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Is the Cardinals Super Bowl Window Closed?

After a 3-4-1 start and a blowout loss to the 1-5 Carolina Panthers, is the window for a Super Bowl closed in the era of Arians, Palmer and Fitz?

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Judging by the current state of Cardinals fans on social media and in conversation, it seems that there's a pretty bleak opinion of the team's chances to win a Super Bowl this season.

While some fans might find this surprising given the chaos in the NFC and Arizona being a game and a half back of Seattle, the team has been trending downward on offense and defense, in pass-protection and in the deep balls by Carson Palmer. that it?

Is it time to accept that the window for a Super Bowl with this window of players like Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Calais Campbell, Michael Floyd,  is over and done?

Some would make that argument.  And they might be right.

After all, the Cardinals are 3-4-1 coming off of a bye with starting LT Jared Veldheer out for the year hurting an already-pass-protection-deprived offensive line and the team has only 2 home games remaining.  The NFC appears wide open but the team hasn't shown signs of life, especially on offense.

As for the team's future past 2016...

Carson Palmer is approaching his 37th birthday and he has a QBR of 28.6 on deep passes, which some analysts are saying is the early onset of a weakening arm.  In addition, the Cardinals are set to potentially lose valuable veteran playmakers on defense as well as having to re-sign their own players and add to the draft.  Are the Cardinals merely staving off the end of the era with any wins and will be "out of it" as far as the Super Bowl is concerned?

I'm not so sure.

In a way, Palmer's struggles can be related to a few other things than age.  His QBR in 2015 was 95.6 and he was sacked only 25 times last year.

This season?  24 times already.  That's twice the pace of 2015.

Palmer also has had an increase in fumbles this season and has seen John Brown struggle with a sickle-cell trait, Jaron Brown be lost to an ACL and Michael Floyd unable to separate deep, run routes, hold onto the ball or even be an effective wide receiver at all.

J.J. Nelson has basically been promoted from the 5th WR to the 2nd WR as a result.  So what's clear is that a big portion of Palmer's play is struggling due to the fact that his offensive line can't protect him and his wide receivers are playing poorly and dropping passes.

This isn't to say that Palmer shares no blame.  But it's important to note in context as well, as there is another NFL Quarterback going through a similar situation: Aaron Rodgers.

Over the course of the last 10 games or so, Rodgers had been playing very UN-like his normal self, hesitating in the pocket, throwing errant passes and general struggling.  In both his games versus the Cardinals, he didn't look like Aaron Rodgers until it came time to throw those gut-wrenching two Hail Mary passes in the playoff game.

In fact, Rodgers was sacked nine times in that game against Arizona.

Palmer was sacked eight against the Panthers.

It's definitely possible that Palmer's play might be decreasing with age, especially with his deep ball, but the same was true of Rodgers for the most part, even with the lack of a deep ball in Green Bay's offense as well.

So in short, the offense's struggles can't be all laid on Palmer's shoulders, as the entire offense (minus one David Johnson) has taken a huge step back from 2015 across the board.  And it's probably unreasonable to expect Carson Palmer to put up incredible numbers when his defense has been inconsistent in stopping the run and pass all season long.  Or when special teams errors happen.

In short, the Cardinals as a whole aren't playing up to their potential and it's showing on the field and in the standings.  Cardinals fans know this.  But I don't think it means that Palmer is washed just yet.

Now, does that mean that if the protections can get fixed that Palmer will return to his 2015 playing status?  It's unlikely.  After all, he is older and football is a young man's game.  But seeing him throw for 343 yards and 3 touchdowns in the second half against the Panthers, and how he almost brought Arizona back late in the game, perhaps not all hope is lost in terms of a shot at a title.

In this season?  Seems doubtful at best even with a toss-up NFC and a game left against Seattle.  But maybe the bye will help.

Now, what about the other players in Arizona: Calais and Fitz?

While Fitz is under contract, he is still playing at a high level of play in the NFL, and unfortunately has had to with the health problems of Brown and Michael Floyd's struggles.  He's under contract for one more year but who knows if he will choose to hang it all up.  How he faces injuries will likely be key.    Although if the team doesn't make the playoffs and Fitz thinks that 2017 will hold a better chance, it's difficult to see him sitting on the sidelines if Palmer returns.

On Palmer, don't forget Kurt Warner still had a year left on his deal before taking a concussion that held him out of the Titans game and then another huge hit against the Saints in the playoffs that led him to hang up the cleats.  Is it possible that we could see the same for Fitzgerald this season?

Calais Campbell is a free agent, but has seemingly upped his play from last season and is getting more pressure on the Quarterback (and having Chandler Jones and Markus Golden on either side isn't hurting....okay that's probably the biggest reason).  But with his deal up, and his contract number likely high, it's tough to see Arizona lock him up at age 30 to a longer-term deal while Keim seeks to get Chandler Jones while his prime is ahead of him.

That said, Calais is still playing at a high level and you'd have to think Arizona will want to try and keep their franchise defensive lineman, but with guys like Chandler Jones, D.J. Swearinger, Tony Jefferson (if he doesn't test the market) looking to get paid, will they have the room?  Will they have the desire?  We will find out.

So then, to answer the base question...could the Cardinals have a Super Bowl chance in 2017 or is the window closed?

I'd lean more towards the window being open.

We've just seen a Super Bowl claimed IN SPITE of the play of a Quarterback just last year behind a voracious defense with a stout running game and dink-and-dunk offense behind the dead arm of Peyton Manning and questionable play of Brock Osweiler just this 2015 season.

It's that old adage....

Offense wins in the regular season.  Defense wins championships.

Is there any doubt that this Broncos offense and the Cardinals' 2016 offense aren't at least pretty similar in that regard?  Ruling Arizona out just because Palmer will be 38 seems like a misnomer after a down season.  What's missing in Arizona seems to be the protection on the offensive line, and a decrease in plays on defense (partially due to Tyrann Mathieu's recovery).

Ruling a team's chances out because their Quarterback is having a down year from their norm seems foolhardy at best, especially given that most had given up Matt Ryan after last season.  Same with Tony Romo.

Now, he is are playing like a top 5 quarterback at the position, and the Cowboys are looking like a Super Bowl threat...but not from Romo but from rookie Dak Prescott.

You just never know.

So, while I don't think that Cardinals fans can expect to see 2015 Palmer anytime soon, it's more than possible that the team will have another shot at a Super Bowl in 2017.  Things might have to go their way in a few players returning, sure, and health, but ultimately the thing to remember is this:

If Palmer can get some protection even without Veldheer in the lineup in the next two years while AZ's defense remains among the elite, perhaps the Cardinals' window for a Super Bowl isn't quite the shut window we thought.

As long as they have Palmer, all the team has to do is push it back open by playing good football.

You can follow @blakemurphy7 on Twitter.