As if life wasn’t difficult enough for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Coming on the heels of a stunning Monday night home loss to the Houston Texans in which the Bengals looked more like a 1-8 team instead of an 8-1 team, which they are now, enjoying a three-game AFC North lead, the Bengals now must go on the road Sunday night for another stern test against the Arizona Cardinals.
Boo-birds aside from Monday’s 10-6 defeat in which quarterback Andy Dalton looked more human than ever, it isn’t exactly like Cincinnati (+2.9500 on the moneyline) enters this game without strengths.
Dalton, for one, has been among the most dominant quarterbacks in the NFL this season. After weeks of leading the Total QBR rankings, Dalton is still fourth in the NFL with a 71.5 Total QBR. He has completed 196 of 296 pass attempts for 2,423 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions – which gives him a 104.6 passer rating (4th in the NFL).
Dalton looks most to wide receiver A.J. Green, who has 55 catches for 769 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Giovani Bernard has 99 carries for 547 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Jeremy Hill has a team-high 111 carries with 359 yards and five touchdowns. And let’s not forget tight end Tyler Eifert, who leads the NFL with nine TD catches.
On defense, linebacker Vincent Rey leads the Bengals with 74 total tackles (47 solo) and a sack. Free safety Reggie Nelson has a team-high four interceptions. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is listed as probable for this game after suffering a concussion two weeks ago.
CARDS’ PALMER FACES HIS FORMER TEAM
The Cardinals enter Sunday night on a roll, having won three straight games and leading the NFC West by three games.
Arizona, a 5-point favorite on the spread, is led by quarterback Carson Palmer, who like Dalton is enjoying a career season. Palmer – who was drafted by the Bengals in 2003 and played eight seasons in Cincinnati – has completed 197 of 308 pass attempts for 2,749 yards and 23 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. Palmer’s 82.3 Total QBR is the best in the NFL this season, and his 108.0 passer rating trails only Tom Brady’s 111.1 in the NFL. Palmer is probably the only guy with a chance to beat out Brady for NFL MVP honors.
Palmer’s primary target is a familiar one. Veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald is enjoying a renaissance year, catching 65 passes for 836 yards and seven touchdowns. Fitzgerald looked past his prime in 2014. Another veteran is leading the way for the Cardinals on the ground, as eighth-year pro Chris Johnson has gained 734 yards on 166 carries and scored three touchdowns. Johnson was signed off the scrap heap this summer. Anyone could have had him.
Strong safety Deone Bucannon leads the Cardinals defense with 63 total tackles (51 solo) and a sack, and free safety Rashad Johnson has a team-high four interceptions. Another defensive bright spot has been the play of fellow free safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has 52 total tackles (47 solo) and three interceptions. The Arizona secondary might be the NFL’s best — even better than Seattle’s, at least in 2015.
Both teams play well against the spread this season, with the Bengals going 7-1-1 and the Cardinals 6-3 against the number. Cincinnati is a perfect 4-0 on the road against the number, while Arizona is 5-3 as a favorite ATS. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Cardinals a 70.4% chance to win the game.