Arizona Cardinals (7-7 SU, 8-6 ATS) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6 SU, 7-5-2 ATS), 1:00 p.m. EST, NFL Week 16, Saturday, December 24, 2011, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, TV: Fox
by Scotty L, Pro Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: AZ +4.5/Cin -4.5
Over/Under Total: 40
The Arizona Cardinals come to Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams are still in the playoff picture, with little to room for error. After the Cardinals started the season at 1-6, you would have received long odds to predict theyd even be in the picture in week 16, but 6 wins in 7 games, including 4 straight, have reinvigorated this franchise and its fans. The Bengals are 8-6, but cant afford to slip up if they want to cap a surprisingly good season with a playoff appearance.
Both teams are overachieving squads, groups who lack marquee talent, but play well as a team with head coaches who know how to extract maximum value from their guys. But their paths to this juncture have been very different. The Bengals started the season at 6-2, much to everyones surprise. But after 5 straight wins, they fell on hard times, losing 4 of their next 5 games. Sundays game in St. Louis was critical, as the Bengals came through with a gutty 20-13 win. With the game knotted at 6-6 in the third, Brandon Tate ran back a punt 56 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bengals a little cushion. It was a very important win for a team that had been slipping precipitously in the second half of the season.
The Cardinals trajectory to this point has been very different. After a 1-6 start, the only time youd hear people talking about the Cardinals was in regard to who they would pick in next years draft. 6 wins in their last 7 games have people looking at them differently and 6 covers in their last 8 games have restored bettor confidence. They didnt cover as 6.5-point favorites at home against the sliding Browns at home on Sunday, but an overtime field goal kept their hopes alive and extended their winning streak to 4.
The Cardinals have managed to make this all work despite their starting quarterback being riddled with injuries all year. Still recovering from a concussion, Kolb was out again on Sunday, as John Skelton threw for 300 yards, as he continues to find his groove. TE Todd Heap got into the mix with 7 catches, adding another dimension to a nice receiving crew that has gotten solid production from WRs Larry Fitzgerald, Early Doucet, and Andre Roberts. RB Beanie Wells is nearly at 1000 yards and this offense is doing well.
Defensively, the Cardinals have been very consistent, allowing 20, 13, 19, and 17 points in their last 4 games. They will now face a similar offense to their own–one that isnt spectacular, but offers good balance. Rookie QB Andy Dalton is continuing to develop and surpassed 3000 yards against the Rams on Sunday. WR AJ Green, now over 1000 yards for the season, caught 6 balls for 115 yards, but is listed as questionable after hurting his shoulder. RB Cedric Benson is nearing 1000 yards and keeps defenses honest.
The Cincinnati defense is a big part of their success, ranked 11th against the pass and 9th against the run. That type of balance could go over well against the Cardinals. With a murky playoff picture, expect both teams to be playing with extra urgency. But was last week a sign of a role reversal? The obvious notion is that the Cardinals are surging, opposed to the Bengals who are 2-4 in their last 6 games. But Arizona didnt look that great against the Browns on Sunday, and are now facing an even tougher AFC North team on the road.
Scotty Ls Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Cincinnatis defense is 6th in total yardage allowed and should be robust at home. At the same time, look for Arizonas D to give their rookie quarterback a difficult afternoon. Cincinnati might be coming out of their funk and Arizona did struggle mightily at home against a down Cleveland squad. But look for a close game and for the Cardinals to make good use of the 4.5 points they are getting. Take the Arizona Cardinals plus 4.5 points.
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