Today, the 4-0 New England Patriots travel to Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati to take on the 2-2 Bengals. Kick-off will be at 1:00 PM ET on CBS. There is expected to be heavy rain, and possibly thunderstorms for today's game.
The Bengals are looking to jump back into the win column after a weak performance against the Browns last Sunday. Their offense could only muster six points against a strong Browns defense. Nonetheless, expectations were high in Cincinnati after Baltimore and Pittsburgh seemingly took steps backwards in the offseason. Now, with a .500 record, the Bengals face a tough test at home against the Patriots
When the Patriots are on offense
In this game, protection is going to be key. The Bengals have one of the most explosive front fours in all of football, led by defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, and defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The Patriots are going to need to protect quarterback Tom Brady as the passing game's success will be dictated in large part to how the Patriots' book-ends, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, can hold up. The line has done a very solid job in pass protection thus far in 2013, but this will be their toughest test yet.
The Patriots are extremely banged up at the receiver position heading into this one, but are expected to get Danny Amendola back, at least in a limited role. That will help, and it will be interesting to see how the Patriots use Amendola and the finally-emerged Julian Edelman together. One area where the Patriots could take advantage of the Bengals is at cornerback, where the Bengals are expected to be missing Leon Hall.
In the running game, the Patriots will be without lead cog Stevan Ridley. LeGarrette Blount is expected to carry the load of the running offense in his absence.
When the Patriots are on defense
The Bengals have one of the better young quarterback-receiver connections in the league in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Green has emerged as one of the league's elite at receiver, and will likely be the focus of the Patriots plan to slow Cincinnati, much like against Julio Jones and the Falcons last week.
Cincinnati did take a page out of the Patriots book this past April when they selected tight end Tyler Eifert - giving them a strong duo of tight ends much like the one the Patriots used to have. They have accounted for a higher percentage of the Bengals receptions than any other tight end group in the NFL. The Patriots don't have great coverage linebackers, so it will be intriguing to see how the Patriots defend this duo.
In the running game, the Bengals have begun the process of moving away from former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis as they have explosive rookie Giovani Bernard.
The Bengals do all of this behind one of the best offensive lines in football, led by left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been awful when under pressure this season and teams have had some success when blitzing, so it will be interesting to see how the Patriots manufacture a rush. Certainly, the Whitworth vs. Chandler Jones match-up bears watching. But I also would like to see what the Patriots do up the middle with Vince Wilfork out for the season.
Game Time: 1:00 PM ET
TV Schedule: CBS, regional audience
Bengals Coverage: Cincy Jungle
Streaming: On demand via NFL Game Rewind, live via DirecTV