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Potential Division Round Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

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Previewing a potential matchup with the Bengals for the AFC Divisional Round.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots have the #2 seed, which means they won't be facing Denver or Pittsburgh in the Divisional Round. The toughest potential matchup was taken off the board when the Steelers took the last playoff spot after the New York Jets choked against Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. With the Jets out of the picture, that meant no AFC East team would play the Patriots in the postseason. Of the three possible opponents, only the Houston Texans have seen the Patriots this year. The first potential opponent being previewed is the Cincinnati Bengals, since they are the #3 seed.

The last time the Patriots played the Bengals, Bill Belichick's midweek press conference went viral for this four-worded answer. The Bengals are a team ripe for the picking with a banged up secondary and an injury to their starting QB. The Patriots are also heavily banged up, but do get players returning for the game. Of course, that's assuming they make it past Pittsburgh, who can exploit that very same issue with their receiving corps. If the Bengals defeat the Steelers, then they are 100% guaranteed to play the Patriots as they are the highest seed playing in the Wild Card round.

Key Injuries to Monitor:

  • Bengals QB Andy Dayton
  • Bengals S George Iloka
  • Patriots WR Julian Edelman
  • Patriots LT Sebastian Vollmer
  • Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower
Key Coverage Matchup:
  • Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty vs. AJ Green
  • Bengals S and LB vs. Rob Gronkowski
The Patriots OL does not match up well against Cincinnati's pass rush, so the Patriots need to turn this into a 7-on-7 drill if they can. The Patriots receivers do hold an edge against the Bengals DBS with Edelman coming back from injury. It will likely come down to how Gronk attacks the middle of the field that could decide the game for the Patriots. If Gronk has a strong game, then the Patriots will come away with a win. A controlled passing attack along with the right mix of runs should keep the Bengals off-balance arly if they have to cover the entire width of the field.

On the other side of the ball, the Bengals have a veteran OL with lots of continuity playing together. It will be likely the best unit the Patriots could face all season. The Bengals also feature a two-headed monster at RB with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Bernard gives defensive coordinators nightmares in the passing game. Bernard destroys Linebacker coverage and is impossible to tackle in space, which could cause problems for Jamie Collins. The WR vs. CB matchup is fairly simplistic to guess. The Patriots double Green with Ryan underneath, Butler gets Marvin Jones, and Justin Coleman covering Mohammed Sanu. I believe the Bengals are too tough an offense that they will be able to win some battles. The true Wild Card is if Prime Time Andy Dalton shows up.