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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
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.]

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Read More: Andy Dalton,
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.

QUARTERBACKS

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
Andy Dalton on Tom Brady and Deflategate: ‘I don’t know what to expect’ 07.12.15 at 8:58 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Andy Dalton (14) hug after the game at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 5, 2014.  (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and Andy Dalton (14) hug after the game at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 5, 2014. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

CINCINNATI — Like every NFL quarterback, Andy Dalton has been following the Tom Brady saga this offseason closely.

Speaking to WEEI.com Sunday after smashing two home runs in the celebrity All-Star softball game, the Bengals quarterback said it’s hard to guess what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will do when he hands down his decision on Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Dalton said. “I don’t know what all went on in those meetings so I’m going to let the league and his side handle all that.”

While other quarterbacks are relaxing and using the summer to recharge their batteries, Dalton said he sympathizes with Brady because it’s an unusual distraction he has to deal with in the offseason.

“For him, it’s another thing he has to think about right now,” Dalton said. “Hopefully at the end of this, he won’t have to worry about this anymore.”

Dalton has led the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his four seasons in the NFL but has lost in the first round each time. This past season, Dalton and the Bengals were 3-0 and the 2-2 Patriots were coming off a 41-14 loss in Kansas City. The 43-17 thumping on Oct. 5 at Gillette Stadium by a fired-up Brady left an impression on Dalton, as the Patriots used the meeting as a springboard to fourth Super Bowl title.

Dalton said Sunday it would be great to get another chance to face Brady. If that were to happen, it would be in the AFC playoffs since the Bengals are not on the Patriots’ schedule this season.

“It’d be great,” Dalton said. “He’s obviously a good player and they’re a good team. But you have to play those types of teams if you want to get where you want to go.”

As for his two softball home runs Sunday?

“It’s a lot of fun,” Dalton said. “It’s fun to be out here with everybody. You get to play a softball game. It’s pretty cool.”

Read More: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals, Deflategate, New England Patriots
Colts overwhelm shorthanded Bengals, advance to play Broncos 01.04.15 at 4:10 pm ET
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Adam Vinatieri kicked four field goals Sunday in a playoff win over the Bengals. (Getty Images)

Adam Vinatieri kicked four field goals Sunday in a playoff win over the Bengals. (Getty Images)

The story remains the same.

For the fourth straight season, the Cincinnati Bengals reach the playoffs and for a fourth straight season, they are one-and-done.

Andrew Luck threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief and Adam Vinatieri kicked four field goals as the Indianapolis Colts beat the Bengals, 26-10, in an AFC wildcard game Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts advance to play Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the AFC divisional round next Sunday at Sports Authority Field in Denver. It will be the first time Manning has faced his former team in the playoffs.

Luck finished 31-of-44 for 376 yards for the Colts, who outgained the Bengals, 482-254.

Without injured star receiver A.J. Green (concussion) and tight end Jermaine Gresham (back), Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton again failed miserably in the postseason.

The Colts took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 2-yard run by Boom Herron but the Bengals answered with their only touchdown of the day, a one-yard run from Jeremy Hill. Vinatieri hit two field goals to put the Colts up, 13-7, as the Bengals defense held Luck without a TD in the red zone.

The Bengals defense then gave their overwhelmed quarterback a fighting chance at halftime. Darqueze Dennard forced a turnover from Herron and converted it into a 57-yard field goal from Mike Nugent with 10 seconds left in the first half, closing the Indianapolis lead to 13-10 at the break.

But Dalton, who finished 18-of-35 for 155 yards, went three-and-out on his first three possessions of the second half, including the opening possession of the half when the Bengals had a chance at momentum. Luck found Moncrief on 36-yard connection in the third quarter and Vinatieri added two more field goals.

The remarkable losing culture continues with the Bengals. Their head coach Marvin Lewis falls to 0-6 in the playoffs. Dalton is now 0-4. And they haven’t won a playoff game since Jan. 1991, a string of seven straight losses in the postseason.

The Bengals have also never won a road playoff game, falling to 0-7 all time.

Read More: Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Boom Herron, Cincinnati Bengals
Fantasy Football: Week 15 starts, sits 12.12.14 at 10:38 am ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdr

Welcome to the Week 15 starts and sits! It’s high-stakes fantasy football in all leagues this week. A loss means a spot in the consolation round next weekend while a win earns you a trip to the bowl game … unless you play in a league that uses Week 17 (bad idea) for its big game. I’ve done my best to find some good talent that is not too obvious or obscure. I mean, if you have an elite quarterback, you don’t need me to tell you to start him. If you are looking for advice on players not listed in this space, you can check out my full lineup rankings over at Rotobahn. They are comprehensive and they are free of cost or obligation.

Don’t forget to tune in Sunday morning for another episode of the Fantasy Football Hour with my co-host Jim Hackett. If you have last-minute lineup concerns, you should check out my Sunday chat. It takes place right here at WEEI.com and it runs from 11 a.m. to noon.

If you want to keep track of all our fantasy football content, both here and at Rotobahn, follow me on Twitter. I send out links to all fresh articles and chats as well.

QUARTERBACK

Start

Jay Cutler, Bears vs. Saints

He’s got QB1 upside in all formats, but he’s always a potential adventure, and I am sure some of the Cutler owners out there are concerned about the loss of Brandon Marshall. It’s certainly not a positive, but the Bears have enough depth at the skill positions to weather the storm. I expect new starter Marquess Wilson to perform well, and Cutler still has Alshon Jefferey, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte to work with. The Bears’ starter can help you. He’s my 11th-ranked QB this week.

Mark Sanchez, Eagles vs. Cowboys

I am sure that last week scared some people off of Sanchez as a fantasy option. Even by my own math, there are about 12 options that I would rather use, but if Sanchez is your highest-ranked option, you need not worry too much. He’s more than capable of posting QB1-caliber numbers this week at home against Dallas. Collectively, the Eagles receivers are more talented than the Cowboys defensive backs.

Eli Manning, Giants vs. Washington

He’s not a lock for a great performance, but he’s a viable play this week, and Odell Beckham gives him a weapon potent enough to score from any spot on the gridiron. Manning can help you this week if you need a quarterback in any league. You throw to beat Washington, and I suspect that is what the Giants will do … throw a lot and win.

Johnny Manziel, Browns vs. Bengals

If you are looking for a lock starter, then Manziel can’t help you. Guys making their first NFL start will always be a bit unpredictable, but there is a place for Manziel in a lot of lineups. I know I will have him active in a few leagues this weekend on teams where I have been streaming my quarterback all season long. To me, Manziel and his foot-point potential offer a higher floor and ceiling than most of the other streaming options such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Joe Flacco or Kyle Orton. He should be good for decent numbers and has plenty of upside because he can score for you as a runner or a passer. It’s Johnny Football time, and he’s playable if you need him.

Sit

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins at Patriots

New England is a tough matchup for Tannehill on paper. It goes something like this: The Patriots are outstanding at funneling the underneath routes to the middle of the field, which should limit the Dolphins in terms of moving the chains. The deep game is limited by Tannehill himself, as his deep-ball accuracy has been exceedingly poor. I’m not touching the Dolphins passing game this weekend if I can avoid it.

Andy Dalton, Bengals at Browns

He’s a one-trick pony right now going up against a deep defense that can handle Dalton’s single trick (A.J. Green) while slowing down the running game. Dalton will need to play well above average to post good numbers here, and I am not betting on that in such a crucial situation.

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Read More: Andy Dalton, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Johnny Manziel

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