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Five things to watch: Bengals at Patriots

WR Ja'Marr Chase runs the ball in the third quarter of the Bengals-Buccaneers game in Week 15 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida on Sunday, December 18 2022.
WR Ja'Marr Chase runs the ball in the third quarter of the Bengals-Buccaneers game in Week 15 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida on Sunday, December 18 2022.

The Bengals face their final road test of the regular season when they take on the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. The game airs at 1 p.m. on CBS. Here are five things to watch:

1. Bengals O-line vs. Patriots pass rushers

Among the many reasons Cincinnati has been able to win its past six games is the play of the offensive line. Quarterback Joe Burrow has gone six straight contests without being sacked three or more times for the first time in his career, but the Bengals now face a unique test in a New England defensive front that features two premier edge rushers. Matthew Judon (14.5) and Josh Uche (10.5) have each already set a career high in sacks this season, and form the league's only duo that ranks in the top 10 leaguewide in that category. As a team, the Patriots' 48 sacks are third-most in the NFL, and they have been particularly dominant at home with 19 sacks in their last four games at Gillette Stadium.

While the Cincinnati O-line has spent the past few weeks preparing for superstars like T.J. Watt, Chris Jones and Myles Garrett, it now faces perhaps an even greater test in a balanced unit that requires attention across the board. To come away with a win on Saturday, The Bengals will need tackles La'el Collins and Jonah Williams to hold the upper hand in their individual matchups.

2. Finding a rhythm in the run game

The Bengals recorded 100+ rushing yards in three straight games from Weeks 12-14 before being held to 53 at Tampa Bay, their second-lowest total of the season. Halfback Joe Mixon, coming off a 96-yard performance versus Cleveland, was bottled up for just 1.9 yards per carry against the Buccaneers. If Cincinnati can break through against a Patriots run defense that allows the ninth-fewest yards per game in the league (110.3), it would open things up for one of the NFL's hottest passing attacks.

The Bengals are 7-0 since the start of 2021 when Mixon has at least 90 rushing yards. In Week 5 of 2019, his only previous game against the Patriots, Mixon ran 25 times for 136 yards, the sixth-highest total of his career.

3. Feeding the hot hand

Ja'Marr Chase has reminded everyone why he is one of the NFL's top wide receivers since returning from a hip injury in Week 13. Chase has led the Bengals in catches and receiving yards in each of the last three games, and despite missing four contests earlier this season, his eight touchdown grabs are tied for the fifth-most in the league.

Chase's production has proven to be as valuable to the Bengals as any player since the start of his rookie season in 2021. Cincinnati is 13-3 when its star wideout has 60 or more receiving yards, and 7-8 when he is held below that mark. He has gone for at least 60 in each of the last five games he's played in — all Bengals wins — and he enters Saturday just 119 yards away from reaching 1000 for a second straight season. If Cincinnati's offense is going to continue its strong play, look for the two-time Pro Bowler to be heavily involved.

4. Wilson climbing to elite status

The Bengals' defense is full of underrated names, but right at the top of that list is linebacker Logan Wilson, whose 32 tackles over the past two weeks are the most in the NFL. Wilson leads Cincinnati in total tackles this season with 106 — a career high, despite missing the Week 7 game against Atlanta. Though still relied on as the team's do-it-all defender with the ability to drop back in coverage, he has found recent success in pass rushing situations. In Week 14 against Cleveland, he teamed up with safety Vonn Bell to sack Deshaun Watson on third down, forcing a Browns punt. The following week at Tampa Bay, he got to Tom Brady on third-and-eight for another sack, which resulted in DJ Reader punching the ball out and Joseph Ossai recovering at the Bucs' 13-yard line. Wilson had zero sacks in his first 11 games, but if he can continue to get home on third-down blitz packages, it provides yet another element of the Cincinnati defense that opponents have to prepare for. A Bengals victory on Saturday, and just about any other day, figures to have Wilson's fingerprints all over it.

5. Chance for Bengals history

A win on Saturday would mark the first time in team history the Bengals went unbeaten through November and December. They have come close several times, starting in 1970 when they lost at Pittsburgh on Nov. 2 but then rattled off seven straight wins to clinch the franchise's first playoff berth. The 1973 team pulled off a similar feat, dropping its first contest of November before ending the regular season on a six-game winning streak to finish 10-4. Both the 1981 and '82 Bengals had just one loss after Halloween and earned a spot in the postseason, with the '81 squad advancing to Super Bowl XVI.

The last time Cincinnati went through its December schedule unbeaten was the 1997 season, when it won three straight to finish 7-9 on the year.