Cincinnati Bengals (3-0 SU, 3-0 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (2-2 SU, 1-3 ATS)
NFL Week 5
Date and Time: Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 8:30PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
by Scott, NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CIN (pk)/NE (pk)
Over/Under Total: 46
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On Sunday night football, the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals come into Foxborough to face the 2-2 New England Patriots. Cincinnati is coming off a bye-week that followed them opening the season with a trio of consecutive victories. New England, meanwhile, needs to quickly dust themselves off after a short week that followed a massive MNF beating at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
We see two teams with very different head-spaces coming into this game. The Bengals are feeling good about things and well-rested, ready to set their sights on the rest of the season. Then you have New England, scrambling to find something that works, with a big old mess to fix on both sides of the ball. The offensive line is struggling massively and the entire offense is in a state of clear dysfunction. On a short week and facing this Bengals defense, it might not be the bounce-back week the New England faithful are thinking it will be.
The MNF Chiefs hammering was a high-visibility setback for New England. It brought to light some inadequacies, most of which are difficult to address on short notice. But before we start shoveling dirt on New England, we should temper that with some hesitance. After all, this isnt the only rough 4-game window that Tom Brady and the Pats have encountered in the past decade. And they always bounced back. Then again, its hard to remember it being this bad. Quite frankly, they really look a mess. And Brady himself confirmed that earlier this week, saying its been a while since theyve played well.
The Bengals have allowed only 33 points in their first three games–wins over Baltimore, Atlanta, and Tennessee. Look for them to continue banking on their D, while finding more push on the other side of the ball. QB Andy Dalton has looked good, as the Bengals are trying to institute a 1-2 punch at running back with Gio Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill. Results are mixed with Cincy averaging only 3.6 yards per carry thus far, but you can see things developing. Dalton has one of the best receivers in the game to work with in AJ Green. And with WR Marvin Jones returning, that should help open up the aerial attack, though it may take a little time for him to work his way back into the offense.
Bengals leading tackler LB Vontaze Burfict is still questionable for Sunday, but the defense is tough, especially on teams like New England who are struggling up-front. The defense is solid all-around–able to stuff the run, pressure quarterbacks, and provide good coverage in the secondary. Even if the Patriots are better this week, its hard to imagine that O-line preventing the Bengals front from being a major factor in this game.
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In dealing with this defense, the Patriots are operating with a running game that appears to really be in the dumps. Its just that all the shortcomings that New England has been able to camouflage in recent years are no longer concealable. Julian Edelman is a good player, but a bit dicey as a pillar to lean on in the passing-attack. Game-changing Rod Gronkowski hasnt quite found his peak form yet. And their ensemble cast of playmakers, like Kenbrell Thompkins, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, and Brandon LaFell (who had a good game Monday) have been largely non-factors.
Again, history teaches us to extend some patience to New England. At the same time, history also tells us that no team is immune from the inevitable down-cycles that happen in this sport. In other words, whos to say the Patriots wont slip and need some time before finding answers? Weve said this all before, only to see Belichick and Brady find the right answers and almost immediately get things on the right track. But its getting to the point where it looks like Brady wont simply be able to will his offense into production. And Belichick may not be able to game-plan his way around what appears to be a lack of horses.
The problems New England has doesnt go away in 6 days. On offense, theyve lost almost their entire identity and appear to be grasping for straws, groping clumsily for something that will work. The O-line is a calamity, as they are shuffling guys around looking for the right combo. Rookie center Bryan Stork struggled against the Chiefs and being at home will help, though playing Bengals wont. Whatever Brady has been able to accomplish in his career was almost always done with a stout line giving him protection. Now, Brady is hurried and constantly-flummoxed as he tries to identify open receivers. Its also hard to not notice a very negative body language from Brady, who seems to be realizing that these problems might not go away so easily.
The Bengals are not invulnerable. They can be flat from time to time and will be facing a Pats squad that should be scratching and clawing to avoid a 2-3 start. And if there is a team that can look a mess one week and bounce back, the Patriots are a good candidate just based on their recent history. A lot of the criticism heaped on them right now sounds familiar to last season, when they extracted a 12-4 record out of pretty much the same cast of players. While the Patriots should look a lot less dysfunctional this week, I dont see it being enough to beat a Cincinnati team that simply looks better right now.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Cincinnati Bengals in a pick-em.