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ESPN’s Sando: Return to 2015 form unlikely for Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals' Carson Palmer (3) is sacked by Carolina Panthers' Daryl Worley (26) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Beginning Tuesday, the Arizona Cardinals will get back on the field and back to work in an effort to turn around a once-promising season.

At 3-4-1 the Cardinals are in no way out of the playoff race, but for a team that was expected to lead the pack, having to chase a few teams is certainly a disappointment.

The team has looked little like the squad that won 13 regular season games last season and reached the NFC Championship Game, and the reasons are many.

Looking to break it down a bit, ESPN’s Mike Sando, in an Insider piece, took a look at the NFL’s supposed contenders who are looking to bounce back in the season’s second half, and tried to gauge each team’s chances.

Out of six teams, the Cardinals were No. 4 in bounce-back potential.

Cause of slide: Carson Palmer has returned to previous form (or thereabouts) after putting together an MVP-caliber season in 2015. The Cardinals’ offensive line was already diminished this season, before veteran left tackle Jared Veldheer landed on injured reserve. Receiver Michael Floyd has all but vanished from the offense. He and the Cardinals’ other wideouts not named Larry Fitzgerald aren’t making the sensational catches they made last season. It has been a grind for Arizona offensively, and Palmer is looking nearer his age (36).

Bounce-back potential: The Cardinals play six of their final nine games on the road and already lost one of them, 30-20 at Carolina before their bye. The Arizona defense is talented enough to keep games close without the newly injured Tyrann Mathieu, but too much is missing from the offense for the team to bounce back to 2015 form.

Palmer has indeed not been as good in 2016 as he was in 2015, with his completion percentage and yards-per-attempt average being down while his interception percentage is up. That said, he has been solid over his last three games, and in Week 8 against Carolina showed promise in throwing for 363 yards and three touchdowns.

The offensive line, however, does not hold the same promise with Veldheer sidelined, though it would not be a shock if Arizona’s receivers — specifically Floyd — did turn things around and improve in the second half.

But even if the Cardinals do pick up their play, the schedule down the stretch isn’t particularly forgiving, as Sando noted. Of their six road games, two are against 2015 playoff teams (Vikings, Seahawks) and another one is against a likely 2016 playoff team (Falcons). The Cardinals also visit the Rams, who knocked them off earlier in the season.

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