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Cleveland Browns vs. Arizona Cardinals game preview

Who: Arizona Cardinals

When: Nov. 1

Where: FirstEnergy Stadium

Series history (last meeting): 33-13-3 (Cardinals 20, Browns 17 OT, University of Phoenix Stadium, 2011)

The coach: Bruce Arians

The stakes: Two teams from daunting divisions that pride themselves on their stout defenses will be looking to get a win to kickstart their respective playoff pushes.

Matchup to watch: DB Joe Haden vs. DB Patrick Peterson - No, they won't be on the field at the same time as each other, but this matchup will provide a showcase of two of the NFL's top cornerbacks. Haden, at No. 23, and Peterson, at No. 19, were separated by just four spots on the NFL Network's Top 100 players of 2015 countdown. Barring injuries, Haden likely will be tasked with stopping future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.


Offseason storyline: All eyes are on Carson Palmer, as the 35-year-old quarterback looks to return from a serious knee injury that derailed his 2014 season and sent the Cardinals limping into the playoffs. His recovery is pivotal toward the team's hopes of competing in the NFC West and getting back to the postseason.

Biggest addition: The Cardinals landed one of the NFL's top free agents when they signed former 49ers guard Mike Iupati. Known for his prowess in the running game, Iupati should give the Cardinals a little more help in this area after they ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing offense last season.

He gone: NT Dan Williams was one of the Cardinals' top hole-pluggers on the defensive line for the past five seasons. He made the most of his 2014 season and turned it into a big payday the Cardinals weren't able to match.

The star: Peterson is one of the NFL's top athletes and does more than just lock down opposing receivers. He's one of the most dangerous with the ball in his hands and is one of the best at changing the complexion of a game in an instant with a big defensive play.

The X-Factor: Forget Palmer's health for a second. No matter who is playing quarterback, the Cardinals have to become a better running team if they hope to be back in the playoffs. The Cardinals had just six rushing touchdowns in 2014 and their leading rusher, Andre Ellington, finished with an average of 3.3 yards per carry. Arizona didn't draft high enough to land a premier running back, so it essentially brings back the same group of ball-carriers. The offensive line, led by Iupati and rookie D.J. Humphries, will have to be better.

They'll make the playoffs if …: Palmer returns at full strength and plays the way he did before he was hurt last season … if the running game improves to middle of the pack in the NFL … if the defense remains a top five unit.

The season will go South in a hurry if …: Drew Stanton or Logan Thomas end up playing the most snaps at quarterback … the running game/offensive line don't make enough noticeable improvements … the run defense takes a step back.

Expert's take: "It will be the biggest story of training camp. He will the biggest story of the season. How goes Carson Palmer will go this team this year, basically." -- Josh Weinfuss, ESPN's NFL Nation.

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