Could Bengals-Cardinals in prime time be a Super Bowl 50 preview?

Ad Pro Test Clip 189 - March 2017 (1:05)

Ad Pro Test Clip 189 - March 2017 (1:05)

Very few in the Queen City probably want to hear this right now, but their Cincinnati Bengals (8-1) still have a Super Bowl buzz about them, despite Monday night's loss to the Houston Texans.

With a win over the Arizona Cardinals (7-2) on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, the buzz would persist and the overwhelming support the Bengals had before their undefeated season was ruined would likely return.

Of course, people in the Southwest believe their squad will rudely burst Who Dey Nation's bubble. Fresh off a banner road win at Seattle, the Cardinals are flying high.

Between their records and the history their personnel have (Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was Bengals coach Marvin Lewis' first draft pick, taken first overall in 2003), this game won't be short on story lines. That said, how about another one: Could this prime-time game be a Super Bowl 50 preview?

ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey debate:

Harvey: Although pessimistic Bengals fans may beg to differ following Monday night's loss to Houston, this game still feels like a Super Bowl preview. Why do you think this game sets up that way, Josh?

Weinfuss: Both these teams are built similarly. They have good, big-armed quarterbacks, they have game-changing receivers and they have running backs who can control tempo and the clock. Both teams can score a lot of points in a hurry, but their defenses aren't as stout as they have been in the past. Yet, that offensive firepower on both sides may just be enough to propel them into early February.

Coley, the Bengals have certainly been close lately, earning four straight wild-card berths, but why do you think this year's Bengals are built to make a run at the Super Bowl?

Harvey: It's because they possess -- Monday's offensive inefficiency aside -- those very traits you just outlined. Andy Dalton may have struggled for one game, but he has been consistently solid the rest of the year. Pair him with playmakers like A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, and you have a balanced offensive attack. But that aside, the real key is Cincinnati's defense. The Bengals are pacing the league in fewest points allowed per game (16.9) and goal-line efficiency. They also are the third-best defense in the red zone. It's been in large part because of the defense's play late in games that the Bengals' offense has had so many chances to come back in the fourth quarter this season. Had it not been for a last-minute fumble by Green on Monday, Cincinnati may have walked off with a win.

Josh, Palmer isn't the only former first-round Bengals draft pick playing in Arizona these days. What impact has Jermaine Gresham had on the Cardinals' offense?

Weinfuss: Gresham has just finally begun settling into his role with the Cardinals. He spent training camp finishing his recovery from a back injury and during the first month of the season, he was still finding his football legs and learning the Cardinals' intricate offense. Coming in off the street and trying to pick up this scheme quickly is no easy task, but, fortunately for Gresham, he had Palmer to help ease the transition. With the Cardinals, Gresham has been more of a blocking tight end than a pass-catching one. He's played in every game but Gresham is on pace for the lowest output of his career.

There's no question Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson will follow Green wherever he goes Sunday night. He's only allowed 17 receptions this season on 35 targets. What makes you think Green can have a big game against Peterson?

Harvey: The steel-cutting look in Green's eyes Monday night after his fumble makes me believe he will rebound. It's a look his teammates have seen occasionally over the years. They consider "Angry" A.J. different from the normal guy. "Angry" A.J. has a bark that isn't often seen. Rest assured, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will be in Green's ear all week trying to make sure the bark and bite remain. Green certainly will have his hands full with Peterson. But with a healthy Eifert, Green has gotten more single coverage this season than last year. So when teams clamp down on Green -- like the Texans did on Monday -- it opens opportunities for other pass-catchers like Eifert, who dropped three passes against Houston. If he catches even two of them, we're probably talking about the 9-0 Bengals right now.

OK, bud, last one. How have the Cardinals done it on offense this year (league-leaders in Total QBR, yards per game and yards per play)?

Weinfuss: There are two main reasons why the Cardinals have been playing as well as they have: Palmer and Chris Johnson. Palmer is in his third season with Bruce Arians' scheme, which means he's had three years to learn the detailed intricacies of the offense, which is widely considered one of the most complex in the league. And since Palmer understands it so well, he's able to coach players on the field. Johnson said playing with Palmer is like having an offensive coordinator on the field, too. But Johnson has been nearly as valuable to the offense this year. He has single-handedly improved Arizona's running game from 3.29 yards per carry last season to 4.37 this year. A better rushing offense has forced defenses to pay attention to the ground game and opens up the passing game.

People here in the desert don't know much about Cincinnati besides its chili and Dalton's red hair. What's made this team able to run out to an 8-1 start and, for that matter, be successful the last four years?

Harvey: People in the River Valley don't know much about the desert except for golf and In-N-Out (first stop I'm making this weekend). Even with his comparably lackluster showing Monday, Dalton still has to be credited for the work he has done. He's been a big key to the Bengals' regular season success since 2011. Say what you will about the postseason, but it's hard to fathom where the Bengals would be if any one of the other young quarterbacks of his era were leading them. The defense has had an impact, too, with ageless wonder Adam Jones, large, athletic pass-rushers like Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins, and the enforcer Vontaze Burfict factoring heavily over the years.