 100 yards, turned around the game for good and perhaps will go down as the crossroads of this season. For a while on Sunday, Larry Fitzgerald tried to put the team on his back, but Palmer has struggled to find his stride early in games and there is plenty of rumbling around the league about him possibly hitting the wall.
And now the Cardinals must finish with four of their final six games on the road and with no gimme games left on the schedule. Arizona plays at Atlanta in Week 12, then hosts Washington, plays at Miami in Week 14, hosts New Orleans, then finishes the season on the road at Seattle and Los Angeles. Yeah, good luck with that.
More notes from around the NFL:
The Ravens should find some joy running to the left side with Marshal Yanda now at left guard. If he can stay healthy it stabilizes everything. Yanda playing next to rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley looked good on Sunday. Baltimore should be able to run the ball better down the stretch and the pass protection was better than it's been in weeks as well.
It was only a matter of time before the Browns got another quarterback maimed and they nearly pulled a double on Sunday. Josh McCown took two totally devastating hits after replacing Cody Kessler, who was knocked from the game. The Browns have abandoned their run game and the boost that Isaiah Crowell gave them early on is a thing of the past. The young offensive line is being further exposed by not keeping the ball on the ground more, and this has the makings of the worst team in NFL history.
The Steelers held the ball for 21 minutes in the first half, outgaining the Browns, 217-50 in yards, and had three scoring drives of eight minutes or more. By the fourth quarter, the Browns' stadium was pretty empty. Those fans deserve so much better.
Dak Prescott may have played his best game yet. He started slowly and got away with some poor throws early against the NFL's best defense, but once he realized the Ravens had no one who could remotely stay with Dez Bryant -- Jimmy Smith's absence loomed large -- and began feeding him the ball, Dallas took over.
The kid was basically perfect in the second half, with the teams tied at 10 at the half, and once the Cowboys' offensive line set their normal physical tone and started to wear down the Ravens' front four, it wasn't a contest. That's pretty uncanny by the rookie quarterback to just make things happen -- especially on the rare game in which Ezekiel Elliott was largely contained -- and to get better as the game goes along.
Matthew Stafford threw a pass across his body, off balance, on a rope about 30 yards downfield to a sliding receiver that was almost too good to believe. He remains very much in the MVP conversation for me.
The Colts played their most physical game of the season. They somehow managed to manhandle the vaunted Titans offensive line in the first half and they negated the Titans' run game as well. They played with a purpose and passion that could earn them a division title. Andrew Luck took that game over in the first half, and Marcus Mariota nearly did the same in the second half. These are the two best teams in the AFC South -- based largely on the quality of their young quarterbacks.
Jared Goff was about what I anticipated. He's going to be taking baby steps and learning to try to play functional NFL football.
The Steelers returned to Le'Veon Bell as the fulcrum of their offense, and expect that to remain the case. Given the state of their defense -- it ain't good -- they know they need to control the ball more and Bell's touches will continue to be significant down the stretch. They didn't use him enough against the Ravens a few weeks back and want to get back to grinding teams down. Bell had 36 total touches for 201 yards against the Browns.
Russell Wilson might be able to go on another absolute tear like he did down the stretch last season. Also, don't forget the Seahawks get arguably their best defensive player, Michael Bennett, back from injury next week as well, barring a setback.
I picked the Bucs as a wild-card team, and don't look now, but they are back to .500. If they can find a way to fin a few games at home -- they're just 1-4 at home and 4-1 on the road -- they might be a factor come December. And they're just a game back of the Falcons.
It was good to see Mike Mularkey, who can be a little conservative, going for it on fourth down and empowering his offense down the stretch. The Titans nearly pulled off the comeback after being held to just nine rushing yards in the first quarter.