In this season of giving, the Cincinnati Bengals will be looking to be the ones receiving as they take on the Arizona Cardinals today at Paul Brown Stadium. These two team come into today virtual mirror images, with offenses geared around a dynamic receiver and defenses built for speed. The Bengals are 8-6, the Cardinals 7-7 and both have flourished on second half comebacks.
Where they differ is in ball security. Arizona ranks 29th in the NFL in turnover differential with a -11 through 14 games. The Bengals, who haven't necessarily been opportunistic on defense, also haven't given it up on offense. They're even to this point in the season. Today's game will come down to who makes the most mistakes and having an offense that can capitalize in those situations.
John Skelton, who will presumably start at QB for the Cardinals, has turned the ball over 11 times in five starts, so Adam Jones and the rest of the Bengals secondary will have some opportunities. Where the Bengals have to improve is their ability to take advantage, particularly in the red zone. The Bengals continue to struggle finding the end zone, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns. This has let some teams hang around this season, including the last home game against the Texans where the Bengals lack of touchdowns in the red zone cost them the game.
A related key for the Bengals will be controlling the Arizona running game. They can punish with former Buckeye Beanie Wells, but they can also get to the edge with the diminutive LaRod Stephens-Howling. Both come in today a little banged up. If the Cincinnati defense can make the Cardinal offense one-dimensional, even with the explosive Larry Fitzgerald on the field, they can control the Cardinals' offense.
Cincinnati enters the game as healthy as they've been in awhile. Only receiver Andre Caldwell is doubtful. Jerome Simpson and Andrew Hawkins need to step up to help AJ Green today as he will be covered most of the day by fellow rookie standout, Patrick Peterson. Peterson will also be a focal point of the Cincinnati special teams as he is a threat to take it all the way any time he touches it.
So while we prepare ourselves to give presents, the Bengals look to spend three hours being the Grinch today. If they're successful, next week's game against Baltimore will hold playoff implications. If not, then a once promising season will effectively be over.
Bengals 31, Cardinals 27.
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