CINCINNATI — So many things had to happen for Carson Palmer to get out of Cincinnati.
Another team that was a midseason contender had to find itself suddenly needing a quarterback. Oakland's Jason Campbell broke his collarbone shortly before the trade deadline last season, setting a complex sequence in motion.
Someone needed to have a high opinion of Palmer's ability coming off a 4-12 season in Cincinnati. Raiders coach Hue Jackson knew him as well as anyone, having scouted him in high school.
The price had to be high. The Raiders satisfied the requirement by offering a first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder, persuading stubborn Bengals owner Mike Brown to reconsider.
One thing left. The Bengals had to be certain that rookie Andy Dalton — taken in the second round to replace Palmer — was up to it.
Dalton became the final piece in the very difficult fit.
"It's great to show that they had the confidence in me to do something like that," Dalton said.
Dalton is playing well again as the Bengals (5-5) brace for Palmer's first return to town since the trade. They've played their best games of the season back to back, giving themselves a second chance to get into the playoff chase today.
He threw for 20 touchdowns as a rookie, when the Bengals reached the playoffs with a 9-7 mark. He's already matched that total while completing a higher percentage of his throws. After 11 interceptions in the first eight games, he has none in the last two.
"He's done a lot more this year than he had last year," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "We're giving him a lot more options at the line of scrimmage to make those changes. In the plays we don't change, he's done a good job of executing and not forcing the ball into the coverage.
"Early in the season, he had 11 picks early and hasn't thrown one in two games — knock on wood — and his decision making has been outstanding."
By contrast, the Raiders (3-7) are all but out of it despite Palmer's impressive season. He has thrown for 300 yards in each of the last three games, topping 3,000 yards for the season already.
The problem is the Raiders have given up the most points in the NFL, forcing Palmer to throw a lot.
"Teams have hit some big plays on them," Dalton said. "They have given up a lot of points. Our big thing is we've just got to come out and play our game.
"So for us, when we get our chances, we've got to hit them. That's kind of going to be the emphasis."
The focus at Paul Brown Stadium will be on Palmer, with the subplots abounding.
The coach that wanted him so badly in Oakland last year wound up getting fired after an 8-8 finish. Jackson was hired back by the Bengals as an assistant coach. This week, he's been part of the planning to stop Palmer.