Bill Belichick hasn't shied away from showering the Cincinnati Bengals in praise heading into the New England Patriots' Week 5 matchup, but folks on Twitter aren't buying into it.
New England’s coach was quite generous in his midweek comments, referring to a Bengals offense that put up six measly points last week in Cleveland as “explosive”. He also compared defensive tackle Geno Atkins to Hall of Famer John Randle. “But,” he says, “[Atkins] is more powerful”.
Only Belichick knows his complete intentions for such comments—to be fair, they aren’t completely out of line—but he has made it clear that the 4-0 Patriots will not overlook a Cincinnati team that has struggled with consistency this season.
Vegas oddsmakers also see the potential for the 2-2 Bengals to bite the Patriots Sunday in Cincinnati, opening with the Bengals as one-point favorites in Week 5.
Bettors haven’t had the same faith, though, as the line has been trimmed throughout the week and currently sits at one. That reflects the prevailing views on social media that scoffed at Cincinnati being favored.
Truth is, New England should feel vulnerable to suffer its first loss this week as a rash of injuries will keep several key players sidelined.
Vince Wilfork’s season-ending torn Achilles tendon will impair a defense that has allowed 346.0 yards per game so far. He is replaced by Chris Jones, who has drawn praise out of the Patriots camp this week but has also already been cut twice in his first NFL season.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola are listed as questionable, but reports say Gronkowski is unlikely to make his season-debut this week. Running back Stevan Ridley hasn’t practiced this week and has been ruled out.
Something tells me Tom Brady will find a way to move the ball with whomever he has on the field with him. If Amendola doesn’t play, Austin Collie’s midweek signing will prove to be just the splash the Patriots need to keep the offense going.
Don’t look for Collie to set the world on fire, but, at the very least, he brings a veteran presence to a young receiving corps.
And with Leon Hall out, Cincinnati’s secondary will have a hard time covering all of New England’s receivers.
For the Bengals to win this game, Andy Dalton is going to need to be better. It hasn’t been all bad for Dalton, but he does have six turnovers to his name (four interceptions, two fumbles lost).
The key matchup that will swing the game is on the outside—WR A.J. Green against CBs Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard.
Green had a huge game out of the gates in Week 1 against Chicago but has cooled off a bit since. He has averaged 11.2 yards per catch, but look for Dalton to find him for a deep ball this week.
Another interesting matchup I’m excited to see is Giovani Bernard against the Patriots’ front seven. Bernard has shown some spark in his rookie season, but he hasn’t had that breakout game.
And he isn’t going to get it against the Patriots.
New England will miss Wilfork in the middle of the defense, but the rest of the line has played well. The linebackers hold this defense together, though. Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo have slowly developed into one of the better units in the NFL.
The difference in this game is that Cincinnati needs it and the Patriots don’t.
Sure, Miami is right on New England’s heels in the AFC East, but Cincinnati is too talented to be behind the Browns for too long.
My prediction is that the Bengals, losers of seven of the last eight games against the Patriots, put things together at home this week to hand Belichick and Brady their first loss this season.
Tweeters may not believe me, but Cincinnati is a much better team than what has been shown this year. With the AFC North seemingly up for grabs this year, I expect the Bengals to show up for this one and move to 3-2.