Posts Tagged ‘Cincinnati Bengals’

The NFL media has already begun forecasting doom and gloom on Foxboro’s team after New England visited Arrowhead stadium and got flattened 41-14. Brady looked like a senile old man at times in Kansas City throwing a late pass to Edelman when he could have dived for the first down. But that’s splitting hairs in a horrific loss for New England created by their inability to stop Jamaal Charles and their inability to protect their passer. Belichick’s Belichickian insistence on not overpaying for aging talent (and trading 6-time pro-bowler Logan Mankins) seems to have come at the worst time possible as the Patriots offensive line is struggling severely. For all we know, Mankins would have gotten injured just the same or his level of play would be just as poor as the rest of the line’s and New England would be sitting in a similar spot. But the world will never know. The world only knows that New England’s offensive line is definitely struggling without him.

The lack of pass protection only highlights the Patriots’ lack of receiving weapons. Gone are the days when the Patriots had Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and a spritely Wes Welker to dissect opposing secondaries. In 2014, their top receiving threat is a tie between ever-injured Rob Gronkowski and underwhelming Julian Edelman. Losing to the Chiefs (a strong AFC playoff team) on their turf shouldn’t be too shocking. Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith have decades of big game experience between them.

Negativity aside, the Patriots weren’t exactly towering football behemoths at the start of 2014. Sure, the signing of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner look great on paper. But these guys can’t play on the line, and they don’t catch any passes. The Patriots two greatest areas of needs. The Patriots are certainly a capable team, but they can’t force their will on opponents like they used to. They need to play to their strengths. And no one can do that better than salty captain of the ship Bill Belichick.

New England hosts undefeated Cincinnati next Sunday night at home. A win in Foxborough would re-energize the embattled Patriots team, but first they’ll have to earn it.

Aside from key divisional match-ups (Miami and N.Y. Jets) and the occasional trap game (Detroit, San Diego) New England has five regular season games to establish their 2014 “clout” among the other heavyweights of the NFL. Fortunately for New England three of these games are home in “friendly” Foxboro Stadium.

Week 5: 10/5 vs. Cincinnati Bengals – New England gets CB Brandon Browner back from suspension just in time for their week five contest against Cincinnati. Hopefully Browner will be ready to jump right in and and put the brakes on one of Cincinnati’s first round tight ends or end-zone threat Marvin Jones. Andy Dalton’s quarterback woes have been well documented and New England’s suddenly strong secondary matches up well with Cincinnati’s one-man (A.J. Green and friends) show in the passing game. New England’s greatest struggle may be containing running backs shifty Giovani Bernard and bruising Jeremy Hill. Cincinnati has a top offensive line (according to profootballfocus.com) and will put the Patriots front seven to the test.

Week 8: 10/26 vs. Chicago Bears – Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner will have an exciting match up against the top wide receiving duo in the NFL. Chicago’s defense looks to improve on their dreadful performance from 2013, Chicago’s one Achilles’ Heel are the safeties which Brady will look to expose with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Chicago may be choosing between 2013 underperformers Chris Conte, M.D. Jennings (a Green Bay castoff) and Brock Vereen a rookie to start at safety. New England will also need to contain ageless wonder Jared Allen from putting pressure on a 37 year old Tom Brady. The health of Rob Gronkowski will make a huge difference for New England’s ability to move the chains against Chicago’s improved defense.

Week 9: 11/2 vs. Denver Broncos – A rematch from 2013, New England got lucky waiting for Denver to make a special teams gaffe that cost them the game. New England ended up winning in classic New England fashion, by kicking their opponent to death at the very last second. A (presumably) healthy Revis and Browner should put up more of a fight than Aqib Talib was able to. Obviously pressuring Manning and taking away his favorite targets will be key to New England’s victory. On offense the Patriots will need to establish the run game against a fierce group of pass rushers and defensive backs (Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and rookie Bradley Roby). New England’s receiving corps won’t scare anybody unless one of their young talents can step in in year two (and if they can force Denver to honor their running game).

Week 11: 11/16 @ Indianapolis Colts – New England pummeled Indianapolis in the playoffs with battering ram LeGarrette Blount. New England will have to choose between fumble-ridden Stevan Ridley and inexperienced fullback James Develin to start a runner that weighs more than 205 lbs. Indianapolis has been inconsistent in the past but can hang with the best of the NFL when playing at the top of their game. Picking on a first time starter at SS for Indianapolis and looking for the screen pass to take advantage of an overly-aggressive pass rush may be New England’s best strategy in Indianapolis. Indy may not be so exposed against the run as they were last season with the addition of former Brown ILB D’Qwell Jackson.

On defense New England will need to contain an underrated group of wideouts in Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks, and rookie Donte Moncrief. Indianapolis also has a pair of young tight ends (Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen) and basketball standout Erik Swoope who could provide coverage mismatches for New England’s defense. Brandon Browner and the rest of the NE secondary will have their hands full trying to contain the group of tall athletes.

Week 13: 11/30 @ Green Bay Packers – Green Bay routinely puts a quality product on the field and 2014 looks to be no different. Green Bay has a host of young rookies who could develop quickly into downfield receiving threats. Davante Adams had video game receiving numbers at Fresno State with over twenty receiving touchdowns in 2013. Sure-handed Jared Abbrederis’s received praise for his finesse in route running and 6’4″ Jeff Janis could prove troublesome to cover. And then there’s Cal TE Richard Rodgers who could become Green Bay’s replacement for the oft-injured Jermichael Finley. New England has depth enough at secondary and has a fighting chance against a strong and dynamic Green Bay roster if they can (again) take advantage of a rookie safety in Ha Ha Clinton Dix and establish a running offense with Ridley and the gang.

 

New England’s chances of returning to the postseason (as usual) rely on their ability to stay healthy and for their young talent to make strides in the passing game. New England’s window of opportunity to hoist another Lombardi trophy is closing and Bill Belichick will have to devise his best schemes yet to stay ahead of the competition.

 

The dust has settled. The draft’s finished. Houston sent in the clown. Here are some of my predictions for the 2014 season for the AFC North.

Cleveland just okay, not great

I predicted Cleveland would become a playoff team on the assumption that Cleveland would draft wide receivers early and often. And that troubled-superstar Josh Gordon would be on the field. Cleveland failed to draft one wide receiver. Not even in the later rounds. They could’ve taken Odell Beckham at number eight. Instead they’re looking at Miles Austin, Earl Bennett, and Andrew Hawkins duking it out for starting jobs at wideout. Cue the laughter. Maybe in 2015 Cleveland will be a power team. They could draft Amari Cooper and Josh Gordon will be back.

The way things are now, Ben Tate will get injured about week six, and the Browns will be relying on a couple of rookies on offense (Manziel, Terrance West) to keep them in games. Maybe the Browns go 8-8, but they don’t look like a playoff caliber team anymore.

Pittsburgh returns to relevance

The Steelers reestablished their brand with a pair of tough defensive linemen (Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers) and athletic linebackers (Ryan Shazier, Jordan Zumwalt) in the draft. Shaquille Richardson and Wesley Johnson should help stabilize positions of need. Wide Receiver Martavis Bryant should fight for the number two spot with Markus Wheaton and both will play a major role in the offense with Lance Moore stepping in as a role player. Dri Archer is a natural complement to bruising LeVeon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Pittsburgh’s offense will have greater ability to spread defenses out and ultimately win double-digit games this season. I expect week seventeen to be the deciding match for the Steelers and Bengals to win the AFC North.

Cincinnati – Searching for an identity

Cincinnati has a strong defense with inconsistent QB play. The drafting of Jeremy Hill suggests the Bengals want to be a power run team..? A.J. Green and the Gresham/Eifert duo combine for a strong passing attack. WR Marvin Jones has demonstrated a nose for the endzone with ten touchdowns on only 51 receptions. Cincinnati can get by on talent against the NFL’s weaker teams, but to stay competitive against Baltimore and Pittsburgh they’ll have to get more consistent. The drafting of A.J. McCarron sends a clear signal to Andy Dalton that his job is not secure without improvement. If Dalton plays like Dalton, expect to see Cincinnati end the season with 9-10 wins.

Baltimore at a crossroads

A healthy Dennis Pitta, bringing in Steve Smith and the drafting of Mike Campanaro into the offense should help Ravens fans forget about the offensive ineptitude that plagued Baltimore in 2013. Colorado State TE Crockett Gilmore looks like he’ll replace departed Ed Dickson. Ray Rice, even if he misses no time struggled last season. We may see Bernard Pierce taking more handoffs with Rice’s on and off-the-field struggles.

Baltimore added three potential starters with their first three selections in C.J. Mosley, Timmy Jernigan, and Terrence Brooks. If Baltimore can stay healthy, they can make the AFC North one of the toughest divisions in football. The Ravens have a very beatable schedule. Baltimore should near the 9-10 win mark like Cincinnati in 2014.