Cleveland, OH - An upset of the reigning Super Bowl champion has the Cincinnati Bengals brimming with confidence.
Having Carson Palmer healthy is certainly a big part of that, and facing the lowly Cleveland Browns may only help.
The Bengals will try to continue their surprising start Sunday when they visit the Browns, who are hoping to avoid their longest losing streak in nearly 34 years.
Oddsmakers from online sports book SPORTSBETTING.com have made the Bengals –5.5 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 87% of bets for this game have been placed on the Bengals –5.5 (View NFL bet percentages).
Palmer engineered a 16-play, 71-yard drive that culminated with an improvised 4-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell with 14 seconds left, giving the Bengals (2-1) a 23-20 win over Pittsburgh last Sunday. The victory snapped a seven-game home losing streak to the Steelers and gave Cincinnati more wins than it had through 13 games last season.
"It's a confidence booster," Caldwell said. "We're letting the world know that we feel we're a competitive team and we're something to be reckoned with."
The Bengals have seen two of their three games decided in the final minute. In a season-opening 12-7 loss to Denver, Palmer led them on a 91-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard TD run by Cedric Benson with 38 seconds left, only to have a fluke tipped pass result in an 87-yard touchdown for the Broncos 27 seconds later.
Cincinnati followed that a week later with a surprise 31-24 win at Green Bay before Palmer rallied the team to two fourth-quarter TDs to upset the Steelers.
"I think it starts with the quarterback," coach Marvin Lewis said. "There's a calmness that he has in those situations. He has command of the things that he likes, when it's up to him to make the calls."
Palmer threw two interceptions in each of the first two weeks but had none against Pittsburgh, possibly growing more comfortable after missing the final 11 games last season with an injured elbow. Cincinnati would finish 4-11-1 for its worst record since drafting him first overall out of Southern California in 2003.
Caldwell's emergence has benefited Palmer, as he's replaced T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the slot, where he's expected to make catches over the middle. The 2008 third-round pick from Florida is tied with Chad Ochocinco with a team-leading 14 catches.
Caldwell, who had a team-high six catches against the Steelers with three on the winning drive, has 122 receiving yards, while Ochocinco leads the Bengals with 234.
Palmer thinks opponents are starting to take notice of Caldwell, potentially freeing Ochocinco from double coverage.
"Hopefully that will open Chad up a little more because teams will start to fear Andre," Palmer said.
Cincinnati split two meetings with the Browns (0-3) last season with each team winning on the road. The Bengals won 14-0 at Cleveland on Dec. 21, as the Browns offense mustered only 182 yards with 41 coming through the air.
Cleveland hasn't shown much improvement since then, ranking last in total offense this year with an average of 218.0 yards. The Browns now look to avoid losing 10 consecutive games for the first time since a franchise-record 11-game slide from Dec. 7, 1974-Nov. 16, 1975.
The Browns have been outscored 224-60 during their current slide, which continued with a 34-3 loss at Baltimore last week.
To jolt an offense that has managed one touchdown in the last nine games, coach Eric Mangini has named Derek Anderson the starting quarterback against the Bengals after benching Brady Quinn at halftime last week.
Anderson completed 11 of 19 passes for 92 yards with three interceptions against the Ravens. Quinn is 45 for 74 for 400 yards with one TD and three picks in three games after winning the starting job following the preseason. His passer rating of 62.9 ranks 29th among the league's 32 starting quarterbacks.
"I'm not saying it's all Brady," Mangini said. "Derek did some things that were positive and that's what it's based on. There's nobody happy with where we are right now. That's across the board."
While offense has been a major problem, Cleveland hasn't been much better defensively, ranking 29th (412.7 ypg).
"We're frustrated, too," linebacker David Bowens said. "But we have 53 men on this roster that are men and willing to stand up and be accountable and correct things. It's three games. People say it's the end of the world, but to us it's not."
Posted: 9/30/09 10:44PM ET