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3 Things To Watch – New England

Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson is poised for an increased role on offense against New England.
Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson is poised for an increased role on offense against New England.

There's certainly enough intrigue for the Week 15 matchup between the Bengals and New England Patriots. 

While most of the national media's discussion about the Bengals-Patriots matchup will focus on the sideline filming controversy, there are plenty of other storylines that make the Week 15 contest at Paul Brown Stadium one of the most intriguing games on the schedule.

From playoff implications to positioning in the 2020 NFL Draft, Sunday's game will help clear up a lot of questions for both franchises.

The Bengals have played better than their 1-12 record indicates. Head coach Zac Taylor and company have lost eight of those contests by 10 points or less. Meanwhile the Patriots enter the contest at 10-3, nursing one-game leads over the Chiefs in the battle for a first-round playoff bye and the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East championship.

Here are the three things to watch:

View images of the Bengals-Patriots series over the years.

1. Secondary Receivers – One tenet of a Bill Belichick defense is the team loves to take away a team's best player. It's part of the reason the Patriots lead the NFL in total defense allowing 264.8 yards per game. A marquee matchup will feature Stephon Gilmore, who's putting together a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season in New England's secondary, against Cincinnati's top receiver, Tyler Boyd.

If Boyd can't consistently break free, that puts the focus on the Bengals' other receivers like John Ross and Alex Erickson. Don't be surprised to see veterans like running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert enjoy big games. Their ability to create mismatches in space will be critical in helping generate big plays and controlling the clock.

2. The Red Zone – This was a hot topic of conversation earlier this week. The Bengals and Patriots each have nine red-zone possessions without points this season, tied with the Raiders for most in the league. Overall, the Patriots rank 27th in red zone touchdown percentage at 48 percent, while the Bengals come in at 31st at 37 percent.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels likes to mix up the personnel groupings and using heavier packages, especially early in the game. That allows the Patriots to unleash a variety of weapons like running backs Sony Michel and James White, as well as receivers like Julian Edleman and Phillip Dorsett. The retirement of Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski has left a significant void in creating mismatches against opposing defenses. That's where the Patriots might look more to rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry, 6-foot-4, 225 pound receiver, as a red zone cure.

3. The Turnover Battle - It is difficult to visualize the Bengals being able to win this game without forcing a turnover or two, but it will be easier said than done.

The good news is Cincinnati has been much better of late generating turnovers. The Bengals have generated six turnovers in the previous five games, the best stretch of the season and the Bengals won the turnover battle last week against Cleveland. 

It will not be easy though as New England leads the NFL in turnover differential at plus-19. The Patriots' defense leads the league with 21 interceptions and has generated a turnover in all but one game this season.

Game Information

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.

Television: The game will air on CBS-TV. In Cincinnati, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12). Broadcasters are Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), James Lofton (analyst) and Amanda Balionis (sideline reporter).

Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).

The game also will air nationally on Sports USA Radio. Broadcasters are Larry Kahn (play-by-play), John Robinson (analyst) and Troy West (sideline reporter).


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