New England Patriots vs. Cincinnati Bengals: NFL Week 6 game preview, prediction
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 15-9. New England is 9-2 all-time against the Bengals at home, including a 43-17 win in 2014. The series dates to the old American Football League with the inaugural game played at Fenway Park in 1968 when Cincinnati was an expansion franchise.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals have not won at New England since 1986. The Patriots won nine of 11 meetings at home. For Cincinnati, winning at Gillette Stadium in Pats QB Tom Brady's home debut this season will be a major challenge, especially following a loss at Dallas. But the Bengals must respond because falling to 2-4 would put Cincinnati in dire straits in terms of contending in the AFC North and reaching the postseason for a sixth consecutive season.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton has been sacked 17 times through five games, perhaps the most telling statistic outlining the Bengals' struggles on the offensive line.
Conversely, Brady threw for 406 yards to lead the Patriots to a 33-13 win last Sunday afternoon in his return from the four-game Deflategate suspension. It was a classic New England passing attack that earned Brady AFC Player of the Week honors (his 27th such honor) as the 39-year-old made it clear that he still shows no signs of aging despite his delayed 2016 debut.
ROSTER MOVES: The Patriots signed defensive linemen Geneo Grissom and Anthony Johnson to the 53-man roster from the practice squad ahead of Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals
Linebacker Jonathan Freeny and tight end Greg Scruggs were placed on injured reserve.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Patriots CB Malcolm Butler vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green. Butler, who intercepted two passes in the Super Bowl in 2014, likely will spend a lot of time covering Green, who has 36 catches for 518 yards and two touchdowns this season. Butler has 19 PD since 2015, most on team.
--Patriots TE Martellus Bennett vs. Cincinnati's linebackers and secondary. Rob Gronkowski is a household name, but Bennett gives the Pats an almost unstoppable one-two punch. Marty, as he is called, leads the team with 314 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals WR Brandon LaFell. This former Patriots standout missed most of the preseason with a hand injury, but appears to be comfortable in his new offense. Through five games, LaFell has 21 catches for 276 yards and two touchdowns, on pace to have the finest season since 2011 by any Bengals receiver not named A.J. Green. LaFell was signed in the offseason to provide veteran cover for Green following the departures of free agents Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The Bengals don't expect LaFell to return to his 2014 form (74 catches, 953 yards, 7 TDs for Patriots), but, coming off an injury-riddled 2015 campaign, he looks better each week.
INJURY REPORT: Cincinnati -- Out: TE Tyler Eifert (back, ankle). New England -- Out: LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder), TE Greg Scruggs (knee). Questionable: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle), RB LeGarrette Blount (hip), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), T Marcus Cannon (calf), LB Jamie Collins (hip), WR Julian Edelman (foot), QB Jimmy Garoppolo (right shoulder), TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring, illness), LB Shea McClellin (concussion), WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring), G Joe Thuney (shoulder), DT Vincent Valentine (back).
FAST FACTS: Cincinnati won 10 straight games when Dalton had a rating of 100 or better, but that streak ended when the Bengals lost at Dallas (38-14) despite Dalton's 104.6 passer rating. ... The Bengals went 17 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher before the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 134 yards. ... Brady has 195 wins (regular and post-season) as a starter, trailing only Brett Favre (199) and Peyton Manning (200) for most in NFL history. ... RB Le Garrette Blount is tied for 3rd in NFL with 5 TDs rushing and ranks 4th in AFC with 389 yards rushing.
PREDICTION: Brady's home opener in wake of Deflategate debacle is probably not good for any visiting team.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 28-17.