Preview: New England Patriots @ Cincinnati Bengals

The New England Patriots play the Cincinnati Bengals tonight in their first exhibition game of the year. New England is coming off another Super Bowl victory, while the Bengals are looking to take the next step in the hopes they can achieve the type of success New England has enjoyed. PI's Tim Coughlin provides tonight's preview of the game, including some fast facts and what to look for.

Preview: New England Patriots @ Cincinnati Bengals

KICKOFF: Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 8/12/05
LOCATION: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: ABC, Don Criqui, Randy Cross, Mike Lynch
RADIO: WBCN 104.1 FM, Gil Santos, Gino Cappelletti

SERIES: This is the fifth time these two teams have met in the preseason, with Cincinnati taking an edge in three of the first four contests. In the regular season, New England has won 11 of 19 games against the Bengals, including the Patriots' 35-28 AFC East title-clinching win last season. Nonetheless, the Bengals mauled the Pats 31-3 in last year's preseason matchup, so the two teams have gone back and forth.

2004 RANKINGS*: Bengals: offense 18th (17th rush, 17th pass); defense 19th (26th rush, 13th pass). Patriots: offense 7th (7th rush, 11th pass); defense 9th (6th rush, 17th pass) * in yardage

KEYS TO THE GAME: The main thing the Patriots should be looking for on the playing field is maintaining the team chemistry that has brought them three Super Bowl championships in four years. The Pats have lost a few of their marquee defensive players including Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson but have made some notable additions including LB Chad Brown, LB Monty Beisel and CB Duane Starks. Last season Bruschi and Johnson alone accounted for 230 tackles, so the Patriots will need DL Richard Seymour, LB Mike Vrabel and DL Vince Wilfork (200 tackles combined in 2004) to step up their games this year.

Head coach Bill Belichick should also give some of the new players and rookies an extended look early in this first preseason game to form a better idea of what he can expect from them. Quarterback Rohan Davey, whose QB rating was a less than impressive 50.3 during last year's preseason play, needs to make something out of the playing time he gets this time around. If not he might find himself fourth on the depth chart behind Doug Flutie and rookie Matt Cassell, who has been receiving high praise, or Davey may even be released.

The Bengals have tried to fill some of their holes in rushing defense (128.9 yds/gm allowed last season), by drafting LB Odell Thurman and recently signing him to a 5-year deal. They will be tested early as the Patriots may give RB Corey Dillon the ball often in the first quarter to establish a rhythm. Patriots QB Tom Brady has been frustrated lately from throwing interceptions in practice. The Bengals' secondary may benefit from this as Brady may overcompensate for his lack of effectiveness in camp by forcing the ball into coverage during the game.

FAST FACTS: Bengals: Current Patriots RB Corey Dillion still owns 18 Cincinnati franchise records from his seven years of service with the team before joining New England before last season. … The first game the Bengals played against New England was in Fenway Park in 1968. The Patriots won, 33-14. Patriots: Over the past two years including both regular and postseason play, New England has won 34 games, the highest two-season total in NFL history. The Pats have gone 8-3 in the team's last 11 preseason games. … Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach in 2000, New England has won four of five of its preseason openers.

PREDICTION: 27-24, Patriots

INJURIES: Bengals: DT Matthias Askew* - ankle, WR Peter Warrick - knee, LB Caleb Miller* - ankle, T Willie Anderson - knee, LB Nate Webster - knee, CB Greg Brooks - wrist, C Ben Wilkerson - knee, RB Kenny Watson - knee, LB Landon Johnson - shoulder, RB Chris Perry - hernia; Patriots: WR Tim Dwight* - undisclosed, TE Daniel Graham - leg, WR Bethel Johnson* - undisclosed, RB Chad Morton* - undisclosed.
* on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list

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