Teams seemingly at a crossroads will intersect when Cincinnati and New England face off tonight at Gillette Stadium on NBC. The Bengals (3-0) come off of their bye refreshed and close to full strength, while the Patriots (2-2) are still picking up the pieces from the 41-14 shellacking they got from the Chiefs on Monday night.
A matchup of defending division champions, Cincinnati topped New England 13-6 in Week 5 last season. In that game, not only did the Bengals’ defense hold the Patriots to just 248 total yards and two field goals, it also put an end to Tom Brady’s streak of 52 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Cincinnati -1
Three Things to Watch
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1. Monday Night Hangover for New England?
No matter how you slice it, Monday night in Arrowhead Stadium represented one of the lowest points in the 14 seasons Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been paired together as head coach and starting quarterback. And it’s not just in the 41-14 score, which is the second-largest margin of defeat in the 221 games (including playoffs) Brady has started, it’s how the Patriots lost. In the first half alone Kansas City outgained New England 303-98, as a defense that ranked among the best in the NFL entering this contest looked helpless to stop the Chiefs’ running or passing games. The futility and frustration carried over to the second half, as the home team kept pouring it on and Brady and the offense struggled to get anything going. Brady didn’t even finish the game, as he was pulled in the fourth quarter after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The Patriots were thoroughly dominated in every facet of the game, something that has happened rarely during Belichick’s tenure, but the reality is this is a team with plenty of question marks, most of them coming on offense. This Brady-led unit is 29th in the league in yards gained (298.5 ypg) and 30th in passing (201.0 ypg), something that seems unfathomable considering the future Hall of Famer’s track record. The offensive line clearly has issues and lacks cohesion, the running game has struggled to find any consistency (97.5 ypg) and no one other than Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski have consistently made plays in the passing game. The mood was somber, to say the least, within and outside of the team following the Monday night meltdown. And a bad situation could only get worse depending on how the Patriots respond in a short week against an undefeated Cincinnati team that’s coming off of a bye.
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2. Cincinnati at Full Strength?
The Bengals are not only undefeated entering this game, they also are a slight favorite on the road in the house that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady built. This duo is 96-17 at home, including playoffs, in their 14 seasons together. Cincinnati also gets to face a dejected and discouraged Patriots team that’s still smarting from their last loss, while the Bengals are coming off of a bye. Besides giving them a chance to rest and an extra week to prepare, the bye allowed some key players to return to practice. Head coach Marvin Lewis hopes to have Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict back after he suffered concussions in back-to-back games and not playing at all in Week 3. Burfict is the heart and soul of this defense and led the NFL in tackles last season. His return would make a stingy defense (league-leading 11 ppg allowed) even better. On offense, the passing game could get a boost if wide receiver Marvin Jones gets back on the field. Second on the team last season in receiving yards (712) and touchdowns (10), Jones has been out since breaking a bone in his foot early in the preseason. His presence would not only provide quarterback Andy Dalton with another receiving threat, it also would give the Bengals a reliable red-zone target to take some of the pressure off of A.J. Green and help fill the absence of injured tight end Tyler Eifert. Some other injured starters and key reserves could be returning as well, a potentially scary proposition for the rest of the league considering the Bengals went 3-0 without the likes of Burfict, Jones, etc. on the field.
3. Which Team Gains the Most Ground?
New England’s struggles running the ball have already been documented. The Patriots are 23rd in the NFL in that category right now, but the Bengals haven’t fared that much better. Even with the dynamic duo of explosive Giovani Bernard and bruising Jeremy Hill leading the way, Cincinnati is just 15th in the league in rushing (121.7 ypg) and is actually averaging fewer yards per carry (3.6) than New England (3.7). The difference, however, lies in the contributions of the respective passing games. The former is 11th with 262.3 yards per game, while the latter is languishing in 30th (201.0 ypg). This is a big reason why the Bengals are seventh in the league in total offense and scoring nearly 27 points per game while the Patriots are 29th and managing just 20 points per contest. Regardless, both teams would like to establish the run tonight, especially considering the respective defenses have struggled some in this department. Cincinnati is allowing 113.3 yards per game, including 149 in Week 3 to Tennessee. New England meanwhile coughed up 207 to Kansas City in the Monday night meltdown. The team that does the best job of staying “grounded” tonight more than likely leaves Gillette Stadium as the victors.
When looking at both teams’ current circumstances, Cincinnati appears to be getting New England at an opportune time. The Patriots are wounded, especially when it comes to their pride and team morale, and there seem to be more questions than available answers. On top of this, Bill Belichick’s team is dealing with a short turnaround after playing a Monday night game and has had to deal with a hungry media crush that’s more concerned about reporting on the Patriots’ pending demise. On the other side are the Bengals, undefeated, coming off of their bye well rested and as close to full strength as they’ve been this season. While I don’t think New England is headed for the basement of the AFC East, I do believe that Cincinnati is a better team at this point in their seasons. Marvin Lewis’ team adds to the misery of Patriots fans, as the Bengals capitalize on being an extremely rare road favorite in Gillette Stadium.