Instant Expert: Cardinals @ Bengals

What's the tagline? The Cardinals (4-5) travel to Cincinnati to take on the struggling Bengals (3-6). Arizona is vying for the top spot in the NFC West, only one game behind the Seattle Seahawks (5-4, at home against Chicago).

How good has Cincinnati been this season? While the Bengals have been hot on offense week in and out, the team's defense has been borderline embarrassing. Prior to last weekend's victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati had lost 6 of its last 7 games. Incidentally, two of Cincinnati's victories this season have been against Baltimore.

Marv Lewis has felt the hot seat this season, too. With high expectations entering the season, Cincinnati has been without a doubt embarrassing. Week two's loss against the Cleveland Browns set the tone for the rest of the season as Carson Palmer watched helplessly as Derek Anderson lit up the scoreboard en route to a 51-45 victory. That game destroyed the confidence fans placed on the team, though since we have learned that the Browns have one of the NFL's most prolific offenses.

At 3-6, Cincinnati will most likely miss the postseason, especially considering the competition the team faces in the AFC North. Pittsburgh (7-2) and Cleveland (5-4) are projected to finish 1st and 2nd, while there is an opportunity for the Bengals to pass a stumbling Baltimore Ravens (4-5) franchise.

How good has Arizona been this season? A 4-5 record summarizes Arizona's season to this point. There have been ups and downs, highs and lows. And unlike in seasons past, fans have a reason to believe in this team.

A new head coaching regime headed by Ken Whisenhunt changed the team's outlook for the future. Whisenhunt, formerly one of Bill Cowher's assistant while in Pittsburgh, understands the pressures to win in the NFL and he's successfully changed his players' attitudes. The Cardinals have shown heart every week of the season and despite some setbacks and injuries (Matt Leinart's season-ending injury made the most headlines), the team has overcome and still sits in contention.

In fact, it can be argued the Cardinals are a few plays away from being a 6-3 team. Against the Redskins week 7 Neil Rackers missed a 54-yard field goal with 2 seconds left, allowing the Redskins to win 23-21. And earlier this season -- a time when Leinart was still the Cardinals starter -- the team rallied behind Kurt Warner to cut a 20-6 halftime lead, eventually losing the game (26-23) on a last second field goal by Matt Stover. Would the outcome have been different if Warner had started the game?

What's the point spread?
Cincinnati by 3

What do I think? Unlike Cincinnati, Arizona is still fighting for a shot at the division title. That will give the team a strong incentive to win while Arizona does enough on defense to win. The pick:  Arizona, 27-21

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