Cincinnati Bengals: New England Patriots

Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for NFL Nation TV's Spreecast as we return for episode No. 46 with our sights fully set on free agency.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) Will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.

Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions reporter) will take us behind the Lions' decision to avoid franchise-tagging defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and also give us an idea of where the prized lineman might end up.

Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will join to make sense of New England's decision to place the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, instead of potentially doing so with free-agent defensive backs Darrelle Revis or Devin McCourty.

Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter) will give us an update on the Cowboys' apparent decision to let DeMarco Murray, 2014's rushing leader, test the open market.

Sticking with offense, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) checks in to outline why the Packers may be content doing the same with receiver Randall Cobb, who reportedly was looking to stay in Green Bay for $12 million a year.

As always, viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

NFL Nation TV: Did Jerry Rice cheat?

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
Take a listen as the NFL Nation TV crew discusses the latest in #StickumGate and how it relates to #DeflateGate in this week's podcast. Jerry Rice's admission to using Stickum during his playing days while he also bashed the New England Patriots over allegedly using deflated footballs headlines the chat.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) were joined in that conversation and others by four other NFL Nation reporters.

David Newton (Carolina Panthers) caught the group up with the latest on Greg Hardy's dismissed domestic violence charges and how they might impact him as he enters an almost certain foray into free agency. Mike Rodak (Buffalo Bills) brought us up to speed on the Bills' decision to sign Richie Incognito, and how it's expected he'll be perceived when he steps foot in the locker room for the first time since the bullying scandal in Miami of which he was the focal point.

Terry Blount (Seattle Seahawks) and Mike Reiss (New England Patriots) shared their thoughts on the final minutes of the Super Bowl, and Pete Carroll's controversial decision to pass instead of run on second-and-goal from New England's 1.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on each Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, and give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.

Listen to this week's podcast here.
Take a listen to this week's NFL Nation TV podcast as the crew breaks down the latest in "deflategate" and the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by two other NFL Nation reporters to discuss the big game.

Kevin Seifert (NFL Nation writer) takes us behind the multi-step process that goes into the pregame checking of football inflation, and the impetus behind the league allowing quarterbacks to play with their own footballs. He also chats briefly about the Super Bowl's head referee, Bill Vinovich, and what we might be able to expect from his mixed crew.

Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) shares his thoughts on covering the Super Bowl after having been in the press box of each championship game since Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta in 1994.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on this Friday at 1 p.m./10 a.m. PT as we catch up with Legwold and ESPN Insider's Mike Sando, who will fill us in on the Hall of Fame selection process that will occur this weekend.

Also, be sure to give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.

Listen to this week's podcast here.
CINCINNATI -- While watching the Indianapolis Colts get dismantled by the New England Patriots in Sunday night's AFC Championship Game, many Cincinnati Bengals fans probably pondered some variation of the question above.

After all, the Bengals were one of three teams this season that played the Colts and Patriots. The Ravens lost to the Colts and Patriots, and the Broncos split two meetings against Indianapolis and lost their only game versus New England.

The Bengals played the Colts and Patriots a combined three times this season, and lost each game. They also swept the Ravens and Broncos, though, in three games.

So what does that say about Cincinnati? More pertinent to this post, what does Sunday's 45-7 Colts loss to the Patriots say about how good or bad the Bengals' 2014 season was?

Truthfully, it's hard to say.

When the Bengals faced both teams, they dealt with varying injuries. They also played all three games on the road. The first was a Sunday night showdown at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 5, when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 292 yards in a 43-17 blowout of the Bengals. It was Brady's first game after an embarrassing 41-14 Patriots loss on "Monday Night Football" in Kansas City.

Along with the added pressure of playing a more perturbed Brady, the Bengals were without their top defensive playmaker, linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Concussion concerns forced Burfict to miss a second straight game. His absence factored in the Patriots' ability to establish a balanced offense identity. In addition to Brady's strong passing performance, New England rushed for 220 yards.

Two weeks later, it was the same story when the Bengals visited Indianapolis, dropping another game in blowout fashion, 27-0. The Bengals didn't have Burfict for three-and-a-half quarters after he suffered a neck injury ealy in the game. They also were without Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green, who missed the Week 5 game against the Patriots, too. Green had a toe injury that had bugged him all season to that point.

Burfict's absence handcuffed defensive game plans and opened holes the Colts exploited. Green's absence made it easier for both teams to focus on shutting down the Bengals' run early with stacked-box defensive fronts, because the Colts had little respect for a passing game missing Green. In both games, the Bengals fell behind early and were blasted in the second half as fatigue hit the defense.

Cincinnati's wild-card round playoff loss at Indianapolis followed much the same pattern. Missing Burfict (season-ending knee injury) and Green (concussion), among others, the defense had holes and the offense featured an anemic passing game, and a rushing attack that struggled against stacked fronts. The Bengals lost 26-10.

So was Sunday's blowout more of an indication of how good the Patriots are? Or was it a sign that the Colts were a so-so team and the Bengals weren't very good?

It's probably more of the former. New England has been great this season. The Bengals and Colts had their moments, too. It would have been interesting to see how many more flashes of success -- particularly against New England and Indianapolis -- the Bengals could have had if they had been healthier.

Either way, we know this: a playoff team, the Bengals still were one of the AFC's best this season.
Welcome to ESPN's first NFL Nation TV podcast.

Take a listen as the NFL Nation TV crew breaks down this past week's news -- from coaching searches to the ruling on Dez Bryant's catch-no catch, to this weekend's conference championship games.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) were joined by three other NFL Nation reporters.

Terry Blount (Seattle Seahawks reporter) and Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) chatted about the NFC title matchup. Wells and Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) filled us in on AFC Championship Game, and whether a win for him might solidify Andrew Luck's status as an elite signal-caller.

Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on each Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, and give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.

Listen to the podcast here.
Happy early Thanksgiving!

Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN NFL Nation TV's Spreecast as episode No. 33 gives a Turkey Day preview, revisits Odell Beckham Jr.'s insane three-fingered catch, and discusses several teams' futures given the varying quarterback situations they have inherited this season.

Host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and co-host Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears reporter), John Keim (Washington Redskins reporter) and Phil Sheridan (Philadelphia Eagles reporter).

Plus, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) and Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will debate in this week's "Main Event" about Sunday's big game at Lambeau Field that will feature MVP candidates Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

Pregame: Bengals visit Patriots

October, 5, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Good evening from Gillette Stadium, where the Cincinnati Bengals are less than three hours away from taking on the New England Patriots in an important early-season conference contest. Win this one, and the Bengals can solidify their place atop the AFC, and also ensure their spot among the NFL's elite.

As the teams start trickling onto the field for the start of pregame warmups, here are a few items to be aware of before Sunday night's coin toss:

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET/NBC

Weather at kickoff: 50 degrees, winds at 6 mph, no chance of precipitation, according to

Records: Cincinnati (3-0), New England (2-2)

Last time out: The Bengals beat the Titans 33-7 in Week 3 before going on their bye last week. The Patriots lost 41-14 at Kansas City on Monday night.

Last meeting: Cincinnati came out on top the last time the teams played, holding on to win 13-6 last October when cornerback Adam Jones tipped a Tom Brady pass to himself before intercepting it to ice the victory. The Bengals' defense also didn't allow Brady to have a passing touchdown. It was the first time in 53 games that he didn't register a score.

Matchup of the game: Keep a close eye Sunday night on what the Bengals do about blocking veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. The lineman didn't play last season when the Bengals and Patriots met. Even with him in the game, though, it's possible to exploit interior running lanes. The Chiefs proved that last Monday when their two backs, Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, paced their rushing attack to the tune of 207 yards. Remember, the Bengals have a two-man running back tandem, too, and probably wouldn't mind exploiting a few of the holes the Chiefs were able to run through last week.

Stat to watch: 3.6. That's the average yards per carry the Bengals have amassed to this point this season. If Cincinnati can get the type of push and blocking that the Chiefs had last week, it's likely that number will go up after this game. The ground game has been a point of emphasis all season, particularly because of the struggles the Bengals have had so far in that area. Their goal is to average 4.5 per carry.

Green watch: Also pay attention to Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who made it on Cincinnati's injury report Friday. It was the first time he was listed on the injury report all week. He was listed as probable with a toe injury. Remember, he hurt his left big toe three weeks ago against the Falcons. It was an injury that kept him out for all but six plays of that game, and one that he battled through in the Week 3 win against Tennessee. With Green matched against Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis, we'll have to see how well he's able to push off and get separation at the line.

Bengals' defensive ranks: Points allowed per game (1st), points margin per game (1st), third-down conversion rate (2nd), opposing quarterbacks' QBR (3rd), yards per passing attempt (1st), yards per play (5th).

W2W4: Bengals at Patriots

October, 5, 2014
CINCINNATI -- Below are three items to watch for Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Foxborough, Massachusetts, for a prime-time tilt with the New England Patriots:

What's up their sleeve? As you may have read in this package of stories Friday afternoon, teams around the league are beginning to pose similar questions to themselves when they begin their preparations for the Bengals. Trick plays have become a staple in their offense since Hue Jackson took over as offensive coordinator, and it's almost a certainty that they will run some unique formation or unexpected, misdirection-type play in hopes of catching New England's defense off guard. As mentioned in the link above, they have had at least one different offensive wrinkle in the past three games, with each executed to perfection. The past two in particular -- receiver Mohamed Sanu completing a 50-yard pass to fellow receiver Brandon Tate off an end-around pitch from quarterback Andy Dalton in Week 2, and in Week 3, Sanu taking a pitch from Dalton, then throwing back across the field to Dalton for an 18-yard touchdown. Will we see anything that catches the eye this week? The odds are high that we will. The real question is: what will it be?

Playing with attitude: The Bengals have had a slightly different edge about them this week. Some players who normally make themselves available for interviews brushed them off. The ones who did speak didn't say much, offering very little as they prepared for arguably the biggest game they have played this season. Suffice to say, there was a little attitude in the air around Paul Brown Stadium this past week as the stakes have been considerably raised. The Bengals know how important this game is to their season. Even if they might have talked around it this week, they do know exactly what a win would do for their postseason hopes and their confidence. If they pull off the prime-time road win, they will silence critics and prove once and for all that they are the best team in football right now. In order for any of that to happen, though, they have to play the way they have acted all this week -- with attitude. That means approaching this game like it is a playoff contest. It also means attacking New England's offense early with an aggressive pass rush and showing a physical, relentless offensive rushing attack.

Game of matchups: There will be several interesting matchups, including the one involving Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. He will likely draw linebacker Emmanuel Lamur for much of the night, but don't be surprised if safety George Iloka drops down and handles him in zone scenarios. Taylor Mays also could get some meaningful snaps off the bench if the Bengals want to mix the looks on Gronkowski and confuse him and quarterback Tom Brady with the switches between man and zone coverage that the Bengals are bound to implement. Also keep an eye on the outside matchup of Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis. It isn't uncommon for Revis to match up with a team's best receiver, like Green. In the trenches, the matchup between New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and Bengals interior linemen Russell Bodine and Mike Pollak will be worth tracking.
CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Patriots last October at Paul Brown Stadium, they did so by mixing physical defensive play with an offense that was just effective enough.

They also got a boost from a few timely plays that went in their favor, and an even more timely late-game downpour that made it difficult for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to throw as he tried to rally his team to a come-from-behind victory. He ended the drive by throwing a game-clinching, last-minute interception to Bengals cornerback Adam Jones, just as the downpour slowed and the skies began clearing.

While Cincinnati had to weather the storm, it didn't have to worry about dealing with Patriots stars Vince Wilfork and Rob Gronkowski. Injuries last season kept the pair from playing, giving the Bengals a couple of areas to exploit.

On Sunday night, though, when the Bengals travel to New England, both veterans will be in the rotation. So don't expect this game to follow last year's script.

"It's hard to move him, it's hard to get push in the run game against him," Bengals Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said about the 325-pound defensive tackle Wilfork.

The plan to neutralize Wilfork will include ways the Bengals can go about running past him and protecting in the passing game just long enough to keep him away from quarterback Andy Dalton. For Gronkowski, they will have to mix coverages and switch around defenders all night in order to determine the best way of stopping him.

Guenther said it's quite possible the Bengals will move linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and safety George Iloka on and off Gronkowski. He also said Gronkowksi wouldn't be alone in the attention he would receive. Running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen also weren't part of last season's game, meaning their presence might provide an extra layer of intrigue this weekend.

Vereen is the team's second-leading receiver, catching 14 passes for 93 yards. He also is averaging 4.4 yards per carry with a rushing touchdown.

After helping control Tennessee's Delanie Walker in the Bengals' last game, Iloka is bracing for a similar outcome against Gronkowski.

"If you want to be one of the better players and be considered the best, you have to do it against the best," Iloka said. "Going up against guys like Delanie Walker and Gronk, you really want to be good in those matchups. It's going to help the defense out. If he's not catching the ball, since he's such a big part of their offense, it's going to be a long night for them."

The task each week is to take the ball out of a team's top playmakers as much as possible, Guenther said.

Although Baltimore's Steve Smith caught seven passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, the Bengals kept Atlanta's duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White under 150 yards receiving, despite the pair getting targeted 21 times. Against Tennessee, the Bengals held Walker to four catches for 54 yards.

In those games, the Bengals also have forced seven turnovers.
CINCINNATI -- After three weeks of seeing the Cincinnati Bengals run trick plays and trot out unique formations, opposing coaches and players are beginning to take note.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt had his defense practice against the very receiver-to-quarterback pass the Bengals employed in their 33-7 win over Tennessee. Whisenhunt's teaching wasn't quite enough, as Mohamed Sanu was able to complete the pass to Andy Dalton, who ran for a touchdown.

The New England Patriots' preparation for Sunday night's game also has included preparing for the unexpected. During a news conference earlier this week, Bill Belichick was asked about how defending the quirky plays of the Bengals could affect the quickness with which his defense can react.

"If you don't see [a particular trick play] very often, you aren't thinking about it or maybe you're not respecting it enough, and then it comes and it hits you," Belichick said. "Then you don't see it again for another year, but the damage is done. That's the way I would characterize those plays.

"Not that there's not a way to defend them, not that there's a magic to the play, but it's a play you haven't seen that we're not practicing against, because I'm sure the ones that [the Bengals] have already run, they're probably less inclined to run those. They're probably more inclined to run a new play that they're working on, and that's the one that we'll have to react to in the game. That's the challenge of those plays. The challenge on the other side of it is execution. Some play that you don't run very much, it's calling it at the right time to get maybe a look that you think will be good against that and then being able to execute it well. The Bengals have done a very good job of executing those plays."

Belichick said the key to defending the trick play is one fundamental principle.

"It comes down to everybody doing their job," he said. "It isn't everybody's job to stop everything. It's one person's job to handle a certain responsibility, whatever that is. It's somebody else's job to handle other plays. If they're running a sweep one way, then you have to play the sweep. Somebody else has to play the reverse. One guy's not playing both plays. That's kind of the 'do your job' mentality of taking care of what you have to take care of. Somebody else has to take care of what they have to take care of.

"I've never coached a defense where you tell the players, 'Well, we don't have a reverse on this play if they run it.' That would be a touchdown. Or if they run a halfback pass, that nobody is responsible for that and that will be a touchdown. Or if they run an end around, we don't really have that play. I just don't think you could coach like that. Somebody has to be responsible for plays over there. If they start over there, then somebody has to be responsible for a play back there. If a guy reverses his field or they run a reverse or they throw a double pass or the quarterback peels out of the backfield, whatever it is, there are fundamental responsibilities, and those plays are part of the responsibilities."
CINCINNATI -- While one of the bigger storylines revolving around the Cincinnati Bengals this week involves their somewhat abysmal play of late in prime-time road games, there's another equally alarming statistic they'll want to put a dent into Sunday night when they travel to New England.

Along with their 1-4 showing on the road in prime-time games with quarterback Andy Dalton leading their offense -- not to mention their 0-5 mark since 2004 on Sunday night -- the Bengals also are 19-25 all-time in the month of October under coach Marvin Lewis. Yes, that is a pretty obscure statistic, but when you consider it's the only month in which the Bengals have sported a losing record under Lewis' watch, it bears highlighting.

That's right, Dalton's nighttime demons aren't the only ones the Bengals will want to exorcise this weekend. They'll want to begin putting holes in the narrative that something goes wrong when Lewis gets teams to October.

In fact, the Bengals attacked that narrative last season when they went 4-1 in the month, grabbing four straight wins to start the month before finishing it with a Halloween night loss in overtime at Miami. They began last October's run of victories with a 13-6 home win against the Patriots team they are matched up with this weekend.

It's quite possible a win Sunday night sparks another romp through October, adding another good chunk in the narrative that Lewis' teams just don't play well in the middle of a season. If the Bengals beat the Patriots this weekend, they then have games against the Panthers, Colts and Ravens the rest of the month. Carolina has appeared beatable. Indianapolis has been up and down all season. And Baltimore lost on its home turf to the Bengals in the season opener.

Since Lewis became the Bengals' head coach in 2003, his teams have posted winning percentages of .538 or better in the remaining months on the regular-season calendar. In August and September, they are 22-18. In November, they are 24-18-1. In December and January, they are 28-24. August and September and December and January get lumped together because of the few years when seasons have begun in August and ended in January.

The Bengals' focus isn't on exorcising their October demons, but they simply care about winning this game because it's the next one on their schedule, and because it's a big one. As they try to continue to build off their strong start, it's incumbent upon them to play this new month the very same way they did in the last.
CINCINNATI -- Wallace Gilberry, in his ever honest and matter-of-fact delivery, told reporters Wednesday that he wished the New England Patriots had won their game Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs.

[+] EnlargeJosh McDaniels and Tom Brady
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesThe Bengals know better than to underestimate perennial AFC East power New England with Tom Brady, center, and Bill Belichick, right, still calling the shots.
"Because you know they're going to come back out reloaded and hungry," said Gilberry, a veteran Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle. "We're definitely hungry, too. It's like two hungry lions trying to eat. It's going to be a fight."

The Patriots (2-2) will host the Bengals (3-0) in a nationally televised game Sunday night that many believe could finally validate Cincinnati's place atop the NFL -- if the Bengals win.

Several Bengals acknowledged Wednesday that while they were a little surprised by New England's 41-14 blowout loss in its trip to Kansas City, their perception of the reigning AFC East champion hasn't changed. It's still a franchise that has had its share of success in the last decade and a half. Together, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have won three Super Bowls. Brady also is a nine-time Pro Bowler, even if his play behind a patchwork offensive line in Week 4 didn't really show it.

Brady was 14-for-23 against the Chiefs, amassing just 159 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions.

"The way that game turned out doesn't show the kind of team that they are," Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. "Obviously it kind of got out of hand, and the score was pretty lopsided, but that's not the team that they are. It shows you've got to play every [week] because if a few things don't go the right way, it can turn out like that. But they're a talented team. They've been a good team for a long time so we know we're going to get their best."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis knows the Patriots aren't satisfied with the way they played Monday and that they will be out to prove they are better than they showed.

"They've got a lot of good players and generally play very well together," Lewis said.

Gilberry contended that while it was easy for the narrative of this week's game to focus on the Patriots and their apparent ineptitude during this early stage of the season, he and his teammates are looking from within for motivation.

"I can't worry about [New England]," said Gilberry, who added that he watched Monday night's game live. "All I can worry about is doing my job and not making mistakes because every Sunday is a different Sunday. I'm going to expect them to come out there and be the New England Patriots; and that's a smart, physical football team.

My job is to go out and counter anything they give me. I can't worry about how they played last week. You can see in this league that teams get beat by 10, 15 points, and then come back and blow another team out. We don't want that to happen.

"We're not going to underestimate them, nor buy into what happened last week."
CINCINNATI -- Bill Belichick has tracked Marvin Lewis' Cincinnati Bengals teams from afar for years.

So the New England Patriots coach wasn't surprised to learn this week that Lewis' group ranks among the best in turnover margin and point margin. Belichick also wasn't too surprised the Bengals are 3-0 and in the discussion for being among the league's best teams.

"They're very well balanced, very well coached," Belichick said during a Wednesday conference call with Bengals media. "They have explosive players and that's in all three phases of the game. They have a lot of good players and a lot of depth. They're sound."

They're also playing the Patriots this weekend.

Cincinnati takes its undefeated record to Foxborough, Massachusetts, for this week's Sunday night game. The 2-2 Patriots are coming off a 27-point loss at Kansas City on Monday night.

This week's game also comes nearly one year to the day after the Bengals held on to beat the Patriots amid a driving late-afternoon rainstorm. The 13-6 win marked the first time in 53 games that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had not completed a touchdown pass.

As good as the Bengals were that afternoon, Belichick believes this year's bunch is even better.

"The Bengals are physically tough," Belichick said. "They have a tough playing style. They run the ball, they're tough on defense, they're a good tackling team. They cover kicks well. They're aggressive. They play hard for 60 minutes. They don't give you any plays off. You've got to earn everything you get from them. They've been good in the turnover area which is always critical with winning and having a good team."

Lewis, the league's second-longest tenured head coach behind Belichick, drew praise from his counterpart for the way he has prepared all three phases of the team.

"Those things that Marvin emphasizes are things I've heard him emphasize for years and years," Belichick said. "They're exactly the way the Bengals are playing: they're not turning the ball over, they're taking it away, they're running the ball, they're stopping the run, they're making explosive plays, they're not giving them up. They're doing a lot of things well.

"That's as good a team as I've seen in a while; a better team from last year. They're complete in all three phases of the game and they produce on a consistent basis."

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was glad to hear Belichick's thoughts about how complete the Bengals were.

"That's what you want to be," Dalton said in his Wednesday news conference. "If things don't happen offensively the way we want them to, the defense has our back. The same thing defensively. If things happen, they know the offense has their back. It goes along with special teams, as well. That's what we're striving to be: a complete team. ... If he's seeing that, that's good. We've had a good start, but it's only been three games."
CINCINNATI -- The message for the Cincinnati Bengals this week ought to be a simple one: avoid reading your headlines.

Just as they have been for the past three weeks, many -- yes, including myself -- continue singing the Bengals' praises, calling them one of best teams in football. Some are going a step further than that, too, already predicting they will be 4-0 by the end of this weekend. Even Vegas currently considers them slight favorites when they travel to New England for an important early-season Sunday night tilt.

But perhaps more than in any other game so far, the Bengals have to concern themselves with not getting too caught up in the hype around them. Because if they do and they underestimate the Patriots, they could be staring at the first "L" of the year.

There are reasons why many of the rest of us may think it's OK to overlook the Patriots. After all, New England's injury-riddled offensive line is down to using a pair of rookies to protect quarterback Tom Brady on the line's interior. If this is the week Pro Bowl Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins returns fully to his old form, Brady and the Patriots could be in trouble. Actually, even if Atkins doesn't play that well, the Patriots could have their hands full when the Bengals are in nickel defense and move their ends to rushing positions on the inside.

Along with the woeful protection in front of Brady, the Patriots are reeling from easily their worst loss in four seasons. In 2010, they lost 34-14 to Cleveland. On Monday, they got hammered 41-14 at Kansas City in a game that neither of the three phases really showed up and played all that effectively. Some who watched the game pointed to the defeat as a indication that Brady's best football is starting to get by him. Others thought it was a sign that perhaps New England just isn't as good as it seemed when the season began.

While the rest of us can try explaining that loss, the Bengals can't. What they must do is be wary of the Patriots, and not fall into the trap of believing this week's game will be a breeze.

It won't be.

Again, this game is at Gillette Stadium, a place that can provide the home team a true advantage. It's also a place where the Bengals haven't played well in the past, losing the last seven meetings in New England dating back to 1978. There's also the fact Brady is, well, Brady. The future Hall of Famer doesn't typically follow up an abysmal performance with an even worse one. Just four times since 2006 have the Patriots lost consecutive games.

This also is a prime-time, nationally televised, under-the-lights showdown. Those haven't gone well for the Bengals in recent seasons, as they have posted a 2-4 record on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights since 2011. Quarterback Andy Dalton has just one prime-time road win in four career tries.

None of this is to suggest alarms should go up, but it is written to say that there are plenty of reasons Cincinnati ought to be on the same edge it has been on to this point this season. That's even if the rest of the NFL wants to consider this a win that will justify their place atop not only the AFC but the entire league.

But continue to be wary of the Patriots, Bengals.

On deck for Bengals: Week 5 at Patriots

September, 30, 2014
CINCINNATI -- Now that Week 4 has come to an end, it's time to start turning our attention to the Cincinnati Bengals' next game.

The bye week is in the rear-view.

On deck: The New England Patriots.

Record: 2-2

How they got there
The Patriots are returning home for only their second game at Gillette Stadium this season. The other game there was an uninspiring 16-9 win over the punchless Oakland Raiders. The week before, the Patriots beat a Vikings team that was still was learning its offensive identity; it's an identity that appears to have been found after Teddy Bridgewater's debut this past Sunday. Along with those two wins, the Patriots have a pair of losses, including Monday night's 41-14 meltdown at Kansas City. As players said following the game, no one in a Patriots uniform played well that night.

Key players
QB Tom Brady. The future Hall of Famer is still the driving force behind the Patriots' offense, even if that offensive unit hasn't been what it has been in years past. Injuries to the offensive line have affected the offense, but Brady hasn't played like himself regardless. Backup Jimmy Garoppolo played well behind the ragtag line late in Monday's game, leading some to believe he'll be ready to slide right into the starting role whenever Brady is done.
TE Rob Gronkowski. Long-touted as one of the best tight ends in football, Gronkowski has three touchdown catches through four games. He also has 13 catches overall. All season, the Bengals are expected to be tested by pass-catching tight ends of his caliber -- Jimmy Graham is still on the schedule, as is Jordan Cameron, among others. This could be another good test for cover linebacker Emmanuel Lamur.
CB Darrelle Revis. Revis hasn't been quite the "shutdown" corner the Patriots believed they were signing in the offseason, but he still has one interception on this young campaign. He remains one of the best corners in the league and could have good battles with Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green.

Patriots' base defensive scheme: 4-3

Series history
Patriots lead 14-9 overall, including wins in seven of the last nine meetings. The Bengals' win at home last year was their first in the series since 2001. Last season's 13-6 win at Paul Brown Stadium came with the Bengals hanging on to beat Brady and the Patriots as a hard downpour soaked the field during the Patriots' final drive. Conditions were tough to see in, let alone throw in, forcing Brady into being picked off by Bengals cornerback Adam Jones in the closing minute of the game. This is the first game in this series at New England since 2010.

Bengals at night under Dalton
Cincinnati hasn't fared well in Sunday night games since Andy Dalton took over as starting quarterback four seasons ago. The Bengals have only played two prime-time games on Sundays under Dalton's command, losing both to the Steelers. The Bengals haven't fared well at night historically, regardless the day of the week. Since 2011, they are just 2-4 in nationally televised prime-time games. Overall, the Bengals are 15-10 on the road in that time span. That .600 winning percentage is tied for fourth-best among NFL teams in that stretch.

Week 5 stat to consider
Be on the lookout for how the Patriots respond to the Bengals' defense on third down. New England has a rather low 36.2 percent conversion rating on third downs so far this season. It ranks 27th. Against the Chiefs, the Patriots converted just 2 of 9 third downs. The Bengals' defense, meanwhile, ranks second in the league with a 31.7 percent third-down conversion rating.

Who to follow
You'll want to be sure to follow my colleague Mike Reiss and others on the Patriots blog and also on Twitter (@MikeReiss) for all things Patriots this week. You'll learn much more from Mike later this week in our game preview.