A week’s worth of debate about press boxes, videotaping and “Do Your Job” will come to a head Sunday when the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals square off in Week 15.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for in what should be a lopsided matchup:
Time: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
The 10-3 Patriots have dropped two in a row and three of their last five, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-16 last Sunday in a game marred by a few horrendous officiating decisions.
The Bengals blew out the Jets two weeks ago to silence any 0-16 chatter and were competitive last Sunday in a 27-19 loss to the Cleveland Browns. They’ve been close in their last few losses, actually — losing by 8, 6 and 7 points — but at 1-12, they’re currently the favorite to be picking first in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Patriots entered the weekend as 10-point road favorites. They’ve lost two consecutive games eight times over the last 15 seasons (not including their current skid) and rebounded to win the third each time. Average margin of victory in those games: 20.1 points.
New England’s last three-game losing streak came way back in 2002, when it lost four in a row en route to a 9-7 finish.
Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn was removed from the Patriots’ injury report Friday and will play after missing Thursday’s practice with an eye injury. Seven players are listed as questionable for New England:
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, Knee
DL Byron Cowart, Concussion
WR Julian Edelman, Knee / Shoulder
OL Ted Karras, Knee
CB Jason McCourty, Groin
WR Mohamed Sanu, Ankle
DL Danny Shelton, Shoulder
Edelman missed practice Wednesday for the first time this season — he participated in a limited capacity Thursday and Friday — and did not speak to the media this week. He’s played through injuries all year, and given his renowned toughness, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be active Sunday. Still, his status bears monitoring.
Cincinnati has ruled out wide receiver A.J. Green (who has yet to play this season) and defensive tackle Rennel Wren and listed cornerback Darqueze Dennard as questionable.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
N’Keal Harry, Patriots wide receiver
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said this week he wants to get Harry more involved after the rookie played just two snaps against Kansas City. One of those snaps featured one of the more impressive individual plays of this Patriots season, as Harry caught a short pass from Tom Brady and muscled through three Chiefs defenders for what should have been his second career touchdown. Expect McDaniels to scheme up more ways to get Harry the ball in space.
Joe Mixon, Bengals running back
Mixon’s rushing numbers are way down in 2019, but he’s coming off his most productive game of the season: a 23-carry, 146-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Browns. Limiting Mixon and forcing Andy Dalton — who’s back at the controls after being benched for two games last month — and Cincinnati’s Green-less receiving corps to beat the Patriots through the air would be a smart strategy in this one.
Ted Karras, Patriots center
Having Karras back active would be a significant boost for New England’s offensive line. Karras missed last week’s game with a knee injury, and his replacement, James Ferentz, struggled against Chiefs stud D-tackle Chris Jones. Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins has been one of the NFL’s top interior disruptors for years now, earning a Pro Bowl nod in each of the last five seasons and leading all Bengals defenders with 45 pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Patriots tackles Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon also had issues in pass protection against Kansas City. They’ll have their hands full with edge rushers Carlos Dunlap (5 1/2 sacks, 33 pressures) and Sam Hubbard (five sacks, 37 pressures).
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images