It has been 10 weeks since the New England Patriots last played a game in the early window, but they will return to a 1:00 pm kickoff this Sunday: going against the 1-12 Cincinnati Bengals, the Patriots will try to add to their win column coming off two straight losses — and stay on course for a first-round bye in the postseason. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the Patriots’ Week 15 opponent.
Record: 1-12 (4th place AFC North)
Points scored: 31st (15.2 points/game)
Points against: 23rd (25.0 points/game)
Head coach: Zac Taylor
Coordinators: Brian Callahan (OC), Lou Anarumo (DC)
Games so far
Week 1 at Seattle Seahawks: L 21-20
Week 2 vs San Francisco 49ers: L 41-17
Week 3 at Buffalo Bills: L 21-17
Week 4 at Pittsburgh Steelers: L 27-3
Week 5 vs Arizona Cardinals: L 26-23
Week 6 at Baltimore Ravens: L 23-17
Week 7 vs Jacksonville Jaguars: L 27-17
Week 8 at Los Angeles Rams: L 24-10
Week 9: Bye
Week 10 vs Baltimore Ravens: L 49-13
Week 11 at Oakland Raiders: L 17-10
Week 12 vs Pittsburgh Steelers: L 16-10
Week 13 vs New York Jets: W 22-6
Week 14 at Cleveland Browns: L 27-19
With Zac Taylor serving as their new head coach, the Bengals started the year in promising fashion despite losing in Seattle: they played a competitive game in a tough environment and came within one point of the upset. However, the season derailed afterwards as the offense struggled and the defense failed to deliver enough breaks for the team to win some close contests against the Bills, Cardinals and Ravens.
Ultimately, it took until Week 13 for Taylor and his team to celebrate their first win: hosting a Jets team that played some abysmal football that day, Cincinnati came away with a 22-6 victory. However, the team went back to losing the following week when it was defeated by the Browns on the road.
Three storylines that describe the 2019 season
The 0-11 start: As noted above, the Bengals lost their first 11 games of the season and played some bad football along the way especially on offense: Cincinnati scored only 14.3 points per game and was unable to generate much momentum — despite being led by a head coach with an offensive background. On the bright side of things, the team’s terrible start positioned it well to earn the number one draft pick next year and potentially select a new franchise quarterback. Speaking of which...
The quarterback situation: Andy Dalton started the season under center, but his inconsistency was one of the main reasons for Cincinnati’s bad offensive play. After turning the football over 11 times during the first eight games of the season, Taylor had enough and benched the veteran — coincidentally on his 32nd birthday — in favor of Ryan Finley. The fourth-round rookie did not prove to be much of an upgrade, however, and was back on the bench after three games with Dalton again taking over. On the year, the Bengals’ long-time starter has completed 248 of 413 pass attempts (60.0%) for 2,757 yards and 10 touchdowns as well as nine interceptions.
The A.J. Green injury: Cincinnati has one of the most talented wide receivers in football on its roster, but he has not played a single down so far this season: Green hurt his ankle on the first day of training camp and was a virtual no-show ever since. The Bengals, however, decided not to place him on injured reserve with the hopes that he would return before Week 8. He did not, and will likely also not return to the field this week against the Patriots.
Three players to know
RB Joe Mixon: While the Bengals are a pass-first team, running back Joe Mixon has seen his fair share of action — both as a ball-carrier and a receiver. Leading the team with 1,019 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns, the performance of the third-year man has been one of the few positives for Cincinnati’s offense even though his statistics on the ground do not stand out: Mixon has carried the football 206 times for 789 yards and an average of just 3.8 yards per rushing attempt. He also scored three times and received 29 passes for 230 additional yards and three touchdowns.
WR Tyler Boyd: With A.J. Green sidelined, former second-round draft pick Tyler Boyd took over the lead receiver role — and he did so in impressive fashion. The 25-year-old, who sees most of his action in the slot, leads the Bengals in most receiving categories: he was targeted 119 times by the team’s quarterbacks so far this season, coming away with 73 catches for 833 yards and three touchdowns. He is the team’s clear top option in the passing game, and one that could be matched up with Stephon Gilmore this week.
DT Geno Atkins: While Cincinnati’s offense has struggled, the defense has actually produced some solid stretches of play this season. And no player stood out on a more consistent basis than defensive tackle Geno Atkins: the seven-time Pro Bowler leads the team with 45 quarterback disruptions, and ranks third with 4.5 sacks. New England’s interior offensive line had a hard time containing the Kansas City Chiefs’ Chris Jones last week and will now face a similar challenge in the form of Atkins.
What to watch this week
Will the Patriots bounce back amidst off-field turmoil? After losing against both the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs over the last two weeks, New England needs to get back to winning in order to stay ahead of the Chiefs in the race for a top-two playoff seed in the AFC. The team will need to do so with another videotaping scandal taking place: earlier this week, the Bengals accused the Patriots of illegally filming their sideline during a documentary shoot for their “Do Your Job” web-series. The NFL is investigating the matter, and while it should not have much of an impact on Sunday it adds intrigue to the matchup.