TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sunday night, in front of a national TV audience, the Cincinnati Bengals' present will face its past.
Neither Palmer nor Dalton were playing at the level they are now.
Both Dalton and Palmer are guiding teams vying for the playoffs, and midway through the season both are in the NFL MVP conversation. Dalton and the Bengals are 8-1 and coming off their first loss. Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals are 7-2 and just beat the defending NFC champion Seahawks.
Dalton was drafted by the Bengals in 2011 to replace Palmer, whom the Bengals picked No. 1 overall in 2003.
ESPN.com Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey put together a tale of the tape on Palmer and Dalton.
Palmer: 6-foot-5, 235 pounds
Dalton: 6-foot-2, 216 pounds
What he does best
Palmer: Palmer has always been known as a big-armed slinger. That reputation hasn’t waned in Arizona, his third NFL team. But what Palmer does best can't be quantified. It’s his ability to stay calm in the huddle. He showed it two weeks ago in a comeback win over Cleveland, where Arizona was down 20-7. He did it again Sunday night when the Cardinals gave up 19 unanswered points to Seattle and found themselves trailing by four with 13 minutes left in the game. Palmer’s teammates have marveled at how he stays calm, loose and even funny when the game isn’t going the Cardinals’ way.
Dalton: The best part of Dalton’s game comes in the period of time between the huddle being broken and the ball being snapped at the line of scrimmage. He’s savvy with his pre-snap reads, and has long been known to put his pass-catchers in the right spots. From the moment Dalton entered the league five years ago, the Bengals have been comfortable letting him make changes at the line based upon what he sees from the defense. Those responsibilities have only increased with Hue Jackson as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, and they’re a big reason why the Bengals have had so much success this season.
Most impressive accomplishment this season
Palmer: It’d be easy to say simply coming back from a second ACL injury, especially at age 35, was Palmer’s most impressive accomplishment this season. But that’s minor in comparison to what Palmer has done on the field. He’s in the top five in seven quarterback categories, including leading the NFL in QBR and is second with 23 touchdown passes -- one behind Tom Brady. Palmer is on pace for the best statistical season of his career as well as another shot to get that elusive playoff win.
Dalton: What hasn’t Dalton done this year? In what has been his best season as a Bengal, Dalton’s highlight accomplishments have to be the three fourth-quarter comebacks he has led. After responding to a pair of Ravens touchdowns at Baltimore in Week 3, he rallied the Bengals from 17 down in the fourth against the Seahawks to an overtime victory in Week 5. Two games after, he led another game-winning drive at Pittsburgh.
Reason for optimism this Sunday
Palmer: First, the Cardinals are coming off an emotional and important win over Seattle. It showed the Cardinals they could go on the road and win by staving off a comeback by the Seahawks. What that did for Arizona’s confidence can’t be discounted. Second, Palmer is going against his former team on national TV while playing his best football in years -- maybe in his career. Palmer has faced the Bengals just once since he left them on acrimonious terms during the 2010 season.
Dalton: Arizona is favored to win Sunday, given the fact it will be playing at home and is coming off a well-earned win over Seattle. The Bengals, however, have to be optimistic in the way Dalton has remained steady. He had been playing consistently, and has benefited of late from some solid defensive play, save Monday night's loss to the Texans. Late-game defensive stands against the Ravens, Seahawks and Steelers gave the Bengals’ offense chances to get back on the field in those comebacks. The same happened against the Texans, and Dalton was driving before A.J. Green fumbled a catch late.
Palmer: Palmer doesn’t pay as much attention to his own hair, like Dalton does. But when it comes time to do one of his daughter’s hair, Palmer goes to great lengths to make sure it’s done perfectly, starting with the blowout. And he’s comfortable enough in his own skin to share his hair-dressing skills with the public.
Dalton: Unbeknownst to him, Dalton has become a fashion icon ever since he started making the Bengals one of the most dominant teams in the league. His hairstyle -- trimmed into a fade on the sides and back, and teased with product on the top -- has garnered its share of attention this season. Even his clothes have been a topic of conversation. During a news conference last week, Dalton was asked 16 fashion or hair-related questions. Only six football-related queries were tossed his way. Apparently, the Red Rifle’s hair is all the rave in Cincinnati.
One thing you didn’t know
Palmer: Palmer is an avid hunter. He has a ranch in Ohio and enjoys shooting turkeys, among other game. He routinely wears camouflage hats and recently posted a photo on Instagram of him practicing his bow-and-arrow skills in his backyard.
Dalton: You probably had no idea Dalton was a musician. He has played the guitar since he was in high school. Before a recent practice, he and Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko played a couple of riffs off Peko’s guitar in the locker room.