Once upon a time, Kevin Kolb was hailed as the answer to all which ailed the Cardinals, and the management wagered $63 million, and Pro Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a bet that he would live up to expectations.
Then the season started, and in his opening seven games, Kolb lead the Cardinals to an almost insurmountable 1-6 record before a turf toe injury hobbled his progress.
Though he returned in Week 13, and led the team to a win against the Cowboys, his comeback wouldn't last long. Indeed, Kolb was able to complete just one pass for one yard against the 49ers the following week, before a concussion sidelined Kolb for the remainder of the season.
Along came the other guy, John Skelton, the guy many of us had been raving about since he was drafted. He led the Cardinals to win after win, including three in overtime, which helped salvage the Cardinals' season, which finally ended 8-8.
Kolb was 2-6 in the eight games he finished as a starter.
Skelton was 6-2 in the eight games in which he took the majority of snaps.
Those two statistics tell one story: Kolb can't win, Skelton can.
But then there are the other stats.
Like Kolb's 81.1 passer rating, 57.7% completion percentage, 9 TDs and 8 INTs, versus Skelton's 68.9 passer rating , 54.9% completion percentage, 11 TDs and 14 INTs.
Neither QB's stats are great, but across the board, you would conclude that Kolb, not Skelton is the better passer.
And then there are the most telling facts of all: Kolb played most of his games in the first half of the season, when the Cardinals' defense struggled to adjust to its new coordinator's scheme. The team's complex offensive playbook would have proved difficult for any quarterback to learn given the short preseason schedule.
Skelton, on the other hand, got most of his wins in the latter half of the season when the Cardinals' defense really came together and looked dominant. Half of Skelton's wins, three of the six, came in epic, overtime games, where only the Cardinals defense kept them in the game, and Skelton could take little credit for the win, outside of the final quarter.
If you listen long enough, you will hear commentators spin these stats one way or the other, to prove that either Kolb, or Skelton, is the obvious choice, a done deal, the only possible starter in 2012.
They will tell you that Kolb's contract makes him the only choice, or alternately, that Kolb's contract makes it all but impossible for the team not to cut him. They will liken Skelton to Tim Tebow, and call him the quintessential clutch QB, and call Kolb an injury prone hack who has no pocket awareness, or tell you that Kolb has all of the skills to lead the team for years to come—anyone would have struggled early in the season, given the circumstances—and Skelton is a liability who doesn't know how to complete a pass.
There are, of course, elements of truth to all of these things. Skelton has looked inaccurate, and did indeed throw more picks than touchdowns. It's hard not to question Kolb's durability, and he did appear to struggle in the pocket.
The simple fact, however, is that neither player has done enough to cement their position as starter, and nor has either one been so bad as to warrant being cut yet. That means that Kolb will be around next season, and his sizeable roster bonus will be payable by the Cardinals, which means he certainly has the inside track to start next season, however, if you think that Ken Whisenhunt wouldn't give Skelton a fair shot, or even hand the reigns to Skelton midseason if Kolb fails to deliver once more... well, you simply haven't watched the Arizona Cardinals enough.
Kolb does appear injury prone, which means that even if he gets the nod in week one, there is no guarantee that he will still be fit to play the following week. Skelton is tough. He apparently fainted while having fluid drained from his knee before the game against the Seahawks, but still suited up and played one of his better games of the season. Skelton will not stop nipping at Kolb's heels, though the two seem to be good friends off the field. On it, they will continue to be fierce rivals, neither one willing to let the other get too much of an upper hand in a race which will undoubtedly be hotly contested during the preseason.
Long story short: Anyone who tells you they can predict who will start in 2012 is lying. There is a genuine QB controversy in the desert, and preseason will be all the more exciting because of it.