Tuesday, May 30 2023

You hate to see a team collapse after losing the Super Bowl. It’s one thing for a team to have enjoyed the success of making a Super Bowl — and then lose. That’s tough in itself. But it’s another thing for that team to drag its way through the following season.

Thankfully, the Bengals snapped out of their funk. 

After starting the season 2-3, there was some question whether Cincinnati might fade into irrelevance this year. They have since gone on an 8-1 tear, with wins over, among others, the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s easy to imagine that, on Christmas Eve, the New England Patriots will be next. 

The Bengals rushing attack has been a tad inconsistent, but they have proven they can throw against anyone, with quarterback Joe Burrow mounting his MVP case on a weekly basis. He has completed 68.2% of his passes for 3,885 yards, 31 touchdowns (second-best in the NFL) and 11 interceptions. Everything has suddenly started to go right for this supremely talented Bengals team.

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You can’t say the same for the Patriots, who are the definition of a middle-tier team. They have not beaten any good teams, and they’ve been inconsistent in beating other middle-tier teams. That’s not what you’d expect out of Bill Belichick, who typically coaches his way to a winning record, even with untalented rosters. 

But the ending of New England’s last game bordered upon farcical. Against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Patriots lost in truly humiliating fashion after running a hook-and-ladder play that ended up in the hands of Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones, who returned it for a walk-off, game-winning touchdown. By now you’ve seen the play, right? If you haven’t, you must.

New England’s offense has perpetually dragged down its defense, one of the top units in the NFL. The Patriots, in particular, cannot throw the ball, and the situation is so dire that everyone in New England’s fan base has stopped wondering if it’s the Chicken (playcaller Matt Patricia) or the Egg (QB Mac Jones), because there’s a growing sense that both are out of their depth.

Matchup to watch: Patriots red-zone offense vs. Bengals red-zone defense

Thanks to The Athletic’s Chad Graff, we know the following things about New England’s offense. The Patriots are averaging 2.3 red-zone trips per game, the lowest by any Patriots team in Belichick’s tenure. They are averaging 18.4 points per game, which is Belichick’s second-worst total, above only the 2000 squad that went 5-11. 

Meanwhile, the Bengals have a middling offense in terms of yardage allowed on defense, but they are top 10 in points allowed. The only way the Patriots remain in this contest is by upending their recent red-zone history. And given that the Bengals are strong in that area, it could get ugly.

Key stats: The Bengals have not won in New England since 1986, with Cincinnati losing the past seven games there. But the Bengals have won six straight games this season, their longest winning streak since they began the 2015 season 8-0. During the streak the Bengals are scoring 30.5 points per game.

Prediction: It’s probably not going to be close. The Bengals are simply more talented and are playing at a higher level. They might even be better coached, which is something I never thought I’d write about a team playing against Bill Belichick. But Belichick has simply been unable to get Jones playing at a high level. Unless the Patriots show something they haven’t shown all year, this is an easy Cincy win.

Bengals 27, Patriots 12

Cincinnati Bengals


New England Patriots


Top stories from FOX Sports:

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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