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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Bengals-Patriots 10.15.16 at 11:30 am ET
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Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett have the Patriots holding firm at the No. 2 spot. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett have developed an impressive chemistry in a short time. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Patriots-Bengals contest, set for 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium:


As expected, LeGarrette Blount — who was one of the top rushers in the league over the first four weeks of the 2016 season — saw his workload cut pretty dramatically last week against the Browns. Part of that was matchup-based, as New England held a sizable edge when it came to its passing game against Cleveland. In addition, there was the simple fact that with the return of Tom Brady, the Patriots were going to go back to a pass-first offense. While Blount’s production will change now that Brady is back under center, his important work will likely come in the second half of games when New England holds a lead. The bottom line is that while Blount’s total yardage won’t matter, but when he gets those yards will really tell the story. Anyway, he comes into this game with 106 carries, 389 yards and five touchdowns. The Bengals are middle of the pack when it comes to defending the run, having yielded at least 120 rushing yards in three of their first five games, including a whopping 180 yards on the ground last week against the Cowboys. On the other end of the spectrum, there they also held the Broncos to 52 rushing yards and 62 yards on the ground against the Dolphins. Basically? The very definition of feast or famine. (Overall, it’s averaged out to 114 rushing yards per game allowed, 20th in the NFL.) If you’re the Patriots and can get to an early lead, expect them to try and kill the clock and run the ball in the second half, setting up a potential big day down the stretch for Blount.


This is going to be the matchup that decides it, one way or another. New England welcomed Brady back last week, and his 406 passing yards against the Browns effectively quieted any talk of rust following his four-week layoff. Now, the quarterback gets to take a step up in weight class against the Bengals, a team that’s 11th overall against the pass, having allowed an average of 225 yards per game through the air. This week should be like most others, as Brady will rely on Martellus Bennett (21 catches, 315 yards, 4 TDs), Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 120 yards), Julian Edelman (24 catches, 231 yards), Chris Hogan (12 catches, 236 yards, 1 TD) and James White (17 catches, 165 yards). All of that is provided Gronkowski is over whatever illness was dogging him on Friday that caused him to miss practice. The Bengals have been OK against the pass — overall, Cincy has allowed an average of 225 passing yards per game, while the Bengals 10 sacks are tied for 17th in the NFL. The one set of numbers that stands out if you’re a Patriots’ fan? Cincy is one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to defending backs in the passing game; per Football Outsiders, the Bengals have allowed 6.6 catches and 43 yards per game against running backs. Maybe a better-than-expected week for White?

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Read More: A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Bill Belichick, Brandon LaFell
5 things you have to know about Bengals: Underachievers still suffering playoff hangover 10.11.16 at 9:26 am ET
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Sep 29, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) makes a catch against the Miami Dolphins in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A.J. Green remains one of the best receivers in the NFL. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

What you have to know about the 2-3 Cincinnati Bengals, who visit the Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

1. The key to their entire offense has been A.J. Green.

The Jets and Dolphins could not stop him and lost because of it. The Steelers, Broncos and Cowboys did and the Bengals’ offense never got on track. He had 12 catches for 180 yards on Darrelle Revis with a touchdown in Week 1. He had 10 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown in a Week 4 win over hapless Miami. He’s had just 14 catches total for 165 yards in losses to Pittsburgh, Denver and Dallas. Former Patriot Brandon LaFell has given the Bengals a bit of a boost to the passing game with 21 catches for 276 yards and two touchdowns, both last week in garbage time. Andy Dalton has been sacked 17 times in five games, tied with Ryan Tannehill for second-most in the NFL. When he hasn’t been sacked, Dalton has been good, completing 67.4 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and just two picks. His 1503 passing yards leads the NFL.

2. Their offensive line has been horrendous and they can’t run the ball.

The Bengals thought a couple of years ago they’d be able to refortify their offensive line with tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Those two are promising but the interior line has been an abject disaster, giving up most of the pressures on Dalton up the middle. They knew they had a big problem when Dalton was sacked seven times by the Jets in the opener but managed to eke out a 23-22 win. One of the keys of the Bengals offense in the Dalton era has been play-action. Defending against Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill kept defenses honest. But not this year. And the blame isn’t entirely on Hill or Bernard. The Bengals, under new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese (replacing Hue Jackson) haven’t dedicated themselves to the run. Hill has carried the ball just 62 times for 233 yards and three touchdowns. In the loss to Dallas, Hill touched it just four times for 12 yards. They are averaging just 83.8 yards per game running the ball. Only the Giants (83.6) are worse in the NFL.

3. They miss Tyler Eifert desperately.

The Bengals thought they’d get the best red zone tight end from 2015 back from an ankle injury last week in Dallas. Then a back injury cropped up in the middle of the week and he was ruled out on Friday. There is some hope in the organization that Eifert might be able to make it back this week in Foxboro. They could certainly use it. Eifert is more important to Cincinnati than Rob Gronkowski is in New England because the Bengals don’t have a Martellus Bennett to help out on the other side of Eifert. Without Eifert, the Bengals are tied with the Jets for the third-worst red zone efficiency in football at 40 percent.

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Read More: A.J. Green, Adam Pacman Jones, Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Brandon LaFell: Andy Dalton capable of being ‘similar player’ to Tom Brady 06.15.16 at 4:56 pm ET
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Brandon LaFell and Tom Brady were teammates for two seasons in New England. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports)

Brandon LaFell and Tom Brady were teammates for two seasons in New England. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports)

Former Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell has only been with the Bengals for a couple of months, but he already likes what he sees out of Andy Dalton, saying the Cincy quarterback is capable of reaching Tom Brady’s level of success.

LaFell has only worked with Dalton for a handful of practice sessions this spring, but believes there’s a legitimate comparison to be made between the two signal-callers, saying one day, Dalton could be in the same conversation as Brady.

“If we continue to take the steps we’re making, Andy could be a similar player like that,” LaFell told reporters on Wednesday.

LaFell, who had 107 catches via Brady in his two seasons (14th on the all-time list of receptions from the New England quarterback) said there’s a comparison to be made between the two on and off the field.

“Everybody respects [Dalton] just like everybody respects Brady,” LaFell said. “How Brady demanded the best out of everybody, Andy’s doing the same thing here.

“Both of those guys are smart guys. They always have the offense in the right play. They’re always getting the ball to the right person at the right time. They’re two different offenses, but both of those guys are winners.”

LaFell struggled with health last season before he was cut loose by the Patriots, but he was a key part of the 2014 team, catching 74 passes for 953 yards and seven touchdowns in New England’s most recent Super Bowl season. (In two years with the Patriots, he had 111 catches, 1,468 yards and seven touchdowns.)

“Being around a good quarterback makes everybody else on the field job that much easier,” LaFell said of Dalton and Brady when asked about the importance of good quarterback play. “With them having so much knowledge of the game, knowledge of the offense and playing with a high level of confidence, it kind of slows the game down for everybody else. And for me coming in learning the playbook, he’s helping me out in the huddle, helping me out off the field. It’s making me go out there and know the offense now and just going out there and playing fast and not worrying about anything else because he’s so good.”

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Read More: Andy Dalton, Brandon LaFell, Tom Brady,
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
Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: Steelers’ ‘ability to score makes them very, very dangerous’ 12.14.15 at 9:23 am ET
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ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck made his weekly appearance with Dennis, Callahan & Minihane on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ victory over the Texans and other news from around the league. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Most of the talk leading into Sunday’s game was about the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, but the Patriots defense was the key, keeping the Texans out of the end zone all night.

“I think you’ve got to give a good amount of credit to the Patriots defense. I thought it was a really good performance by the guys on that side of the ball,” Haselbeck said. “You just look at some of the things that Houston has been doing in recent weeks, they’ve done a tremendous job of getting DeAndre Hopkins involved, they’ve actually been fairly efficient running the football, for the most part [Brian] Hoyer‘s been protected pretty well and he’s done a pretty job of just moving the football and getting big plays.

“So I think if you look at the way they defended Hopkins, the fact that when the moment-of-truth situations with Nate Washington trying to play the football, jumping in and out of the different things that Houston was trying to do to speed up the tempo, get into the wildcat stuff.

“I thought they ended up — New England — doing a very good job just kind of handling all of that stuff on the road. And that’s why you saw very little offensive production by the Texans.”

The Bengals took a huge hit Sunday when Andy Dalton broke the thumb on his right hand during a loss to the Steelers. Combined with the Broncos‘ loss to the Raiders, the Patriots (11-2) were able to move back into the No. 1 spot in the AFC. The performance of the Bengals and Broncos (both 10-3) leads some to conclude that the Steelers (8-5) might be the Patriots’ biggest threat in the conference.

“They’re certainly a hot team right now,” Hasselbeck said. “Their ability to score makes them very, very dangerous. They have three legitimate wide receivers — I mean, legitimate guys. They’re protecting Ben [Roethlisberger] better because [Alejandro] Villanueva is playing better at left tackle. I think [offensive coordinator] Todd Haley, for all that people kind of want to dog him from his experience as the head coach [of the Chiefs] and he’s kind of a confrontational guy, he’s gotten pretty creative with some of the things that they do so that they still get touches to Antonio Brown, and then they get Martavis Bryant on a couple of shot plays.

“And Ben — look, Ben for whatever reason kind of doesn’t get put in the same class as some other quarterbacks that have achieved some of the stuff that he’s achieved. He’s good inside the design of the play in the pocket, he’s good outside of it. I think it’s a pretty dangerous team. They need to get their secondary to play better, but that’s a pretty good group.”

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Read More: Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Brock Osweiler, Peyton Manning
Andy Dalton (thumb) could miss rest of season, would benefit Patriots in AFC playoff race 12.13.15 at 6:44 pm ET
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The Patriots are battling the Broncos and Bengals for the top seed in the AFC and they may have caught a break in Sunday’s Steelers-Bengals game

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton told reporters after the game he suffered a fractured right thumb and would see a specialist on Monday to determine the full extent of the injury, but according to ESPN’s Bob Holtzman, the feeling in the locker room was that it could be season ending.

If that is the case, the Bengals would lean on AJ McCarron the rest of the season. McCarron went 22-for-38 with 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the 33-20 loss to the Steelers. After the game, McCarron compared himself to Tom Brady and what his situation was like with Drew Bledsoe back in 2001.

The Bengals fell to 10-3 on the season and have games with the 49ers, Broncos and Ravens the rest of the season. If Dalton does indeed miss the rest of the season, that certainly helps the Patriots in their quest for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Like the Patriots, the Broncos were 10-2 entering their game Sunday against the Raiders.

[UPDATE 8:00 p.m.: The Broncos fell to the Raiders, 15-12, falling to 10-3 on the season. This means the Patriots are now in control of their own destiny, as if they win out they will be the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed and the AFC road to the Super Bowl would go through Gillette Stadium.]

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Fantasy Football: Week 3 waiver wire 09.22.15 at 10:13 am ET
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The waiver wire is pretty well loaded right now, especially at running back. The time to stock up on backs who can help you throughout the 16 game schedule is today. They will be picked off soon enough, so get some while you can. The key is to pick the back who suits your needs and scoring format. If you can play it long-term, then Matt Jones and David Johnson are the names to go after. If you need immediate help, then Devonta Freeman or Dion Lewis may be the guy. If you are worried about Eddie Lacy’s availability for the next few weeks, then James Starks is a good option. If you own C.J. Anderson, you can protect your flank by adding Ronnie Hillman.

I will be back later this week with a podcast and Friday we’€™ll have our usual starts and sits. Did you miss the Fantasy Football Hour on Sunday? Check it out and join us this Sunday at 8 a.m. on 93.7 WEEI if you are an early riser. I will have my Week 3 DraftKings worksheet posted on Wednesday at Rotobahn and I will be posting an expanded waiver wire this afternoon for those of you who play in large formats. To keep pace with all of my fantasy football content, follow @Rotobahn on Twitter.


Tyrod Taylor, Bills — 15 percent

He looked shaky at times and brilliant at others, but there are two major things working in Taylor’€™s favor in terms of fantasy value. First, he is a multi-threat quarterback with loads of talent around him. Second, he’€™s pretty well entrenched as the starter. He would have to implode to lose his job to E.J. Manuel or Matt Cassel. Taylor is Rex Ryan‘€™s guy. He’€™s a viable start on most weeks for as long as he has the job and is healthy. A must-add guy in big leagues and a solution for those who just lost Tony Romo.

Andy Dalton, Bengals — 30 percent

He’€™s playing solid football and you can’€™t hope for much more than that with Dalton. The thing is, with the weapons around him, decent football leads to very solid fantasy stats. Dalton can be a starter for you when you need him. He’€™s a streaming consideration in smaller leagues and a worthy QB2 in deeper leagues.

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Read More: Andy Dalton, David Johnson, Fantasy Football, Matt Jones
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