It’s not a mirage in the desert. In his third year as coach, Bruce Arians has turned Arizona into the best team in the NFC West.
The Cardinals, leading the division by three games and coming off their most significant win, are attracting heavy action as 4½-point favorites over Cincinnati today. Systemplays.com handicapper Doug Fitz, typically an underdog bettor, is playing the favorite.
The Bengals, 8-1 straight up and 7-1-1 against the spread, are looking to bounce back from a surprising loss to Houston on Monday. As a 10-point favorite, Cincinnati fell on its face in a 10-6 setback.
“Most teams coming off a long unbeaten streak have a natural tendency to go into a post-first loss tailspin that usually lasts a couple of games,” Fitz said. “Look at the Packers and Broncos, who have lost three games and two games, respectively, after opening the season with extended winning streaks.
“The Bengals are still an outstanding team, but this is a relatively short number to lay on arguably the best team in the NFC.”
Most key numbers state the Cardinals’ case. Arizona (7-2) ranks No. 1 in the NFL in total offense and No. 2 in scoring offense behind Carson Palmer, who has 23 touchdown passes with seven interceptions.
Arians is known as an offensive guru, but the Cardinals are a complete team, ranking No. 3 in total defense and No. 4 in rushing defense.
While the Cardinals were making a bold statement by taking down Seattle on the road last week, the Bengals and quarterback Andy Dalton were not ready for prime time in a loss to the Texans.
“Arizona has a scheduling edge due to the Bengals playing Monday night and traveling across the country,” said Fitz, who is 30-19-1 in the Review-Journal NFL Challenge, a simulation of the Westgate SuperContest.
Fitz (@fitz_doug on Twitter) scouts the rest of today’s Week 11 schedule:
Washington at Carolina (-7): I don’t normally recommend favorites laying around a touchdown, but the Panthers are showing no signs of slowing down. Carolina is 9-0 straight up and 7-2 ATS. Cam Newton has passed for 15 touchdowns and rushed for six. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is inconsistent. The Redskins are 1-3 ATS as road ‘dogs. Carolina should win comfortably.
Oakland (-1) at Detroit: The Raiders were short favorites twice this year and lost both games straight up. Oakland is 4-5 and attracting some playoff talk, but how good is this team? The four opponents the Raiders defeated have a combined record of 11-26. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr has better numbers than Matthew Stafford. But I think the Lions’ huge road upset of Green Bay carries over and creates momentum. Expect a close game, and Detroit wins again in an otherwise disastrous season.
Dallas (-1) at Miami: Here’s hoping Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s first start in eight weeks kicks in on a positive note. He obviously could be rusty. Dallas is on a seven-game losing streak since Romo went down. The Dolphins, who just played three consecutive road games, are 1-2 ATS at home. Dallas went 7-1 ATS on the road last season with a healthy Romo. This is a lukewarm recommendation on the Cowboys.
Indianapolis at Atlanta (-5½): Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck takes over for injured Colts starter Andrew Luck. Hasselbeck won two of his starts early this season and looked very good in doing so. I don’t like betting against home teams coming off their bye, but Indianapolis is also off a bye. The Falcons have failed to cover their past five games, so their hot start is a distant memory. Take the points with the Colts.
St. Louis at Baltimore (-2½): The Ravens are 2-7 with every game going to the wire. I will not choose a side, but this looks like a low-scoring game. The Rams scored a total of 31 points in their past two games, and quarterback Nick Foles has been benched in favor of Case Keenum. St. Louis will presumably rely even more on running back Todd Gurley to simplify the playbook and help Keenum. Look under the total of 41½.
N.Y. Jets (-3) at Houston: The situation favors the Jets, who are off a home division loss with two extra days of rest. The Texans pulled off a major upset at Cincinnati on Monday. Houston does not appear to be a team you can count on to come up big in back-to-back weeks. Texans quarterback T.J. Yates will make the sixth regular-season start of his five-year career. Yates is not bad, but Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is better, and Fitzpatrick is motivated to face his former team. The Jets should win and cover.
Green Bay at Minnesota (-1): Obviously, the Packers have dropped three games in a row and have problems on defense and on the offensive line. The Vikings have won five straight to go along with an 8-0 ATS streak. This is a feel play in a situation that basically amounts to a must-win game for Green Bay. Minnesota would be hurt far less with a loss. Aaron Rodgers is reportedly dealing with minor injuries, but he appears healthy enough to play well. Rodgers has 21 touchdown passes with three interceptions, so he’s not struggling that much. The Packers win a close game.
Tampa Bay at Philadelphia (-5½): Is Mark Sanchez a quarterback upgrade over Sam Bradford in the Eagles’ offense? This game will tell a lot. Bradford had 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions on the season before getting knocked out last week. Philadelphia has been favored four times at home, going 2-2 straight up and ATS. The Buccaneers are 3-1 ATS on the road as underdogs. I’m less than enthusiastic about this game, but I’ll lean to a Tampa Bay team which seems to get better each week.
Denver (-1) at Chicago: The Bears are off surprising wins at San Diego and St. Louis to turn around their season. Jay Cutler passed for 345 yards against the Chargers and 258 yards against the Rams with a combined five touchdowns and one interception. Chicago is on a 5-1 ATS run after dropping its first three games and looking like possibly the worst team in the league. The Broncos have dropped two in a row straight up and ATS. I can’t trust first-time starting quarterback Brock Osweiler on the road, so the Bears are the only way to go for me.
San Francisco at Seattle (-12½): The 49ers are a bad team that is 0-4 on the road. But the Seahawks are underachieving on both sides of the ball. Seattle is 1-3 ATS at home with straight-up losses to Arizona and Carolina. Maybe it’s the hangover from losing the Super Bowl. Whatever the reasons, the Seattle defense is a big disappointment. San Francisco is off its bye week. New starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked pretty good in a victory over Atlanta. Laying double digits in the NFL is a recipe for going broke. Look at Green Bay and Cincinnati last week. Bet on the 49ers to get the cash, and look for plus-13.
Kansas City (-3) at San Diego: Philip Rivers is putting up big passing numbers, but the Chargers continue to lose. San Diego is 1-4 ATS at home. The Chiefs are 2-3 ATS on the road after their easy win at Denver during Peyton Manning’s meltdown. I think the Chargers can stop their five-game losing streak, but this is only a lean to the home ‘dog.
— Compiled by Matt Youmans/Las Vegas Review-Journal