The NFL weekend is almost upon us, and while a number of match-ups have the potential to be great games none will be better than the clash between the 7-2 Arizona Cardinals and the 8-1 Cincinnati Bengals.
The underlining storyline's of the matchup involve how the Bengals will respond to their first loss against the Texans, and how will Carson Palmer fare against his former team?
But this game will be exciting for other reasons, with the Cardinals boasting one of the league's top scoring offences which averages around 33 points per game, and a Bengals defence which has not allowed more than 25 points a game this year, this matchup will certainly be an interesting affair. So, who will win?
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In my opinion, it's the Cardinals, I think the Bengals will be reeling a little after that embarrassing loss to the Texans, which will hamper their ability to be able to get past the talented Cardinals - in Arizona - who are riding a three-game win streak.
But never mind my opinion, let's discuss how each team can go about winning the game on Sunday.
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The Cardinals, statistically, have the best offence in the league this year, at least in terms of yards and points. The reason for this offensive success? Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer.
Palmer has mastered Bruce Arians' offensive philosophy which quite nicely fits with what he does best. Throwing deep!
The vertical offence Arians has designed always finds a way to get the ball in the hands of veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who combined with his run blocking abilities, will cause some matchup troubles for the Bengals, especially if he works out of the slot against a Vontaze Burfict-less defence.
Next in line for a good game is Chris Johnson. CJ2K, as he is known, should be able to take advantage of a Bengals run defence ranked thirteenth in the league, allowing an average of 102-yards per game. Feeding him a healthy amount of touches can only lead to good things, especially on the outside, where the Bengals have not been effective run stuffers.
Defensively for the Cardinals - who rank third in total defence - they need to try and replicate what the Texans did to the Bengals on Monday night. This involves successfully blitzing Andy Dalton and getting the Bengals into third-and-long on a consistent basis.
The Bengals have the weapons to escape any length of yardage, but seemingly versus the Texans Dalton could not connect with his receivers, making third-and-long a difficult situation for them to overcome.
What the Cardinals cannot do is allow the Bengals receivers height to control the passing game, with the top three Bengals receivers having a height advantage on the top three Cardinals cornerbacks, a combination of the aforementioned blitzes and also double teaming should work to neutralise that aspect of the Bengals attack.
The last time Carson Palmer played the Bengals in 2012, shortly after he was traded to the Oakland Raiders, he lost 34-10. Despite apparently not saying anything to his teammates about the meaningful game, there is the quiet knowledge that Palmer wants to beat the Bengals, significantly.
The Bengals go into this game having lost on Monday night to the lowly Houston Texans, and embarrassing disappointment that ended their undefeated streak of eight games.
Versus the Cardinals, the Bengals can kill two birds with one stone, overcome that loss with a victory, and prove trading Palmer away was a good decision.
The Bengals have an exciting offence that is fun to watch due to the multiple formations they deploy and the way they use their offensive talent. That being said this isn't a gimmick offence, they are ranked seventh in the league and when playing well, can drop some serious points on you.
Attacking the Cardinals defence is a challenge but it is a challenge that can be overcome. Looking at the two losses the Cardinals suffered versus the Rams and Steelers, they lost because both those teams, surprisingly, passed the ball on the Cardinals.
Like I said, it won't be easy, but attacking the middle of the field, against their linebackers, seemed to be where Nick Foles and Landry Jones found success.
Beating the blitz is also a key objective, screen passes to the running back or halfback can result in chunk yardage as the Cardinals will often bring the house on certain blitz's.
You also have to get points off the turnovers you get, if the Bengals defence can force Palmer to turn the ball over, you have to gain points of them, this is how the Rams and Steelers won, and it was almost how the Seahawks won last week.
Defensively, the Bengals need to come away with takeaways, in order to do so you need an effective four-man rush. Palmer cannot be given time to dissect the Bengals secondary, because, despite the Bengals depth of talent in the defensive backfield, the Cardinals can match that with a depth at the receiver position.
Also, be wary of Chris Johnson, forcing him to run inside can eliminate the chunk yards the Cardinals gain from their veteran runner.
While I have the Cardinals winning this game, I expect nothing less than a great game. If this game was being played in Cincinnati I may have chosen the Bengals, but as of right now, in Arizona, I think the Cardinals are too strong to beat.
I have it being a close scoring affair ending somewhere in the region of 31-28.
Who do you think will win Sunday night between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Arizona Cardinals? Have your say and leave a comment below...
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