AP Pro Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - The Arizona Cardinals are being proclaimed the most pleasant surprise of the early NFL season. At 4-0 and with a stingy, playmaking defense and a game-changing receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, they look like a title contender.
Yet they are only a 1-point favorite at St. Louis on Thursday night.
Sure, the Rams (2-2) have been surprising as well, with a vastly improved defense that already has eight interceptions, an efficient offense and, in Jeff Fisher, one of football's most respected coaches.
Still, a measly point seems like a very small line.
"You know what they've done in each of the last four weeks? They scored at least one point more than their opponent and it's not surprising," Fisher said. "You know, they came down in the overtime game last week (against Miami), which could have gone either way, but they found a way to win it.
"I think more impressive than just the 4-0 start is they're winning 11 out of the last 13 games or something like that. They clearly picked up where they left off last year."
What happened last year, according to cornerback/kick returner Patrick Peterson, was an awakening on a defense that has allowed the second-fewest points in the NFC.
"We definitely started off slow last year, but once everyone knew what to do, it was second nature to us," Peterson said. "All we had to do was just go out there and play fast football and play with relentless effort and for each quarter give 110 percent and that's what we've been doing. That's how we've been getting away with these Ws."
The Cardinals (No. 5 in the AP Pro32) will get another W against the Rams (No. 19, AP Pro32), but it will be close. Just not one point close.
No. 25 Miami (plus 3 1-2) at No. 12 Cincinnati
Dolphins looking respectable, but Bengals are much better team.
BEST BET: BENGALS, 21-13
No. 2 Atlanta (minus 3) at No. 18 Washington
More wonders by RG3 as Redskins hand Falcons first defeat.
UPSET SPECIAL: REDSKINS, 27-24
No. 13 Denver (plus 6 1-2) at No. 6 New England
One more installment of Peyton vs. Brady. Tom Terrific usually wins those.
No. 10 San Diego (plus 3 1-2) at No. 26 New Orleans
The slide ends here for the Saints.
No. 1 Houston (minus 8) at No. 23 New York Jets, Monday night
This one can't be as ugly as last week for the Jets, right?
No. 9 Chicago (minus 5 1-2) at No. 30 Jacksonville
This can't be as ugly as last week for the Jags, right?
No. 7 Green Bay (minus 7) at No. 31 Indianapolis
Yet another road favorite that should cover.
No. 4 Baltimore (minus 5) at No. 27 Kansas City
Ditto for Ravens.
No. 8 Philadelphia (plus 3 1-2) at No. 15 Pittsburgh
Eagles have three wins by total of four points. Good or lucky?
No. 32 Cleveland (plus 9 1-2) at No. 11 New York Giants
Browns play superior opponents tough, then lose.
No. 29 Tennessee (plus 5 1-2) at No. 14 Minnesota
Vikings have been a find, Titans have been a flop.
No. 17 Seattle (plus 3) at No. 22 Carolina
Tough trip for Seahawks, especially with Panthers angry about blowing game at Atlanta.
No. 20 Buffalo (plus 9 1-2) at No. 3 San Francisco
Both teams showed their mettle _ or lack thereof _ last weekend.
Against spread: 7-8 (23-38-2). Straight up: 8-7 (34-29)
Best Bet: 3-0-1 against spread, 4-0 straight up.
Upset special: 3-1 against spread, 2-2 straight up.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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