Bengals, Cardinals can prove their worth
If the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals, the NFL’s only remaining unbeaten, are true championship contenders, they can make a very loud statement this weekend. The Cardinals are at Denver and the Bengals visit New England.
The Bengals have been abysmal in nationally televised night games, including 3-12 on Sunday night. They’ve been told about it as they head to Foxborough for the prime-time matchup with the struggling Patriots.
“Some of the people keep saying we haven’t played well in night games, prime time, whatever it is,” quarterback Andy Dalton says.
“But we’re setting out to win this game. We’re not worried about the past and what we’ve done here, it’s about what we’re doing now. So we’re excited about getting the opportunity to play Sunday night against a good team and to really show what this team’s made of.”
Arizona gets a similar opportunity and against, what is right now, a much stronger opponent. The Broncos fell at Seattle in their last game before a bye, and beat Indianapolis and Kansas City before that.
“It’s a big road game against a team that went to the Super Bowl last year and is going to be a playoff team this year,” coach Bruce Arians says.
“It’s a good barometer for us on the road. ... We didn’t play any slouches so far. There are no slouches in this league. This is a really good ballclub with an outstanding defense and kicking game, and a crowd. All the factors that go into playing at Denver are a huge advantage (for them).”
Also Sunday, it’s Houston at Dallas, Kansas City at San Francisco, Houston at Dallas, Kansas City at San Francisco, Baltimore at Indianapolis, Chicago at Carolina, St. Louis at Philadelphia, the New York Jets at San Diego, Pittsburgh at Jacksonville, Atlanta at the New York Giants, Buffalo at Detroit, Tampa Bay at New Orleans, and Cleveland at Tennessee.
The Monday night game has Seattle at Washington.
The Week 4 action began Thursday night with Green Bay’s 42-10 rout of Minnesota. The game never was close. Julius Peppers returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown, and Aaron Rodgers threw for three scores. Green Bay is 3-2, Minnesota 2-3.
Off this week are Miami (2-2) and Oakland (0-4), which just fired coach Dennis Allen.
Cincinnati (3-0) at New England (2-2)
The Bengals have been all about defense — 33 points allowed — and protecting the ball. Dalton has thrown one interception, they haven’t fumbled, and they have a plus-six turnover differential.
Contrast that with what’s going on with the Patriots, who come off a 41-14 defeat at Kansas City, can’t protect Tom Brady (10 sacks) and rank 30th in passing.
“I don’t think we should feel sorry for ourselves.” said Brady, who needs 60 yards to reach 50,000 passing for his career, but ranks sixth from the bottom in passer rating. “We’ve always found a way to kind of grind our way through tough times. Losing on the road on a Monday night is always tough, but obviously we’re not doing good enough, so we’ve got to work harder. We’ve got to understand what we need to do better individually so it helps each other collectively.”
Arizona (3-0) at Denver (2-1)
Both teams are rested coming off byes, but the Cardinals have quarterback concerns with Carson Palmer’s shoulder issues. Then again, Drew Stanton has stepped in and won his two starts.
The Cardinals’ defense must remain stingy — 45 points allowed thus far, none in the fourth quarter — and that’s a prodigious challenge against Peyton Manning, who already has thrown for eight TDs. He needs one more for 500, a number only Brett Favre has reached.
Houston (3-1) at Dallas (3-1)
For the Lone Star state title, but more importantly, the winner solidifies its standing in its division. The Texans lead the AFC South and the Cowboys are tied atop the NFC East, both surprising developments, although it is early.
Perhaps the two most valuable players through one month will be on the field: Texans DE J.J. Watt and Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher.
Kansas City (2-2) at San Francisco (2-2)
Each team comes off an impressive win, and the spotlight surely will be on Chiefs QB Alex Smith’s return to the Bay Area. The top overall draft pick in 2005 by the 49ers got his career on track under Jim Harbaugh in 2011, then lost the job to Colin Kaepernick after Smith sustained a concussion. He landed in Kansas City and guided the Chiefs to the playoffs last year.
“No bitterness at all,” Smith says. “What happened there the end of the (2012) year, losing my job, you get to that point and I say this a lot, worrying about anything that was outside your control and dwelling on any of that stuff is only going to have a negative impact.”
Chicago (2-2) at Carolina (2-2)
Each team comes off a forgettable loss.
Chicago malfunctioned after halftime at home against Green Bay, and its depth is being tested by a slew of injuries. But the Bears are 2-0 on the road.
Something has gone terribly wrong with Carolina’s defense, which looked strong for the first two games, but has plummeted to 23rd overall. The fearsome pass rush isn’t so fearsome without Greg Hardy.
Baltimore (3-1) at Indianapolis (2-2)
The fact the Colts once called Baltimore home rarely gets mentioned these days. But the Ravens have never won at Indy (0-4), and this is the start of a lengthy road stretch of four out of five games.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano spent four seasons coaching defense on Baltimore’s staff under John Harbaugh. But it’s Indy’s offense, led by Andrew Luck, which has been the mainstay. The Colts lead the NFL in points with 136 and yards passing with 1,304.
Seattle (2-1) at Washington (1-3)
As if the talent level on these two teams isn’t disparate enough, the Super Bowl champion Seahawks also own the league’s best Monday night winning percentage (20-8, .714) and have outscored opponents 208-65 in their past eight appearances, winning all of them with three shutouts. They are 10-1 in prime time under coach Pete Carroll.
The Redskins have lost six straight in prime time and are 4-14 on Monday nights since 2000.
Yet, the Seahawks have lost six consecutive regular-season matchups with Washington.
St. Louis (1-3) at Philadelphia (3-1)
Can the Eagles be more confounding than they were in the loss to the Niners? After three weeks of falling into holes and then rallying to win, they blew a big lead at San Francisco. Their vaunted offense couldn’t get out of its own way until the fourth quarter.
But their special teams were superb, and it’s a good sign when your strongest unit struggles and you almost win anyway.
St. Louis might be the most injured team in the league; at least it comes off a bye and healed up a bit.
New York Jets (1-3) at San Diego (3-1)
Through one-quarter of the schedule, the Chargers’ Philip Rivers has been the NFL’s best quarterback. He has a 114.5 rating built on nine TD passes, one interception and a 70.1 completion percentage rate.
Now Rivers faces a secondary filled with holes. Unless New York’s pass rush overwhelms San Diego’s blockers, the Jets will need a lot of points Sunday.
One thing in New York’s favor is its running game and the fact the Chargers rank 31st in rushing.
Pittsburgh (2-2) at Jacksonville (0-4)
After handing away last week’s game to the Buccaneers, an angry bunch of Steelers takes on another winless Florida opponent. If they don’t cut back on the penalties, though, the Steelers could wind up losing to a weaker foe again.
Blake Bortles had his moments in his first pro start at San Diego, and the Jaguars get receiver Ace Sanders back from a four-game suspension. Every little bit helps.
Atlanta (2-2) at New York Giants (2-2)
Even when relatively healthy, the Falcons were awful on the road. Now that their offensive line has been jumbled by injuries — they lost starting left tackle Sam Baker and backup Mike Johnson in the preseason, the team on Tuesday placed right tackle Lamar Holmes (foot) and center Joe Hawley (right knee) on IR. So that’s three starters lost off the offensive line. Another starter, left guard Justin Blalock, also left last Sunday’s game with a back injury and didn’t return.
New York has forced nine turnovers in the past two games, both wins. Larry Donnell has become a force with a career-high three touchdowns catches against Washington, the first Giants tight end to do that since Joe Walton in 1962.
Buffalo (2-2) at Detroit (3-1)
A QB change to veteran Kyle Orton was the big news in Buffalo. Orton is a rarity: a career backup who has managed to get starts in all four of his previous NFL stops.
Detroit’s defense has been much sharper than expected, ranking first overall and second against the pass. Its offense has been functional with Calvin Johnson hobbled; Matthew Stafford has found another favorite target in free agent signee Golden Tate.
Tampa Bay (1-3) at New Orleans (1-3)
The Saints have had enough of the road, where they are winless and getting worse each trip. But they don’t get a homestand until November.
New Orleans has won five in a row against Tampa Bay, however, and the Bucs are one of Drew Brees’ favorite patsies.
Tampa got off the schneid with a last-second win at Pittsburgh. It’s given away the ball 10 times, tied for most in the league.
Cleveland (1-2) at Tennessee (1-3)
Now that Brian Hoyer has given the Browns life and hope at quarterback, maybe he can help fix a horrendous road record: 3-22 over the past three seasons. Hoyer is 4-2 in six career starts and has pushed Johnny Football backstage. He’s also getting help from Terrance West, who leads NFL rookies with 204 yards rushing.
After a nice opening win, the Titans have been outscored 100-34.
AP Sports Writers Bob Baum and Joe Kay contributed to this story.
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