The 2-2 New England Patriots return home this week to face the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are 3-0 and look like a team built to go far in the playoffs. After last week’s debacle in Kansas City, the Patriots come into Sunday night with something to prove. This game not only represents a shot at redemption after a rough week, it’s also a game with playoff ramifications. The Bengals are battling Baltimore and Pittsburgh for the AFC North, so they might end up settling for a wild card spot. With the way the Patriots look so far, there’s a good chance they’ll be battling for a wild card spot too, so AFC win-loss record is going to be a huge factor in the postseason hopes of both these teams. Let’s take a look at the Weekly Five and determine who comes out on top Sunday night.
1. How will the Patriots move the ball?
The Bengals represent a difficult challenge for the struggling Patriots offense. If you look at the defensive rankings, it appears the Bengals are just an average group, but stats don’t tell the full story. The Bengals can rush the passer. Carlos Dunlap leads the Bengals with three sacks; he also has an interception and two deflected passes, so it’s needless to say he’s going to be a handful for the Patriots offensive line. The Bengals are giving up over 100 yards rushing per game, so that is where the Patriots could and should attack the Cincinnati defense. Shane Vereen got the bulk of the work versus Kansas City last week but wasn’t able to do a lot with the opportunity; expect to see more Stevan Ridley tonight. Rob Gronkowski also needs to be a heavy part of the gameplan for New England to win.
2. Can the Bengals score against the New England defense?
Teams can score against the Patriots, as the Chiefs proved last week while piling up 41,but this week will come down to scheme. Will the Patriots FINALLY commit to man-to-man defense in the secondary or will they stick with zone/soft man? Aggressiveness is not the Belichick way when it comes to defense, and it is starting to cost him. Sitting back and allowing teams to drive isn’t working anymore and it is time to adjust, similar to what we saw last year when Aqib Talib started drawing the top receiver on the opposing teams. Let Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner be themselves and it will allow the safeties to help out more in the run game.
3. Who has the edge in the coaching match up?
I typically pick the Patriots to win the coaching matchup. It makes sense when you look at BB’ track record. After this past Monday in Kansas City, it’s time to start taking a closer look at this. Marvin Lewis is currently second to Bill Belichick in longevity, having spent the last ten seasons as the head coach of the Bengals. His experience helps in situations like Sunday night. Primetime game, coming off a bye against a hungry team that hasn’t played up to expectations would sometimes be too much for a visiting coach to deal with, but not Lewis. Although I do believe Lewis is a formidable coach and will have some wrinkles for the Patriots, I’m convinced that Belichick and his staff won’t have two bad weeks in a row. Advantage: Patriots…barely.
4. Will the Bengals find a way to give Brady fits?
There is no question in my mind that the Bengals, specifically the aforementioned Dunlap, will have success against the Patriots offensive line. Tom Brady needs more time to be effective, but New England and their new crew up front haven’t been able to gel. Last week max protection was brought up as a way to protect Brady, mainly because KC had such a banged up secondary. The Bengals are relatively healthy, but New England is still better off using max-protect and less receivers because eventually Brady will find someone open. The screen game must be part of all game plans going forward because it gets defenses on their heels and keeps Brady upright.
5. Who wins the game?
The Patriots are home underdogs this week, which is rare in the last 13 years. The Bengals come in rested, confident and equipped to possibly manhandle New England on its own turf. Every sign from this week points to a Bengals win, but I just don’t see it happening. The Patriots know how to circle the wagons and typically figure out a way to fix their early season woes, no matter how bad they may be. Expect to see Darrelle Revis deployed on A.J. Green full-time as the Patriots defense moves to a more aggressive man-to-man scheme with more blitzing. Tom Brady and the offense will do just enough in a low scoring affair in Foxboro.
Patriots 17, Bengals 16
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