On the heels of back-to-back losses, the New England Patriots hope a game against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals will be the remedy they need to get back on track. Kickoff is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 15 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Fans in local markets can watch the game on CBS.
Current betting odds list the Patriots as 9.5-point favorites on the road with an over/under of 40.5 points. Click here to check out all of this week’s NFL betting odds.
Despite starting the season 8-0, the Patriots knew their schedule would eventually become more challenging. Thus far, New England hasn’t responded particularly well to the uptick in competition level. The Patriots have just two wins this year over teams that have a winning record and none since Week 4. Perhaps more importantly, they have suffered losses to the Ravens, Texans, and Chiefs, who are their three biggest competitors in the AFC this season.
Nevertheless, the Patriots are 10-3 and sit atop the AFC East standings. However, the Bills, who they’ll host next week, are just a game behind them. New England will also be hard-pressed to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and even a first-round bye isn’t assured just yet. On the bright side, the Patriots play the Bengals and Dolphins late in the season, giving them a chance to win at least 12 games and get some of their swagger back before the playoffs.
As for the Bengals, they are just two weeks removed from their first win of the season. Alas, it was business as usual last week in a 27-19 loss to the Browns. In that game, Cincinnati out-gained the Browns by over 100 yards and won the turnover battle. However, they managed just one touchdown, settling for four field goals, as they failed to turn statistical domination into another win.
At the moment, the Bengals are still in line to finish with the worst record in football and earn the top overall pick in next year’s draft. They’ll face the Dolphins next week and get another crack at the Browns in Week 17. However, it’s hard to imagine Cincinnati finishing the season with more than one or two wins under rookie head coach Zac Taylor.
Of course, there’s an added subplot to this game with the Patriots once again being accused of cheating. The club has admitted that they had a film crew at last week’s Browns-Bengals game, which is a violation of league rules. The Patriots say the film crew was there for a web series and didn’t do anything inappropriate. Nevertheless, the NFL is looking into the matter. If nothing else, the optics are bad given New England’s history trying to skirt the rules.
Picking this game is all about how far you think the Patriots have fallen in recent weeks. Personally, I don’t think much has changed for New England. They’ve struggled to beat quality teams with elite quarterback play, but the Patriots have handled inferior opponents all season. Tom Brady and company have no doubt heard the whispers after back-to-back losses. But all that means is that Brady and company will be a little angry and looking to make a statement. To me, that translates to a lopsided win, so I’ll lean toward New England to cover.
The Bengals may not be winless anymore, but they are still arguably the worst team in the NFL. Most notably, they have the worst run defense in the league. That should help the Patriots get their struggling rushing attack jumpstarted after a couple of lackluster performances. Between Sony Michel and James White, New England has the talent to expose a poor rush defense. If the Patriots can get back to running the ball effectively, it should help Brady get right after four straight games in which he’s completed less than 60% of his passes.
Meanwhile, the New England defense is still among the best in football. Naturally, the Patriots have had a hard time in recent weeks. But facing Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes will do that to a lot of defenses. On the season, the Patriots are still giving up less than 13 points per game. Plus, if you look past the recent losses, the New England defense fared well against the Texans and Chiefs the past two weeks. There’s no reason to think the sky is falling after a couple of losses.
I have little doubt that the Patriots should be able to handle a limited Cincinnati offense. Mobile quarterbacks who can evade pressure have been a problem this year, but that won’t be the case with Andy Dalton this week. Dalton has completed less than 60% of his passes in his two games since being reinstated as the starter, so he’s been nothing special despite being a better option than Ryan Finley. Also, keep in mind that A.J. Green isn’t back from injury yet and even 146 rushing yards from Joe Mixon last week wasn’t enough to get the Bengals into the end zone more than once. That doesn’t bode well for the Bengals against a quality defensive team this week.
If the Patriots end up struggling this week, I’ll admit that there’s a problem in New England. But I still don’t think there is a need for the Patriots to panic. They’re still a top-10 team facing the worst of the worst. On paper, the Patriots should have no problem winning by double figures, so I’ll eat the points and take New England to cover.