Cincinnati Bengals @ Arizona Cardinals
Live on Sky Sports
A lot's been made of the fact Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer used to be a Bengal, and that things ended acrimoniously for him in Cincinnati when he had to force his way out via a trade. These kind of situations can sometimes be overblown by the media. Ill-feeling can dissipate. But not in this case, as Palmer himself said recently "It's not just another game", adding "There is definitely a lot in this one for me in particular."
And it's not just the QB who's fired-up. Speaking about Carson Palmer, receiver Larry Fitzgerald commented "He hadn't said a word. But we want to play well for him." Clearly this is one stoked-up Cardinals team. And the man with most to prove, Palmer, is in just the right form to dish out some vengeance. The Arizona playmaker has thrown 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions coupled with a 64% completion rate, making this his best season from a personal perspective since 2007.
On offense, Arizona are either very old, or ooze experience, depending on your viewpoint. What's clear at present though, is that its working for them. In addition to 35-year-old Palmer, the Cardinals also have 32-year-old receiver Larry Fitzgerald to thank for their current (7-2) record. The veteran wideout leads the team's receivers with seven TDs and 836 yards, form that could possibly make this season his best yet from 12 years with the Cards.
As a result, Arizona's passing attack ranks fourth in the NFL. Its running game's not too shabby either, ranking eighth, thanks to three TDs and 734 yards from another evergreen veteran, 30-year-old Chris Johnson. Their defense is every bit as good as well, rating fourth against the run and seventh against the pass. In short, the Cardinals are great all-rounders. And but for a quarterback injury-apocalypse last year they could have gone all the way to the Super Bowl. This year they might set things right.
But while Arizona arrive in form, fresh from defeating Seattle, the (8-1) Bengals come to town confused, wondering - how on Earth did they manage to suffer their first loss of the season, at home to the clueless Texans?
What we learned from that 10-6 defeat was something we actually already knew, which is that Andy Dalton's nerve goes once under the bright lights of Prime Time. But maybe it wasn't all his fault. Big Red was sacked four times by an aggressive Houston pass-rush. Arizona are unlikely to put Dalton under anything like as much pressure. Yes they contain opposition receivers well, but the Cardinals have only produced 15 sacks this season, way behind Houston's 24.
So Dalton should have time to look for AJ Green (4TDs) and prolific tight end Tyler Eifert (9TDs). In the end zone especially, I like the big-bodied but agile Eifert to come up with a score. Danger still lurks though. Arizona's defensive backs watch like hawks, waiting to pounce - and have produced 14 interceptions as a result. That's joint best in the NFL. Dalton has been careful with his throws this year. But history tells us that he's an interception machine, averaging more than a pick per game. His confidence must have been knocked by last week's poor showing and I'll be shocked if he doesn't cough up at least one costly turnover this weekend.
Nine of the 12 touchdowns the Bengals have conceded have come through the air. Similarly, 75 percent of Arizona's TDs were thrown. And that makes Larry Fitzgerald an obvious shout to grab the first score. The Bengals might start out trying to run the ball through their committee of Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill. But neither's been convincing, hence the committee. Once behind, Cincy will be forced to turn to Dalton. And that spells trouble, with the turnover king likely to play right into the hands of Arizona's patient but deadly secondary. Consequently, I can see this one getting away from the Bengals, with Carson Palmer exacting a ruthless revenge on his former team.
3pts Arizona (-4.5) to beat Cincinnati @ 2.001/1
Arizona (-11.5) to beat Cincinnati @ 3.7511/4 or better
Larry Fitzgerald to score first/anytime touchdown @ 9.008/1 or better
Arizona to win Half Time/ Full Time @ 21/20 (Sportsbook)
Total Arizona Points over 27.5 @ 2.001/1 or better
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
Live on Sky Sports
(9-0) New England had been looking unstoppable. Until last week that is, when the New York Giants could, and probably should, have beaten them. The Pats though, as great sides do, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, 27-26. But we have been warned. Because if the (5-5) Giants can get close, then so can others.
So what was the problem? Well perhaps it was key injuries on offense. The Pats were settled into a very effective groove with their running game. Their 1-2 punch consisted of brute force from LaGarrette Blount up the middle, combined with guile and speed from Dion Lewis out of the backfield. But a torn ACL has put paid to Lewis, leaving the Patriots with an offensive limp.
And that limp became a hobble when they then lost their leading wideout (freakish tight end Rob Gronkowksi aside), Julian Edelman, with a broken bone in his foot. Edelman was the Patriots wickedly agile slot-receiver with seven touchdowns to his name. By losing him and Lewis in quick succession, coach Bill Bellichick has been deprived of his two jack-in-the-boxes...elusive players who gave opposing defenses match-up nightmares. Without them, the Patriots attack becomes considerably more predictable.
They do of course still have Gronkowski. Like The Mountain from Game of Thrones, he's almost unstoppable. And last week against the Giants, actually was, shrugging off defenders for a 76 yard score, his 7th TD of the season.
But the player I believe will benefit most from Julian Edelman's absence, is Brandon LaFell. And I could not be higher on him. LaFell scored almost twice as many touchdowns as Edelman last season, but missed the first five games of this campaign through injury. He returned tentatively, dropping a few catches, but has continued to improve week on week. The rangy wide-receiver averaged 60 yards a game even when sub-par and is only getting better. With the speed to take the top of defenses, Lafell is now THE deep-ball threat for New England and I believe he will have a huge impact against Buffalo's extremely porous secondary.
The Bills arrive to Foxborough in good form, off the back of their win over the Jets. Their run-defense is excellent, their pass-defense much less so. They did enough to contain Ryan Fitzpatrick, but should be made to suffer by Tom Brady, who's likely to pick them apart at will as the Bills struggle to put him under pressure.
Buffalo should land some heavy blows of their own though with the running game. Last week, LeSean McCoy put up 112 yards against the Jet's NFL-leading run-defense. The combination of him and the sparky Karlos Williams is too much for most teams to handle. And the Patriots should be no different, especially given their current spate of defensive injuries.
Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor is a genuine find for the Bills and can exploit New England's biggest weakness, their pass defense. Sammy Watkins is Buffalo's one top-quality receiver and should be the main-man to benefit. McCoy can prosper too though, running short catches out of the backfield.
New England beat Buffalo 40-32 in Week Two and I can see this being similarly high-scoring, with La Fell playing a major role. The Pats have been bedevilled by injuries though, and with the Bills hungry for a play-off spot I like their chances of keeping this close.
3pts Brandon LaFell to score anytime touchdown @ 2.206/5
2pts Total Points Over 48.5 @ 2.0621/20
Buffalo (+7.5) to beat New England @ 1.9010/11
Buffalo (+3.5) to win at half time @ 2.001/1 or better
Brandon LaFell to score first touchdown @ 12.0011/1
Sammy Watkins to score first touchdown @ 12.0011/1
Sammy Watkins to score anytime touchdown @ 2.506/4