Both Cincinnati (AFC North) and Carolina (NFC South) are in second place in their conferencesâ€”Cincinnati is one-half game behind the AFC Northâ€™s leading Baltimore Ravens and Carolina is one game hind the NFC Southâ€™s top New Orleans Saints. Both Carolina and New Orleans have bye weeks and will play one another next week. The Bengals are given the 3-point home field edge in this one.
Carolina, which has not beaten the spread this year, lost their first two (Atlanta and Minnesota) and then won their last four contests (Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Cleveland and Baltimore). QB Jake Delhomme has been sacked 12 times and thrown 3 picks, while hitting for 6 TDs. RB Deshaun Foster has started to find his footing but hasnâ€™t scored a TD, although he is racking up almost 5 yards per carry. Wide receiver Steve Smith has been the go-to guy for Delhomme. This is not a high scoring team and their defense has been only adequate.
Cincinnati looked great in its first three games, racking up wins against Kansas City, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Then they got hammered by New England and after a bye week lost by one-point to Tampa Bay! In their two losses they scored a total of 13 points in each game. The offense boils down to QB Carson Palmer, WRs T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chad Johnson and Chris Henry and RB Rudi Johnson. The major problem of late has been the Bengalsâ€™ offensive line. Palmer (7 TD, 4 INT) has been sacked 17 times and in the last three contests the ground game has averaged less than 70 yards per game. In their first three games the team beat the spread, in their last two they have not come close.
This is a tough one to call. When all is said and done, I believe Carolina, a team on the upswing, will be tied with New Orleans for first in the NFC South and Cincinnati, which is in disarray, will be a full game behind Baltimore in the AFC North.