The Bengals face a tall order in this home game against the hottest team in the NFL.
New England comes in with the No. 2 scoring offense and arguably the No. 1 defense in the league. Quarterback Tom Brady hasn't even tapped into all of his offensive weapons yet. Randy Moss and Wes Welker look unstoppable on one side with 42 receptions and six scores, but Ben Watson and Donte' Stallworth could easily jump up from their 13 receptions on a moment's notice.
The Bengals are built to come out very aggressively and attack through the air. Carson Palmer has already thrown 37 more passes than Brady in three games (almost 11 more a game) and this game will be no different. The Bengals defense has really struggled in the red zone and there's no doubt in my mind the Patriots are going to be down in the red zone six to eight times in this game. The challenge for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is which way to play the Patriots offense. Should the Bengals go after Brady, or play a rope-a-dope slow-them-down game and hope his offense can put up more points?
One thing for sure is that the two quarterbacks -- who already have 19 touchdown passes between them -- are going to put on a display of passing that will entertain the fans for three hours. The Bengals head into their bye after this game and the Patriots roll on to Cleveland and then Dallas the week after.
If you like the modern passing attacks, this game has it all!
If you like the Bengals ...
1. Palmer has thrown nine touchdown passes in three games
2. The Bengals average 31 points a game
3. The Bengals are second in the NFL with 301 passing yards a game and 14 receptions of 20-plus yards
4. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have 54 receptions for 702 yards (13.0 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns
5. The Bengals managed to put 27 points on the board in a win over a tough Raven defense
6. The Bengals defense already has five interceptions
If you like the Patriots ...
1. The Patriots are winning by a margin of 26.4 points a game and always hit 38 points
2. Brady has only thrown 18 incompletions in three games and has 10 touchdowns to one interception
3. The Patriots beat the Bengals 38-13 last year and sacked Palmer four times
4. The Patriots defense is second in the NFL against the pass and already have 10 sacks and three picks
5. The Bengal defense has already given up eight touchdown passes this year and 31.7 points a game
6. Laurence Maroney had his best day of his career last year vs. Cin with 15 carries for 125 yards
1. Randy Moss vs. Deltha O'Neal: Moss has been reborn in New England and is as dangerous as any receiver in the NFL. He has more than 100 yards receiving in all three games this season and five touchdowns. O'Neal doesn't have one of the Bengals' five interceptions, but he probably draws the Moss assignment more than rookie Leon Hall or Jonathan Joseph.
With Welker lining up in the slot next to Moss most of the time, it becomes impossible for the corner to get safety help with Moss. The Bengals may have to play soft coverage and try and keep Moss in front of them. Moss could set up a big rushing game just with his presence on the field.
2. Laurence Maroney vs. Ahmad Brooks: Maroney had 125 yards last year against a better Bengals run defense. Right now, Cincinnati is giving up 5.4 yards per carry and Brooks is nursing a groin injury. Lewis believes he will play, but with little help from the defensive line, Maroney could have a big night. Look for Brady to check to the run every time Cincinnati lines up to defend the pass. Brooks will struggle to get off blocks if he's not 100 percent, and Maroney is already averaging 4.7 yards per rush.
|Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images|
|With Rudi Johnson out, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson will be an even bigger part of the Bengals' offense.|
3. Chad Johnson vs. Asante Samuel: Samuel wants a blockbuster contract and he's covering a premiere receiver in Johnson. Johnson has more receptions and receiving yards than Moss and with Rudi Johnson unavailable to run the ball, Palmer is going to have to go to his star receiver even more. Johnson did not have a touchdown against the Patriots last year and only averaged 10.0 yards per catch. Samuel will get safety help and a very good pass rush to support his efforts.
4. Mike Vrabel vs. Willie Anderson: The Patriots got after Palmer last year and they will bring the heat again from their 3-4 defense. Vrabel already has 3.5 sacks and Anderson is nursing a foot injury that kept him out of practice on Friday. The Patriots' scheme can bring pressure from anywhere, but getting Vrabel on the injured Anderson looks desirable. Keep in mind the Patriots will need to worry less about the Bengals running game with Kenny Watson in the starting role.
5. Justin Smith vs. Matt Light: Smith was the Bengals' franchise player and he has yet to record a sack this season. In fact, the Bengals have only gotten to the quarterback four times in 110 pass attempts. They may not get to Brady once in this game. Light is one of the underrated tackles in the NFL, and Brady gets rid of the ball quickly with all the targets he has on the field. Smith has a foot injury, so he's not 100 percent and he has to worry about a Patriots run game due to explode.
When the Patriots have the ball
Mention the Patriots offense to any casual football fan and you hear about Brady and Moss. They are quickly becoming a legendary tandem, but inside the numbers points to a much more balanced offense. Here's a team that scores 38 points every time they take the field, yet they run the ball 55 percent of the time, and that number may go up Monday night.
Running the ball late in games with a big lead is one thing, but taking the run every time the opponent presents the opportunity is another thing. Brady will see many run situations in this game and there will be no reason not to take advantage of what the Bengals give him. Maroney only averages 18 rushes a game, but it would not surprise me if he gets the call 25 times against a Bengals defense that couldn't stop Jamal Lewis two weeks ago.
If this game turns into a shootout with the high-powered Bengals passing attack, Brady has matchup advantages all over the field. A simple four-vertical route pass attack puts Moss, Welker, Watson and Stallworth down the field, and Watson could be the big winner in this game.
When the Bengals have the ball
The Bengals really could be 3-0, but their defense and special teams let them down. Not many teams can put up 45 points and lose, but Cincinnati did two weeks ago. And we'll never know what the Bengals offense was going to do with a last drive in Seattle because of a fumble on a return. Now the team has to face a better opponent than Cleveland or Seattle without the services of their 1,000-yard back. Palmer already averages 41.6 passes per game and he really only has two targets in Houshmandzadeh and Johnson.
Bill Belichick can look right at his team and say, 'we are going to double both receivers and blitz Palmer' and it will be a sound plan. Cincinnati has had injury issues along the offensive line and Belichick will take advantage of those problems with pressure.
The Bengals are probably going to throw the ball more than 45 times in this game, and be one-dimensional from the beginning. New England will say all the right things about respecting the Bengals' running attack prior to the game, but they already know the only way this team can go. Cincinnati is starting to think they run the ball better from the huddle rather than from the line of scrimmage, but it really doesn't matter because they should be in catch-up mode most of the night.
The bottom line
The Patriots are on a roll. They are healthy and appear to be on a mission after the video-gate issue to prove they never needed a picture to be a great team. The Bengals are not a balanced football team and injuries have taken center stage.
Cincinnati probably needs to win the turnover battle by at least two to have s shot in this game. They also need the defense to come through with an even a better performance than they had against the Ravens in Week 1 to be in this MNF game to the end.
I think there will be all kinds of great individual performances from the few stars on the Bengals' roster, but in the end the Patriots just have a better team from top to bottom and more stars than the home team. I like the Patriots to win by more than a touchdown.