The Cincinnati Bengals have been described by those in the Patriots building as having one of the best skill groups in football, being very well-coached, and simply being explosive. If you have watched them at any point in the last 16 months, you would probably agree with those claims. Beginning the season at a dismal 2-3, the Bengals have been borderline unbeatable, going 8-1 since losing to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5.
Just this last weekend in Tampa, Joe Burrow, and the Cincinnati Offense put up 34 unanswered points after Tom Brady put them in an early 17-0 hole. They have the personnel and firepower to turn any game into a track meet in short order, and as a result, the Bengals are comfortably in the hunt for the AFC one seed. Coming to Foxborough before a massive Monday Night showdown against the Buffalo Bills, will Cincinnati (officially) slam the door shut on the Patriots' playoff hopes?
Date: Saturday, December 24th
Start Time: 1:00 EST
Location: Foxborough, Massachusetts
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
TV Info: CBS (Ian Eagle and Charles Davis on the call))
Uniform Info: Blue Jerseys, Blue Pants
The one thing that jumps out with this Bengals defense is a significant lack of pass rush production. Only the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears trail them for the season in that department, on top of the fact that their pressure rate is in the bottom quadrant of the league, via ESPN. The loss of Trey Hendrickson with a broken wrist two weeks ago didn’t help the Bengals' woes any, but he plans to come back this weekend, with a brace and all. A good thing too, because the Bengals leader in sacks and tackles for loss, Sam Hubbard, has already been ruled out with a calf injury.
15 weeks, that’s how long it took for a team (Tampa) to hit 300-plus yards passing against the Bengals' defense. The memes about Eli Apple are all in good fun, but Cincinnati touts some elite talent in the secondary. Safety Jessie Bates is putting together another big season, winding down what could be his final season in a Bengals uniform. He’s allowed just 16 catches this year, on top of snatching three picks, although he dropped a potential fourth over the weekend. Keep an eye out for Vonn Bell, former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Hilton, and first-round pick Daxton Hill should he get on the field.
The X-Factor on this defensive unit for this week is Logan Wilson, who was well on his way to winning Super Bowl 56 MVP honors. In 2022, he’s on pace for nearly 130 tackles, while having already accumulated a pick and 1.5 sacks. Wilson is a force of nature in and around the line of scrimmage, but don’t take my word for it. Ask the Cleveland Browns after he went off for 17 tackles.
There hasn’t been a quarterback prospect that has shown off more shades of Tom Brady in the last two decades than Joe Burrow. This isn’t saying he’s the best QB prospect in my lifetime either, although he isn’t too far off. Regardless, Burrow has been arguably the best signal caller in the business over the last month. 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions since a November 20th clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers, on top of an average passer rating of 102.34. Bill Belichick sang his praises on Wednesday for a good reason. The fact that Burrow was in the position to win a Super Bowl with a makeshift offensive line, while also coming off ACL surgery, is a testament to just how good he is.
Speaking of the offensive line, the Bengals were smart to address the elephant in the room this off-season. However, their three big acquisitions all came through free agency. The one Patriots fans should immediately recognize is friend of the program Ted Karras, who signed a three-year 18-million-dollar deal with the Bengals. Playing at guard in his final year in New England, Karras is now at center and was also voted captain in his first year with the team.
The two other big names Cincy brought in were former Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Alex Cappa, and former Dallas Cowboys tackle La’el Collins. This group didn’t start on the right foot, allowing 13 sacks in the opening two games of the season. However, they have been significantly better since then on a game-to-game basis.
Running Back Joe Mixon hasn’t had a banner year in 2022 but has the ability to have a big game here and there. Several weeks ago, he put up 153 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers on just 22 carries.
Moving onto the wideouts, I do not think there is a better collection of talent anywhere else in the NFL. If Justin Jefferson is the best receiver in football, Ja’Marr Chase isn’t behind him by much. His blend of speed, athleticism, and catch-ability is downright scary. Chase is a home run threat at any and every point with the ball.
Normally, a guy like Tyler Boyd is at worst the No. 2 guy on most NFL teams, but here he is the Bengals' third wideout. Even then the Bengal lifer’s 690 yards and five touchdowns would rank first on the Patriots. Talk about an embarrassment of riches. on the opposite side is the 6’4 219-pound Tee Higgins, who is the Bengals leading receiver this season with Chase missing time with injury. As you could imagine, the Clemson product is a jump ball and YAC monster. He’s also made the rounds on Patriots Twitter, being tabbed as a potential trade target down the road. Here is what I’d say, the Bengals probably won’t be able to pay him with Burrow and Chase being priority one and two. So, if the Bengals are willing to deal him at a reasonable price, sign me up.
New England Patriots
A welcomed return last Sunday was Christian Barmore, who had been out since Week 6 with his knee injury. Not a stat sheet-filling performance, but he got his regular workload (50 percent of snaps) and picked up a half-sack and a quarterback knockdown. He, Josh Uche, Davon Godchaux, and Lawrence Guy, all picked up half sacks, with Ja’Whaun Bentley picking up the only full sack. Matt Judon meanwhile was held without any quarterback hit or pressure for the first time all season. During the week, the Patriots' lone Pro Bowl invitee, said that he simply needs to be better.
Another genuine surprise on Sunday was the defensive play of Marcus Jones. With Jack Jones out, that put the third-round pick on Davante Adams for a fair share of snaps, and he virtually erased him. Just one catch for nine yards, where Jones “threw him out of the club” Gronk style, but also had a gigantic pass breakup on a would-be touchdown right out of the gate. Adams had Jones beat with no safety help, but he was able to make up the ground and break things up. That’s two weeks in a row now that Jones has been put in deep waters and he has shown he can hang with the best of the best. Assuming Ja’Marr Chase is in his future, can he make it 3-for-3?
Mixing in some special teams’ news, the Patriots will likely be without long-snapper Joe Cardona the rest of the way. This is a notable loss, especially since this will snap a 140-game ironman streak for the U.S. Naval Reserve Lieutenant. According to Mike Reiss, Cardona suffered a torn tendon in his foot during the Cardinals game but played through it against the Raiders. Some good news is that punter Jake Bailey was seen practicing on Wednesday, indicating that his injured reserve stint could be coming to an end soon.
The eye test, the film, and the numbers all meet up at the same conclusion, Mac Jones was not good against the Raiders. Despite having zero turnover-worthy plays, he was inaccurate with the ball, let his frustration get the best of him down near the goal line in the first half, and didn’t make the throws needed to win. Not that Matt Patricia gave him a hand with the play calling, but that wasn’t the only issue on Sunday.
Now here is where things get interesting. On Wednesday afternoon, Bill Belichick was asked if the plan is for Jones to start the last three games of the season. He definitively didn’t say yes but didn’t say no either. This also comes as several former high-profile Patriots have come out in criticism of Jones. Specifically Julian Edelman and Vince Wilfork, whose words carry some decent weight. I think Edelman’s point of Jones not making a tackle on Chandler Jones is shortsighted, but both make some fair points for certain. But at the same time, I don’t think Edelman or Wilfork have had coaching as bad as this version of Matt Patricia in their Foxborough tenures.
Even Patriots left tackle Trent Brown jumped in, in his own way. He was caught a few days ago liking an Instagram post from the athletic about the Patriots potentially being suitors for Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. Kendrick Bourne even liked a post that in essence agrees with Edelman’s point. Neither of the two have been asked about this, but it could be nothing, or it could absolutely be something.
Onto the injury front, DeVante Parker has once again been ruled out with a concussion, but Damien Harris has practiced every day this week. Although he was limited in each of those three practices for the second week in a row, he has yet to be ruled out, but that could happen today. Harris was ruled out the day before the Raiders game as well for the record.
Points Spread: NE +3 (-105) | CIN -3 (-115)
Moneyline: NE (+148) | CIN (-178)
Over/Under: O 41.5 (-105) | U 41.5 (-115)
Keeping it super short this week. Bengals and over, Bengals and over, Bengals and over.
On paper, this feels like the Patriots-Bills matchup several weeks back. I don’t doubt that the Patriots will be able to make at least some inroads against the Bengals' offense. Enough to keep them in this game by the end? I highly doubt it. There’s simply too much firepower on the Bengals offense to try and slow down, and my faith in the Patriots' offense at this point in the season is less than nothing. On a side note, if Mac Jones looks bad again early, I could see Bailey Zappe getting thrown in. Not saying it’s right or wrong, but just a gut feeling. Greg Bedard alluded to that in regard to the Raiders game as well.
Final Score: Cincinnati Bengals 38, New England Patriots 17