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A look at NFL handicapping with the PFW editor lobbying to become Las Vegas bureau chief.

A closer look at ... Carson Palmer

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By Mike Wilkening

Each week during the NFL season, we'll try to take a detailed look at a player, coach or team from a handicapping perspective. We'll begin this series with a profile of Bengals QB Carson Palmer, the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NFL Draft and unquestionably Cincinnati's most important offensive player.

There is little doubt Carson Palmer is one of the NFL's best and dependable quarterbacks. The drop off from Palmer to his backups is much like fall off Tom Brady to Matt Cassel, Peyton Manning to Jim Sorgi. Take him out of the Bengals' lineup and Cincinnati would perhaps be NFL's worst team. The Bengals have not run the ball well in recent years, and their defense is usually porous. 

So Palmer is often left to win games with his arm and one of the league's most talented receiving corps. With Palmer, the Bengals are out of many games; he just doesn't make many mistakes, and the Bengals can string the drives together needed to keep things close. This is especially important on the road, and they have been a decent visitor throughout Palmer's tenure, posting a respectable 15-16 straight-up mark on the road and a 17-13-1 record against the spread. Palmer has also shown an ability to lead the Bengals on the road in the AFC North and succeed; the Bengals are 7-5 SU and ATS vs. divisional foes since Palmer replaced Jon Kitna in 2004.

Palmer has also led the Bengals to fast starts in three of his four seasons as a starter, guiding the Bengals to SU and ATS wins in each of the leas three seasons. Two of those wins came on the road, and the other came vs. Baltimore, the Bengals' opponent on Sunday.

Palmer is 3-1 SU and ATS at Baltimore; the only loss came in 2006, and it was by only six points. He has always shown an ability to stand in against the Ravens' rush and has given a tough secondary its share of troubles over the years.

The Bengals' reputation as a high-flying offense comes from Palmer and his receivers, but it hasn't quite held when it comes to Over/Unders. In the last three seasons, the Bengals are 26-22-1 to the Under, and five of their last six games of the '07 season went Under the total.

The Bengals were also bad road favorites last season, winning and covering in only one of five such situations last season. Again they play the role of road favorite this Sunday; they are laying 1½ points vs. the Ravens, who are starting rookie QB Joe Flacco and hoping he's ready for primetime.

The Bengals had the luxury of letting Palmer sit and watch in his rookie season of 2003. That worked out pretty well, as the rest of the division knows all too well.

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