TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is expected to play Sunday against the Rams, despite a sore elbow that significantly limited his throws all week in practice and has him listed as questionable.
“It will be a game-time decision,” coach Bruce Arians said Friday, “but I’ve got all the confidence in the world he ain’t missing (the game).”
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How big of a deal is that? Entering Sunday’s game, 20 of 32 NFL teams have started the same quarterback every week, including all eight division leaders, all four teams currently occupying wild card spots and five teams (including Arizona) that are still in contention for a playoff spot.
In losing Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Sam Bradford and Jake Locker, the Bears, Packers, Rams and Titans have fallen off the pace in a year in which they had legitimate playoff (or greater) aspirations.
Of course, some teams just have bad QBs who can play every snap and still not lead their teams to the postseason. But with rare exceptions, when you lose your starting QB for any significant stretch of time, you’re pretty much out of the playoff conversation.
“You can tell (by) wins and losses around the league who don’t have their guy,” Arians said. “It’s a struggle.”
The Cardinals (7-5) face two such teams the next two weeks in the Rams (5-7) and Titans. Arizona is already in a near-must-win situation every week since it currently trails three teams — Carolina, San Francisco and Philadelphia — in the race for the NFC’s two wild-card spots.
But these games seem particularly vital given the absence of Bradford (ACL) and Locker (foot) as well as the fact that the Cardinals play the Seahawks and 49ers in the final two weeks of the season.
“We can’t take no damn team for granted,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “When you do that in this league, you get beat.”
Arians said he will evaluate Palmer in warm-ups Sunday to make certain he is able to play with an elbow he injured early in last week’s game against Philadelphia, when Eagles defensive end Trent Cole sacked him and forced a fumble by making contacting with Palmer’s throwing arm while he had it cocked.
Palmer came off the field after the play in obvious discomfort, but he finished the game. If he can’t go Sunday, backup Drew Stanton will see his first regular-season action in three years.
Given the frequency of QB injuries in the NFL — despite increasing efforts to protect them — it’s a wonder that Stanton hasn’t taken a snap since 2010. In 2011, he backed up the Lions’ Matthew Stafford, who started every game. In 2012, he backed up the Colts’ Andrew Luck, who started every game. And this year, Palmer has started every game and taken virtually every snap, save for those rare moments when Patrick Peterson has come in as a wildcat QB.
The Cardinals didn’t make Stanton available to the media Friday, but Arians expressed confidence in his backup the past two seasons (in Indianapolis and now in Arizona) should he have to play.
“He’s prepared like he would (be the starter) every week and every game,” Arian said. “Having been with him all last year, there was never a doubt. In the preseason, he was spot-on. In practice all week, you would have thought he was the starter.”
Arians also believes Palmer will be fine despite limited practice executing the game plan.
“If it were a very, very complicated team, it would be (concerning) because he didn’t get the reps, but he’s so in tune with the offense now,” Arians said. “Sometimes it’s good, at this time of year, to give a veteran a couple days off and let the young guy get some reps.”