Two of the biggest villains in team history, at least in the eyes of the fan base, will be waiting for the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night when they head to Phoenix to play the surging Arizona Cardinals.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, who infuriated Bengals fans with his demand to be traded after the 2010 season, and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who struggled withconsistency and never lived up to his first-round draft status, are two key pieces of an Arizona team that ranks first in the NFL in total offense (421..1 yards per game).
Palmer, who will turn 36 next month and is a little more than a year removed from his second ACL surgery, is on pace for the best year of his career, throwing for 2,749 yards and 23 touchdowns while leading the Cardinals to a 7-2 record. He’s on pace for 4,887 yards, which would shatter the career high of 4,274 he set in 2013, and 41 touchdowns, which would top the 32 he threw for with the Bengals in 2005. His 108 passer rating also is well ahead of the career-best 101.1 he posted in 2005.
Gresham is averaging less than two catches per game, but he scored his first touchdown of the season last week in a 39-32 victory against Seattle.
In addition to the league’s top offense, the Cardinals also own the third-ranked defense, which features another former Bengal in defensive end Frostee Rucker.
Arizona’s 14 interceptions are tied for the NFL lead, and the defense ranks in the top 10 in eight other categories.
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was drafted by the Bengals (first overall) and played eight seasons in Cincinnati (2003-2010). … Cardinals TE Jermaine Gresham was drafted by the Bengals (21st overall) and played four seasons (2010-2014). … Cardinals DE Frostee Rucker was drafted by the Bengals (third round) and played five season (2007-2011). … Cardinals special teams coordinator Amos Jones was RB coach at the University of Cincinnati for four years (1999-2002). … Cardinals D-line coach Brentson Buckner played one season for the Bengals in 1997. … Cardinals defensive assistant Mike Chiurco coached as a defensive assistant at Ohio State, his alma matter, and at Fairfield High School. … Cardinals TE Coach Rick Christophel is from Reading and coached one season at the University of Cincinnati. … Cardinals WR Coach Darryl Drake played one year on the Bengals practice squad in 1983. … Cardinals assistant offensive line coach Larry Zierlein was the offensive line coach for the University of Cincinnati for three seasons (1997-2000). … Bengals OT Eric Winston played one season with the Cardinals (2013). … Bengals DB coach Mark Carrier was an assistant coach at Arizona State (2004-2005) and at Brophy College Prep, in Phoenix. (2003). … Bengals OC Hue Jackson was an assistant coach at Arizona State from 1992-1995. … Bengals QB coach Ken Zampese coached at Northern Arizona for four seasons (1992-95). … Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict and DT Marcus Hardison played at Arizona State. … Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Arizona cornerback Alfonzo Dennard are cousins.
AFC North outlook
Baltimore (2-7) vs. St. Louis (4-5) Sunday: The reeling Ravens are six games back of the Bengals with seven to go, which means it looks like they will miss the postseason for the first time in the John Harbaugh era.
Cleveland (2-8) on bye: The Browns kicked off their bye week by announcing Johnny Manziel will be the starter for the remainder of the season, which includes a rematch against the Bengals in a couple of weeks.
Pittsburgh (6-4) on bye: The Steelers, who survived a second injury scare to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, have won two in a row to keep pace with the Bengals. They will sit back and watch Sunday night’s game with a chance to move even closer.
First-round bye outlook
New England (9-0) vs. Buffalo (5-4) Monday: There aren’t many games left on the Patriots’ schedule where Bengals fans can realistically hope for a loss. But this might be one of them given Bills coach Rex Ryan’s familiarity with New England from his days with the Jets.
Denver (7-2) at Chicago (4-5) Sunday: The Broncos have lost two straight and for the first time since Peyton Manning arrived on the scene in 2012 they have questions at quarterback as the future Hall of Famer battles injuries and declining production.