There's really only one candidate for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Around this time last season, the 35-year-old underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee and it spoiled the second-half of what was a very special season for the Cardinals. It was the very same knee that nearly cost Palmer the rest of his career back in 2006 when he guided the Cincinnati Bengals out of the AFC’s doldrums to a return to the postseason for the first time in 15 years.
And we can't forget the torn up right throwing elbow that forced Palmer out of all but four games in 2008.
Yet Palmer’s stormed back again to rank fourth in the NFL with 2,749 passing yards, second with 23 touchdown passes, third in passer rating (108.0), and his 64 percent completion rate puts Palmer on pace for his most accurate run since 2007. If the graph below is any indication, Palmer's only just begun.
Now the 7-2 Cardinals are in position to grab one of the NFC’s top two playoff seeds, and the rest of Arizona’s schedule suggests Palmer should continue his torrid run as a fantasy juggernaut.
Here’s a quick look at each of the seven pass defenses Palmer and the Cardinals will face for the rest of the season, including their overall mark against the pass and fantasy points against opposing quarterbacks: Bengals (No. 5 against the pass, No. 7 in fantasy), at 49ers (No. 27, No. 22), at Rams (No. 7, No. 2), Vikings (No. 9, No. 6), at Eagles (No. 16, No. 10), Packers (No. 21, No. 16), Seahawks (No. 3, No. 3).
In what figures to be the best game of Week 11, Cincinnati does appear to be a force on paper, but it forced only 12 turnovers through eight games, while San Francisco’s porous D should fold, the Rams were just lit up for three first-half touchdown passes from Jay Cutler, the Eagles haven’t found a consistent formula, and the Seahawks were just burned by Palmer for 363 yards and three scores.
Only Minnesota and its under-the-radar secondary currently represent a true threat to Palmer, but the Cardinals just recently started to work receiver Michael Floyd fully back into the passing game and future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald is on pace for a career year. Not to mention the excellent work of running backs Chris Johnson and David Johnson to keep defenses honest against the run and protecting Palmer in the process.
It’s for all these reasons, as well as Drew Brees, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger’s Week 11 byes, that Palmer’s again part of our top five rankings of quarterbacks to start in weekly leagues.
Here’s our full rankings for Week 11, including complete breakdowns at each position.
Week 11 byes: Cleveland, New Orleans, New York Giants, Pittsburgh
Key players on byes: Drew Brees, QB, Saints; Mark Ingram, RB, Saints; Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints; Eli Manning, QB, Giants; Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants; Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers; Antoni Brown, WR, Steelers; DeAngelo Williams, RB, Steelers; Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers
1.Tom Brady, Patriots
2.Carson Palmer, Cardinals
3.Cam Newton, Panthers
4.Philip Rivers, Chargers
5.Aaron Rodgers, Packers
(Bonus: Derek Carr, Raiders)
Brady looked average, for him, against the Giants. But his incredible resume against the Bills keeps him at No. 1. Palmer gets the nod over Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton in their matchup because the Arizona defense has more playmakers in the defensive backfield to force the “Red Rifle” into mistakes and the Bengals don’t, really. Newton’s on fire and even though he’s facing a Washington D that’s allowed only the 18th-most points to opposing quarterbacks, he has a much better matchup than Rodgers against a Vikings secondary that’s No. 6 in fantasy against QBs and No. 9 overall in passing yards allowed.
1.Devonta Freeman, Falcons
2.Adrian Peterson, Vikings
3.Todd Gurley, Rams
4. Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders
5.Chris Ivory, Jets
Freeman’s return from the bye comes at a great time for weekly players since the Packers will focus most of their efforts on stopping AD. Peterson’s still in the top two because he can always breakoff a monster game, while Gurley slips two spots due to a Ravens D that only seems capable of stopping the run. Baltimore’s No. 10 in the league against the run, and No. 10 versus opposing running backs. Murray has the easiest matchup of Week 11 against a Detroit frontline allowing 124.1 yards per game.
1.Julio Jones, Falcons
2.Allen Robinson, Jaguars
3.Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
4.Sammy Watkins, Bills
5.DeAndre Hopkins, Texans
Jones meets the Colts No. 26 secondary, while Robinson surpasses Fitzgerald because his matchup is stronger against a Titans D allowing 23 points per week to opposing receivers and that just lost starting cornerback Jason McCourty for the rest of the season, and with Arizona finding more ways to get Michael Floyd more involved. Watkins might be Buffalo’s only chance to bump off New England, and even if the Bills get into an early hole he’ll still benefit against the Patriots No. 22 secondary.
1.Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2.Greg Olsen, Panthers
3.Travis Kelce, Chiefs
4.Richard Rodgers, Packers
5.Jacob Tamme, Falcons
Gronk and Olsen aren’t going anywhere and are clearly the two best tight ends in the game, but Kelce returns to torture a Chargers D that’s given up the seventh-most points to opposing tight ends. The Packers, meanwhile, need to diversify their passing game, and Rodgers should be more involved against an otherwise staunch Minnesota D that’s only No. 18 in fantasy against tight ends.
1.Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
2.Andre Johnson, WR, Colts
3.Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
4.Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins
5.T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jaguars
Cooper gets a Lions secondary that’s actually been respectable against opposing receivers but has allowed the third-most points to quarterbacks. Johnson gets to re-team with Matt Hasselbeck again, and two of his three touchdowns on the season have come from the 40-year-old’s arm. Stewart figures to dismantle Washington’s No. 29 rushing D, which has allowed an NFL-worst 5.0 yards per carry. Miller’s rushing totals were held in check but he’s one of the most versatile backs in the league and should rip up a Cowboys D surrendering the second-most points to running backs this season.
1.New York Jets
The Jets bump Denver completely off the rankings due to their matchup with a Houston offense ranking No. 23 in the league with 21.8 points per game prior to Week 10, and because the Broncos might take some lumps against Chicago with Brock Osweiler officially named the starter in Week 11. Seattle couldn’t contain Palmer, but remember how well it played in the second half of last season and that Blaine Gabbert is starting for San Francisco. Also, Carolina will quickly make Washington forget about Kirk Cousins' record-setting Week 10, and for all their troubles the Eagles (No. 2 with 20 takeaways this season) can force Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston to make mistakes.