Pats and Bengals Ready for Battle
Tom Brady and the unbeaten New England Patriots stroll into Cincinnati to take on the 2-2 Bengals Sunday. The Patriots are fresh off their 30-23 win over the Falcons last week, while the Bengals fell last week to a surprisingly good Cleveland Browns (3-2) team. The Bengals will look to get back in the hunt for first place in the AFC North, while the Patriots will try to distance themselves further from the rest of the AFC East.
Bengals star cornerback Leon Hall is listed as doubtful after pulling his hamstring in Week 3 against Green Bay. Hall is widely regarded as one of the league’s top cornerbacks, and with Brandon Ghee and Dre Kirkpatrick also fighting injuries watch for Tom Brady to pick apart the Bengals’ secondary.
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is out with a knee injury. With Ridley and Shane Vereen both inactive this week and Brandon Bolden listed as questionable, LeGarrette Blount could be looking at a lot of touches.
Vince Wilfork was placed on the Injured Reserve this week after tearing his ACL last Sunday against the Falcons. The team captain and perennial Pro Bowler will miss the rest of the season. Losing a guy like Wilfork in the middle of the defensive line could potentially be devastating for this young Patriots defense.
“Gronk Watch” Week 5: Rob Gronkowski will not travel to Cincinnati, the Patriots confirmed Saturday, and is yet to play this season. New England did release preseason phenom Zach Sudfeld earlier this week. Now why would New England release Sudfeld unless they felt confident that Gronk is close to his triumphant return? Gronkowski could be back soon.
Keys to the game
- AJ Green vs. Aqib Talib is the key matchup this week. Talib is tied for the league lead in interceptions with four. Andy Dalton’s favorite target, Green, leads the league in targets at 51. The former No. 4 overall pick has made the Pro Bowl every year he has been in the league. I expect a touchdown from Green and a pick from Talib.
- LeGarrette Blount is my second key to the game. He is the only healthy running back for the Patriots. I expect a ton of touches for the 6-foot, 250 pound running back. Blount rushed for 1,000 yards his last year as a starter for the Buccaneers. Blount is infamous for punching another player in the face while at Oregon, earning him a suspension that effectively ended his career. He has shown flashes of brilliance since his days at Oregon and if Blount can get his act together, he could return to excellence once again.
- Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are the most important players on this Pats defense. Jones is coming into his role as an elite pass rusher. Ninkovich had a career high eight sacks and five forced fumbles last year. With the loss of Wilfork, the duo will have a lot of extra blocks sliding outside to contain them. Their ability to hit Andy Dalton is key to a Patriots victory.
The Bengals are the best team to face the Patriots thus far and it will present a very tough test. I would take the Bengals, but with the injuries to their secondary I can’t see any way for them to contain Tom Brady. I think the emergence of Kenbrell Thompkins has given Brady a lot more confidence in his young receivers. Patriots 35, Bengals 21.