With a schedule of three straight prime-time games, the Cincinnati Bengals (8-1, 4-0 Away) had an opportunity to put to bed the conversations that they can’t perform when the spotlight is on Andy Dalton. But after laying an egg at home to the Houston Texans on Monday, those naysayer voices will just grow louder if the team can’t perform well on the road against one of the NFL’s best teams; the Arizona Cardinals (7-2, 3-1 Home). The entire nation will be watching when these two clash on Sunday Night Football (8:30 PM Eastern).
Since the Red Rifle arrived in Cincy, the Bengals are 4-8 in prime-time games, with a quarterback rating of just 73.6 – which is 14 points lower than his career average. While the Bengals are mostly playing night games against stronger opponents, Dalton even has even had rough outings against lowly teams like the Texans, or the Browns last season.
Even if Dalton does bring his “A” game, the Bengals will still be in for a tough fight in this one. The Cards enter this game on a three-game winning streak and boast a top five offense and defense. As long as MVP candidate Carson Palmer is healthy, this passing attack will continue to be lethal; with receiver Larry Fitzgerald enjoying a career year in his 12th season.
Palmer may have a little extra “oomph” on his passes this week too, facing the team that he spent eight seasons with. But the Bengals defense has been stiff this year, allowing the least points per game in the league. Cincinnati also hasn’t allowed a 300 yard passer since Week 4 while racking up 26 sacks on the year.
On the other side, the Bengals won’t want to test Arizona’s pass D too much either. The Cards are tied for the league lead with 14 interceptions and a few early turnovers could rattle Dalton’s confidence. Seattle managed to find some decent success on the ground against Arizona last week, an opening Cincy could exploit if they can get some consistency back in their run game. In two of the last three games, the Bengals rushed for under 100 yards as a team and averaged 3.5 yards a carry.
While the spread seems too big for teams of such close skill level, keep in mind that when Cincinnati loses; they lose big! In their last nine straight-up loses (including playoffs) the Bengals have fallen by an average of 16.8 points. So if you like the Cardinals to win this game, then don’t be scared off by the spread.
Pick: Cardinals -5.
(Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)