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Potential Playoff Opponents: Bengals 01.06.16 at 10:54 pm ET
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Tyler Eifert could be as important to the Bengals as Rob Gronkowski is to the Patriots. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

Tyler Eifert could be as important to the Bengals as Rob Gronkowski is to the Patriots. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

With the playoff picture set, it’s time to size up the possible postseason opponents for the Patriots. We started with the Texans, moved onto the Chiefs. Now, it’s time to size up the Bengals.

The skinny: This is the moment Marvin Lewis and the Bengals have been waiting for. They are back in the playoffs for a franchise-best fifth straight season. They have won the AFC North for the fourth time since 2005. But as everyone knows by now, their story won’t really begin until they win a playoff game. They have lost seven straight playoff games, dating back to the game against the Raiders that ended Bo Jackson‘s career in Jan. 1991 in Los Angeles. Lewis has changed the culture from the 1990s but hasn’t produced a single postseason win in six tries. They lost both games with Carson Palmer as their quarterback (2005,’09). They have lost the last four with Andy Dalton at quarterback (2011-14). Now, thanks to Dalton attempting to tackle a 310-pound defensive lineman with his throwing shoulder and hand, AJ McCarron likely gets the shot on Saturday night against the arch-nemesis Steelers. The Bengals posted their best season in the 13-year tenure of Lewis, going 12-4. The previous two times they’ve won 12 games, they lost to San Francisco in the Super Bowl. This is clearly the deepest and most skilled Bengals team in the Lewis era, and arguably the most-balanced team in the AFC. They were a missed second-quarter Mike Nugent field goal away from beating the Broncos in Denver that would’ve given them the overall No. 1 seed. But as any Bengals fan knows, the little things hurt them in the end and now they must beat a Steelers team in Cincinnati. It would be sweet revenge against a team that tore Carson Palmer‘s ACL in a similar playoff meeting in Jan. 2006 and sidelined Dalton on Dec. 13.

Offense: On a team loaded with weapons in both the passing (A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert) and running (Gio Bernard, Jeremy Hill) games, the offensive line is arguably the most important unit. They allowed just 32 sacks this season and kept Andy Dalton very clean during the team’s 8-0 start. The Bengals placed a priority late in the season on getting Hill going, as his numbers were down from his rookie season of 2014. After gaining 1,124 yards in his rookie year, he gained just 794 yards while carrying the rock nearly an identical number of times (222 in ’14, 223 this season). But the biggest difference in the offense this season is tight end Tyler Eifert. He sat out most of ’14 injured but this season, he was the favorite red zone target of Dalton and a huge reason why Dalton was getting MVP consideration midway through the season. He caught 13 touchdown passes, the most of any tight end in football (Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed tied with 11), despite missing two games with a concussion and another with a stinger.

Defense: The Bengals are led by an impact player at each level of the defense. On the defensive line, they have arguably the most disruptive and athletic defensive tackle in football in Geno Atkins. The sixth-year player out of Georgia finished with 11 sacks, tied with Aaron Donald (Rams) and Kawann Short (Panthers) as the most of any defensive tackle in football this season. He was recently diagnosed with sickle cell, a condition that limited his snaps in an overtime loss in Denver. Throw in fellow tackle Domata Peko and ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, and the Bengals can bring plenty of pressure without blitzing. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has refined his game and leads a very athletic and dynamic group of linebackers. Burfict is constantly around the ball and a fearsome tackler. The Bengals secondary has matured around the leadership of cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones. What might have once been thought laughable, Jones (3 interceptions) has helped lead younger corners like Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard (IR) along with veteran DB Leon Hall, who is now more of a slot corner. The safeties are big-time playmakers and ball hawks in George Iloka, Reggie Nelson (8 interceptions) and Shawn Williams.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, A.J. Green, AJ McCarron, Andy Dalton
Darrelle Revis isn’t letting on if he’s going to be ‘man’-ing up against Sammy Watkins 10.11.14 at 9:05 am ET
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FOXBORO — Sammy Watkins may think that he’ll be shadowed all day by Darrelle Revis but the Patriots corner isn’t letting on.

Told Friday that Watkins said that he’s learned he’ll be on Revis Island on Sunday in Buffalo, Revis said he’s not giving away any secrets to the game plan.

“I don’t know,” Revis said. “I don’t know what he heard or what he’s been told. It really doesn’t matter to me.

“I can’t tell you the game plan. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday. I’m looking forward to us getting the win. That’s the main goal. We go up there as a team and we do great in all three phases and hopefully come out with a win.”

Revis also downplayed the suggestion that he’s finally being allowed to play more man-to-man coverage.

“Whatever the coaches bring to the table with the game plan and what’s best for the defense,” he said. “That’s what’s most important is whatever is best for the defense. We all do our job collectively. It’s all on the defense, what we can do the best.

“I take one week at a time. Whatever my assignment is, it is. I just have to go out there and play and compete. As a defense, we have to compete and play. It’s a challenge but at the same time, you go out there and you just execute your job. I’m just happy to play Sunday. That’s my motto. I’m just happy to be playing and playing on Sunday.”

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Read More: A.J. Green, Buffalo Bills, Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick: Patriots ‘stuck together as a team and supported each other’ 10.06.14 at 1:20 pm ET
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Emotion can often be a false flag when it comes to forecasting the success or failure of a football team, but it certainly appeared that it played a sizable role for the Patriots on Sunday night.

In the wake of last Monday’s drubbing at the hands of the Chiefs, there was a palpable sense of energy surrounding New England. Whether it was provided by quarterback Tom Brady (who played as if his hair was on fire for much of the early going), the Gillette Stadium crowd (one of the loudest in recent memory) or the collective efforts of a team trying to erase the memory of one of the worst losses in recent franchise history, it was in abundance for the Patriots in the 43-17 win.

Coach Bill Belichick wasn’t surprised to see his team respond like it did.

“When you had the result that we had Monday night as a team, I think everybody rallied around each other. I mean, who else is there to rally around?” he asked on a conference call with the media Monday morning. “That’€™s all we have: guys that can go out there and play and make a difference. Nobody else is going to make any plays unless we go out and make them ourselves.

“Of course they stuck together as a team and supported each other. That’€™s what any team should do.”

To Belichick’s point, there was more fire on Sunday night than the team had all season long. That emotion and energy level manifested itself several ways, including their best start of the year, with touchdowns on the first two scoring drives of the night.

“I thought they played hard. I think we’€™ve played hard a lot this year, but we were able to execute things a little bit better,” Belichick said. “Get off the field on third down, convert some third downs, or fourth downs, as the case may be. So, of course there was more emotion and energy as we were making plays, especially in the first — well, throughout the game, but especially in the first quarter.”

Belichick not only praised the play and preparation up and down the roster, but also had kind words for his coaches for their ability to not only digest the Chiefs’ loss and put it in the rearview quickly, but to create a game plan for a Bengals team that came into the game as only one of two unbeaten teams left in the league.

“I just think it’€™s tough when you play on the road Monday night,” Belichick said when asked about the performance of the coaches. “Get back here at whatever it was, five in the morning and then you go through the tape of the game, which was obviously a painful process. Then get ready for an undefeated team, a team that had given up three points in the first half of their first three games and been pretty dominant. To turn around and get a game plan ready and address some of the problems that we had in Kansas City and all that.

“It’€™s handling the preparation for all the situations ‘€“ with only three games, a lot of that is going back and digging through key games and situations from last year to look at tendencies or look at plays you want to run. Again I just think as a staff they did a good job of doing those things on a short week against a good football team that’€™s well coached that gives you a lot of problems on every down and every situation. I thought they worked hard and they did a good job; as did the players.”

Here are a few other highlights from his Monday Q&A:
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Read More: A.J. Green, Bill Belichick, Bryan Stork, Darrelle Revis
Revis Report, Week 5: On challenges of moving from outside to slot 10.03.14 at 12:41 am ET
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Darrelle Revis is set to face A.J. Green and the rest of the Cincinnati passing game Sunday night. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Darrelle Revis is set to face A.J. Green and the rest of the Cincinnati passing game Sunday night. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Each week, we’ll present The Revis Report, a look at what’s on tap for the Patriots cornerback. This week, New England returns home for a date with the Bengals.

Overview: Revis and the Patriots will play their second regular-season home game of the year — and make their second consecutive nationally televised broadcast appearance — Sunday night against the Bengals. The fact that they are on a short week after a brutal road loss probably is a good thing for the Patriots, who will be attempting to avoid a two-game skid after a 41-14 defeat to the Chiefs in Kansas City.

It was an opportunity for a new player like Revis to experience his first awful loss as a member of the franchise. How does he feel about the way the team has responded?

“I think we’re very upbeat,” Revis said after practice on Thursday. “It’s been a short week this week, and we made the corrections and we moved on to Cincinnati. It was a terrible loss for us, but at the same time, it’s a short week and we had to move on. I feel like the team is upbeat and we’re looking forward to this matchup against Cincinnati on Sunday.”

Revis said he and the rest of the organization haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating what happened last Monday.

“No, I’m really not looking into it that much. I think this is a winning organization and you just have to move on,” he said. “It was an embarrassment. Yes, it was. But at the same time, you have to put it in the past. We have 12 more games left, and we can focus on those 12 more games and we can do what we need to do in those last 12 games. We have a 12-game season, that’s how you can look at it.”

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Read More: A.J. Green, Dwayne Bowe, Revis Report,
Preseason fantasy football rankings: Wide receivers 08.22.13 at 10:58 am ET
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We’re back with a look at the receivers. This is our last look at the preseason positional rankings. We’€™ve previously covered the running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks. For updates on all these rankings, you can check us out at, where we refresh our rankings and cheat sheets frequently.

Let’€™s take a quick look at overall receiver strategy before we dig into the talent pool. When I’€™m drafting, I break theses receivers into three primary groups.

  • The elite, which is comprised of the top seven options.
  • The WR2 capable receivers. These are the guys who you project to be weekly starters as opposed to matchup plays. For my money, this groups starts to dwindle as we get close to the 30th-ranked receiver.
  • WR3-level options. This group goes on and on, and the way to get value out of it is to not tap into it too early. These players start going off the board in the seventh round, and you’€™ll be able to get this kind of value all the way through the 12th and often much later. Patience is usually rewarded with this group.

We’€™ll be getting into the depth and shape of the talent pool over at Rotobahn tomorrow when we start our Drafting In Reverse series. If you like deep sleepers at every position, we have them for you. For alerts to all of our new content, follow us on Twitter @rotobahn. I’€™ll be happy to address your questions there as well. Send them to me with the hash tag #FantasyWEEI. Finally, listen to our wide receiver and running back rankings podcasts.

1. Calvin Johnson, Lions

He’€™s going to score more touchdowns this year. Probably a lot more. Like Adrian Peterson and Jimmy Graham, Megatron gets a tier all to himself atop his position group. He’€™s that good, and he has a QB who can make any throw imaginable. As soon as you just can’€™t pull the trigger on a RB, you go to Calvin Johnson — not a QB. This dude is the truth. Draft him with confidence. I am looking to take him at about 10 overall unless a highly rated back slips.

2. A.J. Green, Bengals

Green’€™s an elite option, because nobody can cover him and because he’€™s the clear-cut No. 1 option on his team. The Bengals got better all around this offseason by bringing in Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard. Now there is enough talent around Green where teams can’€™t bracket him and get away with it. He should repeat his 2012 numbers and perhaps improve them some. His QB, Andy Dalton, is just decent, but he’€™s getting better and we should see some more incremental improvement in 2013. Take Green with confidence. His knee issue appears to be over and was nothing serious.

3. Dez Bryant, Cowboys

Injuries worry me with Bryant, because he sells out for the football with little regard for his body, but that’€™s the ONLY thing that worries me. Bryant is a dominant talent, plain and simple. He’€™s now the clear No. 1 option on his team and a threat to score more than 15 touchdowns. If he plays 16 games, he’€™s an absolute monster. Do not hesitate with Bryant. Draft him and enjoy. If you want to take him ahead of Green, I have no problem with that.

4. Julio Jones, Falcons

The freak show continues … Jones is right there with Green and Bryant. Take him over anybody but Calvin Johnson and I have no complaints. He’€™s getting better every year. He’€™s got a solid quarterback and there’€™s going to be more bite in the play-action game with Steven Jackson upgrading Michael Turner‘€™s spot in Atlanta. Count on it. Big plays are coming, and more receptions, too.

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Read More: 2013 Fantasy Football, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson
Stevan Ridley knows full well Pats ‘can’t have’ his turnovers 01.11.13 at 6:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the highlights of media availability in the last week has been the Patriots working on ball security, especially Stevan Ridley. Bill Belichick has had Ridley carry a ball in each hand with a defender on each side trying to pry the ball loose. He has been the only Patriot spotted with such focus on taking care of the ball.

Of course, there’s good reason for that. There were the two fumbles at the end of the 2011 season, including in the divisional rout over the Broncos. Then there were the two fumbles in back-to-back games this season against the Texans and the 49ers. His fumble on the first drive of the game against Houston could’ve been costly but Aaron Hernandez raced over and recovered it before the Texans could pounce. He wasn’t as lucky the next week against the 49ers. He hasn’t fumbled since in 38 carries.

“Can’t have it, can’t have it,” Ridley said Friday. “It’s crunch time, man. And turnovers, however they come — fumbles, interceptions, drops, whatever — we can’t have that.”

Then, he turned the focus on himself.

“I don’t want to be that guy that they’re pointing the finger at, and saying, ‘My bad.’ I’m trying to play solid football and play perfect football,” he said.

Of course, if Ridley and the Patriots are going to have offensive success against the Texans Sunday, they need to replicate what they did to J.J. Watt the last time, when they held the All-Pro without a sack or a tackle for a loss.

“He’s a playmaker,” Ridley said. “For us, whether it’s in the backfield, catching him on the way out, running routes, whatever we have to do, we have to get away from him, put two hats on him, make sure he’s blocked, make sure he’s covered up because he’s the leader of their defense. If he get momentum, we’re going to have trouble all night.”

Ridley was then asked about Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the suggestion that Wes Welker is not the “physical” receiver that A.J. Green is and may not require Johnathan Joseph to cover him.

“I have no idea that he said anything about that but Wes Welker is a very important part of our offense,” Ridley said laughing. “We need everybody we can get, and that’s somebody who’s been on the field for the Patriots for a long time, somebody we depend on in crunch situations so I don’t know about his size or whatever that is but Wes gets the job done and I’ll be looking be looking for ’83’ on Sunday.”

Read More: A.J. Green, houston texans, j.j. watt, Johnathan Joseph
Patriots Potential Playoff Opponents: Cincinnati Bengals 12.29.11 at 3:03 pm ET
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With the Patriots attempting to secure a No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs for a second straight season with a win against the Bills Sunday, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is the fourth in a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. Today, we look at the Cincinnati Bengals:

The skinny: No one expected the Bengals to do what they’ve done this year, namely post their third winning season in the last 21. But the Bengals did something before, during and after the lockout they rarely do — they cleaned house with personnel, keeping a young core on defense and building around rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and rookie receiver A.J. Green. They fired Bob Bratkowski — the wildly unpopular offensive coordinator. They let Terrell Owens go off and focus on reality TV and Twitter, and of course, traded Chad Ochocinco to New England, remaking the image of the franchise. They had the incredibly good fortune of a bitter and disenfranchised Carson Palmer holding out, forcing them to go with Dalton at quarterback to start preseason. They had even better fortune when Oakland’s Jason Campbell broke his collarbone 48 hours before the trading deadline, creating a market for Palmer. Owner Mike Brown and his daughter Katie Blackburn finally made the smart football move and traded Palmer for a first and second-round pick. Even if the team needed a 2-for-1 ticket promotion to sell out their final game this Sunday with the season on the line again the Ravens, the worm finally appears to be turning for a Bengals team that is built around young talent. This is a young team that has already exceeded expectations and is playing with house money, even if they house is half full.

Offense: Much has been made of the success — and rightfully so — of Dalton leading the Bengals to a winning record in his first NFL season, and doing it with a group of talented but still young skill players around him. Dalton injured his throwing hand in the opener and it was Bruce Gradkowski throwing the game-winner to Green against the Browns. But Dalton served notice against the Bills he was no ordinary rookie, helping the Bengals erase a 17-3 halftime deficit and leading them to a 23-20 win on a last-second field goal. But just as important to Cincinnati’s success has been the hiring of Jay Gruden as the offensive coordinator, replacing Bratkowski. Gruden — the younger brother of Jon Gruden — came from the UFL’s Florida Tuskers, where he was the head coach. Jay Gruden brought in a West Coast philosophy that has been the perfect fit for Dalton, targeting tight end Jermaine Gresham much more than Palmer did. The throws underneath to Gresham, along with the power running game of Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, has opened the outside for superstar-in-the-making A.J. Green. The rookie first-round pick (fourth overall) out of Georgia has proven to be a one-man wrecking crew, often beating double teams and coming down with acrobatic catches. Dalton is the first rookie since the merger to throw for 20 touchdowns and win at least eight games. With 63 catches, 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns, Green is having best rookie season for a wide receiver since Randy Moss in 1998. Of course, Green doesn’t even have the most acrobatic catch on the team this season. That distinction belongs to Jerome Simpson, who somersaulted an stunned Darryl Washington and nailed the landing in the end zone for a perfect touchdown. The Bengals weakness offensively comes in the red zone, where they convert TDs just 47 percent of the time, which puts them at 24th in the NFL.

Defense: While the Patriots earned the reputation as a no-name defense early on this season, the Bengals have done likewise but have had even better results. They spent the middle part of the season ranked No. 1 in the NFL in overall defense, led by defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. They have slipped to sixth but still possess a formidable front seven and their base 4-3 defense, while not nearly as well known as the Giants, is as capable as any in the NFL of generating pressure on the quarterback by themselves. It starts with Domata Peko and Geno Atkins in the middle. They feature Frostee Rucker and Robert Geathers on the edge. They back that up with Michael Johnson, Jonathan Fanene and Carlos Dunlap. That is quality depth on the D-Line. Zimmer loves to mix it up in terms of bring extra pressure and will often send the safety or corner in from deep coverage to add to pressure up the middle. This is where things could get dicey for the Patriots, if the Bengals have sort of success getting Brady off his spot in the pocket. The Bengals have done a remarkable job of replacing the losses of corners Jonathan Joseph (free agency to Texans) and Leon Hall (Achilles tendon Nov. 13). Stepping up has been none other than Adam “Pacman” Jones. In addition to helping former Patriot Brandon Tate on kick and punt returns, Jones has shown why he was taken in the first round by the Titans in 2005.

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Read More: A.J. Green, Adam Pacman Jones, AFC North, Andy Dalton
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