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Bengals face Cardinals in AFC vs. NFC showdown

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Cincinnati quarterbacks past and present will square off Sunday night.

Carson Palmer, drafted No. 1 overall by the Bengals in 2004, brings the Arizona Cardinals (7-2) into prime time against Andy Dalton and Cincinnati (8-1) in a matchup of the first-place teams in the NFC West and AFC North.

Palmer forced his way out of Cincinnati, holding out the first six games of the 2011 season and has had a career rebirth in Arizona. Directing the NFL’s No.1-ranked offense in a season, Palmer is second to Tom Brady in touchdown passes (23) and quarterback rating (108).

“This is not just another game,” Palmer said.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said there are “a lot of positive memories” of Palmer.

“But, you know, Carson plays for the Cardinals now,” Lewis said. “So we shouldn’t dwell on Carson. He’s a fine player. We drafted him number one overall. He was an outstanding player here, and person. He’s left a lot to build on here.”

Dalton has started every game since he came into the NFL in 2011 in the midst of Palmer’s bitter holdout and subsequent trade to Oakland.

The Bengals were cruising through an unbeaten season before the offense stalled in Monday night’s 10-6 home loss to the Houston Texans.

Dalton completed 22 of 38 passes for a season-low 197 yards with one interception. For the first time this season, Dalton did not throw a touchdown pass.

Palmer, meanwhile, overcame two lost fumbles, throwing for three scores and directing two late touchdown drives in Arizona’s 39-32 victory at Seattle.

Arizona will play in its second straight Sunday night game. The Bengals will appear in prime time for the third game in a row (Thursday, Monday and Sunday nights).

Here are some things to watch:

A MIRROR IMAGE: The Cardinals have repeatedly mentioned how much they see themselves in the Cincinnati offense.

“Very similar,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. ‘They’re very long and fast. They have a solid secondary. Andy is playing really, really well. They’ve got a huge and great wide receiver, good stable of backs. They’re a quality, quality group. Marvin is a heck of a coach. They’ve got a great staff.”

THE DEFENSE: The Cardinals will throw an array of confusing sets and schemes at Dalton, often leaving their talented secondary to defend receivers one-on-one.

Arizona ranks third in the NFL in yards allowed (316.1 per game).

“They’re versatile,” Dalton said. “They’ve got good players all over the field. They’re really good up front. The back end plays well and covers guys tight, so it’s going to be a good test.”

Cincinnati is no slouch defensively, either. The Bengals have allowed 10 points in each of their last three games.

“We work so hard every day at trying to be the best defense out there,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “I’m not going to let that go unnoticed. That’s a great accomplishment and it motivates us to keep going.”

NO LOSING STREAK: Last season, the Bengals won their first three games, then went through a three-game stretch that included two losses and a tie. Even with the loss on Monday night, they’re still in control of the AFC North and in position for a first-round playoff bye, as long as they don’t fall into a prolonged losing streak.

Arizona will be looking for its third straight victory. With a win, the Bengals would be 9-1 for the first time in franchise history.

RUN THE BALL: As is often the case, the team that runs the ball probably will have the best chance at a victory.

Arizona rushed for 117 yards at Seattle, but 48 of them came on Andre Ellington’s game-clinching touchdown.

In last week’s win at Seattle, Chris Johnson rushed for just 58 yards in 28 carries.

Cincinnati’s running game has been erratic all season and reached a new low in the loss to the Texans. Dalton was the Bengals’ leading rusher at halftime with 30 yards. Cincinnati has been limited to 78 yards or less in two of the last three games.

CENTURY MARK: Arizona will be playing its 100th game at University of Phoenix Stadium, and every one of them has been a sellout.

And the place is loud. Arizona leads the NFL in inducing false start penalties since the stadium was built in 2006. The stadium also has created a revenue stream that’s helped the franchise succeed.

It includes one of the best surfaces in the NFL, natural grass turf that’s rolled outside into the desert sunshine when it’s not in use.

“‘I know there’s going to be great energy in that building,” Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald said. “We’re looking forward to feeding off of that energy against a team that’s going to come in there hungry for a win.”

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AP sports writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report

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