There may be all sorts of overreaction raging from Waldoboro to Woonsocket and from Framingham to Foxboro in the six-state enclave of the New England Patriots.
But after taking a cold-eyed look at Sunday night's game (8:30-Cincinnat's Channel 5), the Bengals.com Media Roundtable has made a sober judgment and kept in line with the odds makers to tap the Bengals for their first Sunday night road win under head coach Marvin Lewis.
Our all-Bay State panel, anchored by Wakefield's Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst, makes Cincinnati the favorite by 3-1. Lapham believes the Patriots can't overcome the problems on their offensive line and gives the Bengals defensive line a huge edge in a game he sees Patriots coach Bill Belichick going back to basics.
Karen Guregian, the Chelmsford High School three-sport Hall of Famer who is a 30-year veteran of The Boston Herald, thinks it's a flat-out bad matchup for the Patriots up front on both sides of the ball.
The estimable Ron Borges, a Herald sports columnist and Pro Football Hall of Fame voter who has covered the Patriots from Sugar Bear Ray to Tom Terrific, says these Patriots aren't to be confused with the teams that have gone to five Super Bowls and picks the Bengals to wedge into the AFC driver's seat.
The only one going with the Patriots is Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, who has chronicled the Belichick era from print to video and believes the Patriotic response to Monday night's embarrassment in Kansas City combined with the Bengals' struggles in prime time translates to a tight New England victory.
And, no, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is not done.
Let's go around The Table. As always, ladies and visitors first:
For the Patriots it starts with the offensive line. It's been the biggest issue from the first game and has carried over. If they can't protect Brady or open up a running game, they'll be toast once again because obviously the Bengals have a great defensive front. Very aggressive. They'll be licking their chops if Patriots offensive line can't get its act together and it's been nothing short of musical chairs as they try to find the right combination. The working number is 10 different ones and it could be more this week.
Everyone wants to say Brady is out to pasture and on the decline, but I think it's hard to measure that based on the fact he hasn't been protected and he's gotten his brains beaten in. It's to the point when he does have time he has been rushing things. Once he maybe regains a little trust, once they start protecting him again, then maybe he'll look like his old self again. But right now he's a shaky quarterback.
The one time they did run the ball, the second week against Minnesota, is when they looked the best. It helped give them a little more confidence and they stuck with it. It takes the pressure off Brady and the line and it set up a more efficient passing game by going 80 percent runs.
They had issues with their run defense last year, but you thought with Wilfork coming back, linebacker Jerod Mayo coming back, you thought those areas would be shored up. But Miami and Kansas City have gashed them on the ground. It doesn't matter that they're being run right down the gut or around end, they're losing battles across the line. They're not stout in the run game.
They've improved themselves in the secondary and you have Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback to match some of the size of the Bengals. They really haven't played Revis man-to-man much, except against Greg Jennings in Minnesota. But I would expect and I think he's hoping he gets A.J. Green one-on-one. Their secondary can be very good. It's just they've been gashed so much by the run, that obviously sets up the pass and they've had no pass rush.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 27-13. It's a bad matchup for the Patriots at a bad time and the Bengals are at a point they want to show that they're big-time players and the Patriots are vulnerable. No time like the present in the prime-time game.
It's a bad matchup for the Patriots against a physical team up front that tends to give them trouble as they did the last time they played when they held them without a touchdown. They've had a short week, the Bengals are coming off a bye week and it would appear most of the advantages are with Cincinnati.
Traditionally, this is the kind of game where the Patriots rally. But it's a different group of guys and they haven't really proven they can do it. To me they seem to have more fundamental problems than those other teams. Problems up front with the offensive and defensive lines. You're not going to match up with the physical teams and the top teams and certainly Cincinnati is both of those. History says they will come out and play a clean game, but I just haven't seen any indication yet the way the team is presently built it has the capability to do that.
The Patriots will play better than they did in Kansas City. They're not that bad and not that lifeless. The signing of Darrelle Revis was a good one, but they're not using him to his best advantage. He's playing a lot of zone defense. What's the point?
A big problem is they didn't pay defensive tackle Tommie Kelly, who's playing pretty well in Arizona and ripping them every chance he gets. They've had tremendous trouble against a physical running game. If you want to run it on them, you can do it, they don't seem to be able to stop it.
These are basic issues. Paul Brown said it all starts up front. Look at their offensive line. They've had three centers in four games. The first position Paul Brown ever drafted is center. Bob Johnson. You have to snap the ball. Three times they've changed their center. What's that tell you? It's hurt they lost their offensive line coach, the great Dante Scarnecchia, to retirement. They traded Logan Mankins, their Pro Bowl guard, and they played two rookies last week on the offensive line.
Brady's not done. He's 37 and he's the same player he was when he was 27. They were the third highest scoring team a year ago. He just didn't fall off a cliff. There's no question he's having some problems stemming from problems with the offensive line. Both interceptions he threw against Kansas City he had a clean pocket. The second one returned for a touchdown was to me where it was a clean pocket, but it was a tight pocket and he let it go too soon because he wasn't sure if those guys were going to hold up. By my count watching game film, he's been hurried 61 times. That's absurd. That's twice the league average for a four-game stretch. When you're under that kind of duress and you're not a running-type QB and you're 37, if you're not going to be in the pocket, then you're insane and he's not insane.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 20-13. I think the Bengals are going to come in here with a chip on their shoulder, new sheriff in town, something to prove. If you want to become the middleweight champion, you have to beat the old middleweight champion. They've had two weeks to prepare for the game. If Cincinnati comes in here and doesn't look good, it probably says more about them than the Patriots because they've got every advantage.
I'm sure you still have to respect the Patriots with Brady here. But people have forgotten a lot of guys on this team haven't done anything. Brady and (Vince) Wilfork are the only guys that have won anything. Tom Brady has been saying it since training camp. We're trying to figure out what we do well. The scary proposition is maybe you don't do anything well. REISS
The Patriots offensive line has been the big issue as they try to find the right guys. There are times Brady doesn't have time to go through his progressions and when he does, he's been affected by the pressure that has come before and he's unloading the ball quicker than he needs to.
The Patriots have to establish more of a ground game. Can they do that against the Bengals base defense? Those are two thoughts.
The sense is they'll run the ball and try to protect Brady more. We saw the max protection calls a little bit against the Chiefs. Both New England running backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, didn't play against the Bengals last season. The idea they're both available is enticing to them just because they are players the Bengals didn't see last year.
Defensively, Revis vs. Green, you figure. That will be a fun one to watch. Two players at the top of their craft. And you have to look at the Bengals running game against the Patriots because the Patriots had trouble setting the edge in Kansas City. New England has been very inconsistent against the run. Bad against Miami and Kansas City. Better against Minnesota without Adrian Peterson and Oakland without Maurice Jones-Drew. So what are they? It's not a very good defense right now.
The defensive tackle spot at times has been an issue for them when it comes to shedding. They're on thin ice relying on Wilfork so much and they're undersized at the other spot. They need more from their backers. Mayo is a good glue guy, getting everyone lined up, the quarterback of the defense. In coverage he's been a step behind at times. Jamie Collins has been looking to take the next step, but it's been backwards and a thigh injury may be holding him back. Dont'a Hightower has been their best backer, but he also struggled against the run in Kansas City.
There has been overreaction. To me the overreaction is the big picture. Brady's done. Belichick has lost it. I don't buy that. But it's not an overreaction to say Monday night was an embarrassment. They said that themselves.
THE EDGE: Patriots, 17-14. I expect a Patriots team to come out with much more emotion, passion and energy than they had Monday night in Kansas City when they basically got into the boxing ring and didn't bring their boxing gloves. I think they disgusted themselves. They're going to come in angry. They have not been that enough this year. They'll shore up their run defense. The talent is there. It's more about execution. The offense will attempt to get back to basics and play old school Patriot football circa 2001 when it was about the running game, defense, special teams. If the Bengals had a little more success in prime-time situations on the road recently, I might be more inclined to go in that direction. LAPHAM
After watching the game in Kansas City Monday night, you'd have to say the Chiefs aren't that good and the Patriots aren't that bad. It's probably somewhere in between and the Patriots are a different animal in Foxboro, so you have to throw some of that out.
But some of the issues the Patriots have are for real. They treated their offensive line the other night like it was a preseason game. They were rolling guys in and out trying to find the right combinations up front and if you're doing that in the fourth game of the year, you've got major problems. The biggest mismatch in the game is the Bengals defensive line vs. the Patriots O-line.
You've got a quarterback that has a brilliant football IQ, but if your other guys are learning multiplication tables, you have to dumb it down.
I think Belichick is going to go football 101. Try to run it, get in third and manageable situations, punt you, back you up, make you go long field, shrink the game, get into the fourth quarter, see if you make a mistake, that kind of game. It will be a close, low-scoring game.
What shocked me is how Kansas City handled the Patriots defense. They did a lot of stuff Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is doing. A lot of formations. A lot of personnel groups. Motion. Window dressing. And the Patriots were on their heels. With Belichick it's all about adjustments and then adjustments to adjustments.
He may put Revis on A.J., maybe he won't. Some of the games he's had Revis on the best receiver. Other games he's just lined him up at left corner. So you don't know what he's going to do. That's the thing about the guy. It's a chess match with that guy and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had him. Belichick seemed to be trying to adjust to him. That was a crazy thing. Usually it's the other way around.
The Bengals are No. 1 in a lot of key categories, but they're giving up 5.1 yards per carry and are only getting 3.6. That 1.5-yard differential is third worst in the league, so you have to figure Belichick is going to say, let's stop the run and run the ball and shrink the game and get into the fourth quarter. I thought Kansas City did a good job making the front seven chase instead of coming downhill right at them.
Both teams have rookie centers from the fourth-round in the ACC. I would take the Bengals right now. I'd take Russell Bodine right now. Physically, it's not too big for him. He can knock around guys pretty well. The line seems to be operating pretty well. I don't know how much help he's getting with calls, but it's getting solved.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 21-17, in a dogfight. I never would have thought Kansas City would score 41 points on the Patriots in a million years. I don't think the Patriots are going to light up the Bengals defense. But the Bengals have to score 21 points to win this game.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Whatever happened in that 13-6 Bengals win over the Pats last year at Paul Brown Stadium, forget about it.
New England didn't have their best receiver, tight end Rob Gronkowski, their two best running backs, Ridley and Vereen, and their best defender, Wilfork. Plus since then they've added two big Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Revis and Browner.
(Plus, the Pats have lost back-to-back games four times since head coach Marvin Lewis came into the NFL in 2003, the last two time two years ago.)
But the Bengals also didn't have Jackson calling plays or Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill taking the bulk of the runs.
And that's who wins his game. Whoever gets the running game established.
It's being bandied about that the Bengals are The New Kids in Town in the AFC and that Lying Eyes have ignored the erosion of the Patriots. But The Eagles will tell you that it all gets back to Life in the Fast Lane.
Brady needs to be protected and the Bengals don't have two of their best run stuffers in WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. The Bengals are giving up 5.1 yards per rush, but remember. They've been playing situations and for all but 48 seconds of the season they've had the lead so that doesn't mean they're brittle. But Belichick will make them stop the run.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is sending his receivers against Revis and Browner without wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert. Belichick's M.O. is he'll take away the best weapon so if Green gets neutralized, they need an answer.
The Patriots haven't had an answer in the running game all year, they've only stopped Minnesota and Oakland without their top backs, and they haven't faced a tandem as good as Bernard and Hill.
The Pats figure to load the box after the Chiefs strafed them on the ground for 207 yards Monday night, so Green and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu are going to have to beat one of the league's top corner tandems.
Lapham has it right. Belichick isn't going to let Kansas City happen again. He's going to tighten The Hoodie and play it like The Freezer Bowl. He'll max protect Brady, run Ridley and Vereen to protect him because the line can't, and get the Bengals in a grimy, push-and-shove AFC North field position game on the road.
The problem for the Pats is that's the Bengals game. And the Bengals special teams is going to be playing with a lot of emotion. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons goes against his mentor, Patriots special team coach Scott O'Brien, and returner Brandon Tate celebrates his 27th birthday on a night he plays the team that drafted him in the 2009 third round and where he once returned an Opening Day kickoff against the Bengals.
This is a passing of the torch game and the Bengals will take it. But they'll have to survive some burns because the Gillette Stadium faithful won't let the Pats hand it to them.