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Scouting the Matchup: Brady too much for Bengals

With Tom Brady back under center the Patriots offense has too many weapons for Cincinnati to handle.


The recent return of linebacker Vontaze Burfict has helped stabilize Cincinnati's run defense, which finished among the top 10 in the NFL a year ago. Cincinnati struggled with its top run-stuffer on the shelf for the first three weeks of 2016 but has been improving each week. The Patriots leaned heavily on LeGarrette Blount and the running game while Tom Brady served his four-game suspension, but with Brady back in the fold, Blount's opportunities figure to dwindle until the weather turns in late November and December. Since they moved Rey Maualuga to middle linebacker in 2011 and added Burfict a year later, the Bengals have allowed the fewest 100-yard rushers in the NFL. This is a tough team to run against, despite Dallas' performance a week ago, and the Patriots would be wise to look elsewhere for yards, especially following Blount's subpar performance in Week 5. Advantage: BENGALS


The Bengals appear to be insistent on establishing the run despite the fact they've ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing for most of the season. Giovani Bernard has become the second option in Cincinnati, replaced by Jeremy Hill as the top workhorse in the running game, but both are averaging fewer than 4 yards per carry. The emphasis to pick up yards and move the chains falls on the passing game, which leaves this offense one-dimensional. The Patriots are a hard team to read defensively. They've been largely effective against the run and figure to tighten up with Dont'a Hightower back in the lineup and Elandon Roberts emerging as a contributor. They limited the league's No. 1 rushing team to just 27 yards in Week 5, and the Bengals aren't anywhere near as efficient running the football. Advantage: PATRIOTS


With Brady back in the lineup, the Patriots finally resemble the efficient, quick-strike offense opposing defenses have grown accustomed to seeing over the past decade. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman both benefited from Brady's return in Week 5, and that figures to continue as the season progresses. The Bengals have been up and down defensively this year. They've been stout against the run and their defensive line has been one of the best in the league at applying pressure, but they've also allowed way too many big plays in the passing game, a sign of poor communication coupled with poor coverage in the secondary. The Patriots aren't necessarily a big-play offense, but they feast on teams that suffer breakdowns, and there's a strong chance they'll have opportunities to strike it rich on Sunday. Advantage: PATRIOTS


The Bengals boast one of the league's top receivers in A.J. Green, a constant big-play threat who has set records in his first five seasons in the NFL and is the type of player who will post eye-popping numbers regardless of who's trying to shut him down. This is an area of concern for the New England secondary. The Patriots had problems with Larry Fitzgerald in Week 1 and got picked apart by a mediocre Miami passing game the following Sunday. They're capable of more but haven't reached their full potential outside of a small sample size of dominance. Shutting down Green is the top priority, but quarterback Andy Dalton also likes to utilize his running backs in the passing game, particularly Bernard, who is great in space. This could become a shootout if the Patriots don't start rushing the passer with more ferocity, which could happen considering how poorly the Bengals offensive line has performed thus far. Advantage: BENGALS


The Bengals have stumbled a bit this year on special teams. Since 2011, they finished among the league's top 10 teams in the kicking game but have hovered around the middle of the pack for most of 2016. More importantly, the average starting field position for the offense is down this year, while opposing offenses have enjoyed better starting field position due to poor coverage in the kicking game. The Patriots have been erratic this year; they forced two fumbles on returns against the Texans yet slipped up the following week against Buffalo due to poor decision-making on kickoff returns. Regardless, the Patriots remain one of the few teams whose attention to detail on special teams makes them a triple threat each week, and Stephen Gostkowski, despite missing three field goals already, is still a weapon on kickoffs and field goals. Advantage: PATRIOTS


The Bengals have been horrific in the postseason under Marvin Lewis and equally ineffective in high-leverage or prime time games. While this Week 6 matchup doesn't necessarily qualify as a big game by typical standards, playing the Patriots is always a measuring stick for opposing teams, and the Bengals have never really delivered under these circumstances. Think back to 2014 when the Patriots hosted the Bengals following a disastrous loss to Kansas City. The infamous "We're onto Cincinnati" game turned into a rout and sparked New England's turnaround en route to another Super Bowl. The Patriots have lost once already at home this year, but that was without Brady. Now that he's back in the fold, presumably for good, the Patriots are always going to be a tough out at Gillette Stadium.  Advantage: PATRIOTS

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