New England Patriots (4-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-2)
In 2011 and 2012, the Bengals were 18-4 against non-playoff teams and 1-11 against playoff teams. However, I think this is the most talented Bengals team of the three so when they beat the Packers, despite losing the turnover battle, I felt they had turned a corner and gotten their signature win. Of course, last week they turned around and got blown out by the Browns 17-6. It’s possible that the Bengals were just flat off of a huge loss and/or caught looking forward to another benchmark game against the Patriots the following week, but I’m not going to pretend to understand this team after going 0-3-1 ATS picking their games thus far this season (36-20-1 ATS on every other team’s games).
The Patriots definitely look like a playoff team and the type of team the Bengals have ordinarily had trouble beating. If they play like they did against Green Bay, they can definitely win here though. The Patriots are lucky to be 4-0. They’ve had a very easy schedule and 3 of their wins have come by a touchdown or less. However, they’ve gotten better every week, culminating in a win in Atlanta last week in which they had a 99% chance of winning with 6 minutes left, before a failed onside kick recover gave them a scare late and got it within a touchdown. Kenbrell Thompkins has stepped up as a go to receiver for Tom Brady, alongside Julian Edelman. Brady’s week 4 performance, 20 of 31 for 316 yards and 2 scores, was by far his best of the season.
The Patriots have also been unlucky in terms of injuries and they will almost definitely only get healthier from here. Danny Amendola is expected to return this week to give Brady another weapon. The Bengals’ defense is better than the Falcons’ defense, but they’ll be without top cornerback Leon Hall again with injury so the Patriots could definitely put points up on the board. The Patriots do still have injuries though. Shane Vereen is still on injured reserve with designation to return. Rob Gronkowski is not expected back until next week so the Patriots still won’t get much from the tight end position, but they can spread things out with 3 wide receivers in Edelman, Thompkins, and Amendola. Stevan Ridley is also out, but Ridley hasn’t done anything this year that LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden can’t do.
The big blow for the Patriots was the loss of Vince Wilfork defensively. Wilfork tore his Achilles against Atlanta and is out for the season. The defense has been as good as it’s been in years for the Patriots thus far this year. They are allowing opponents to move the chains on 66% of opportunities, 3rd best in the NFL behind the Jets and Saints. They haven’t played a tough schedule of offenses, but they were 9th in opponent’s scoring last year with a young defense and presumably their defensive play could have translated to tougher opponents to an extent. Losing Wilfork hurts.
Not only is he the veteran leader of the defense, but they don’t have anyone else who can even come close to what he does. Wilfork doesn’t rush the passer, but he ties up blockers and is impossible to move. Defensive tackle is the Patriots’ thinnest position so now 2 of the Patriots’ top-3 defensive tackles are undrafted free agents, while the other is Tommy Kelly, an aged veteran who struggled in Oakland last year, but has thus far played well in New England. Still, the Patriots have plenty of solid defensive players, particularly in pass defense.
They should be able to take away AJ Green as much as you can, with Aqib Talib and bracket coverage and that will make life very tough for Andy Dalton, who looked terrible last week with Joe Haden blanketing his go to receiver. Dalton completed 23 of 42 for 206 yards and a pick. He could struggle once again this week and my gut says to go against Andy Dalton against a good team and that the Patriots are still a little underrated. I’m not confident at all though.
New England Patriots 23 Cincinnati Bengals 20
Pick against spread: New England PK