For those of you that predicted that the Cardinals would lead the NFC West and the Bengals would be 8-1 heading into Week 11, you were right. Although, I suspect you were in the minority in that prediction. It goes to show you why the NFL is so beloved and unpredictable at the same time. As the old saying goes, “Any given Sunday”.
The Setup. Sunday Night’s Matchup will mark the first time Carson Palmer will face his old team since his release in 2009. Six years later, following a pit stop in Oakland, Palmer has revitalized his career in Arizona and is arguably playing the best football of his career.
Palmer will not only be playing his old team, but he will also be against the man who replaced him under center for Bengals, Andy Dalton. Often times, players will down play the emotion of playing their old teams and rightfully so. Players want the focus of the game to be about the team and not about their own personal vendetta. Although, earlier this week Palmer acknowledged that playing against the Bengals is “not just another game”.
As aforementioned, this game will play host to two first place teams and leaders in their respective divisions. Beyond the Palmer vs. Bengals storyline, there are a plethora of other storylines that make this matchup intriguing.
What to watch for:
Offensive Juggernauts: The Cardinals offense is averaging 33.6 points a game which is ranked second in NFL this season. On the opposite side, the Bengals are averaging 26.1 points a game, which is good for fifth in the NFL. These offensive juggernauts are enriched with all-pros at their skill positions. From A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald, Tyler Eifert, Michael Floyd, to John Brown and Marvin Lewis, there is no shortage of talent. Each team provides one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the NFL. With a bevy of weapons at their disposal, it has made it difficult for defenses to slow these offenses down all season. With as many offensive weapons each team possesses within their arsenal, it would not be surprising if this game came down to whomever has the final possession.
Defense vs. Defense: While each team may have a plethora of offensive weapons at their disposal, their defenses may often get overlooked as a result. The Cardinals arguably have one of the best secondaries in football. With players like Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu Deone Bucannon, and Rashad Johnson at the helm, they’ve continued to wreak havoc on opposing offenses all season long. The Cardinals secondary will be pivotal in attempting to limit the Bengals offensive weapons. On the opposite side, the Bengals have proven to be ferocious on the defensive side of the ball as well. There front seven includes players such as Vincent Ray, Rey Maulaluga, Geno Atkins, and Michael Johnson. The Bengals enter the matchup with 26 sacks and will look to add to the total. It will be imperative for the Bengals front seven to rush the quarterback and keep Palmer and company off balanced. The game again could come down to whomever team’s defense is able to make a game-changing play (i.e, INT, Fumble) at a pivotal moment in the game.
Green vs. Peterson: Sunday Night often brings the spotlight upon certain players and this Sunday will be no exception. A.J. Green is one of the marquee receivers in the league and Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. This will be a matchup of sheer will, technique, skill, and mental toughness. It is always a interesting matchup when players of this caliber are pitted against each other. Each player is integral to their teams success and it will be interesting to see how they match up. It is inevitable that each player is going to make plays against one another, but this matchup could be determined by which player has mental toughness to over come that adversity and make the crucial play when it counts.
X-Factor: Often time, the majority of NFL games are decided by a single play or group of players (i.e offensive line). I refer to this as the X-Factor. In Sunday Night’s matchup I look for the supporting casts of each team to be the X-Factor in this game. We all know A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson will be a pivotal matchup. Possibly negating each other throughout the game. Therefore it will be up to players like Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, and Mohammad Sanu for the Bengals to take advantage of their one on one opportunities. For the Cardinals it will be up to Michael Floyd, John Brown and Jeron Brown to step up. I believe if one of these players is able to step up and make a game-changing play, it could tip the winning hand in their teams favor.
Source: NBC Sports, NFL.com Stats