The New England Patriots are faced with a must-win scenario against a Cincinnati Bengals team that has won six straight games and has one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL.
It will be an all-hands-on-deck scenario for the Patriots, who will be entering Saturday’s game as underdogs. The Bengals are in a position to cruise into the playoffs with potentially a first-round by still hanging in the balance for them over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are hoping to pull off an upset and keep their slim postseason hopes alive. However, they’ll have their work cut out for them to get the job done.
Here are the key positional matchups to keep an eye on in the game.
Matthew Judon vs Bengals offensive front
Matthew Judon had a fairly quiet game last week against the Raiders, but this week could be even more important. The Patriots will need a big outing from their pass rush on Christmas Eve because Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense are on a tear.
Judon will need to be more productive on the stat sheet and force Burrow to make quick decisions, if the Patriots wish to keep the Bengals’ weapons in check. Without a good pass rush, Burrow will have all day to throw to some of the best receivers in the game.
Judon is the most important player for the Patriots this week, and the team will need him to pop big on the stat sheet.
Patriots defensive secondary v Bengals wide receivers
Another important matchup this week will come down to the simple fact of skill vs skill.
The Patriots have some pretty good players in the defensive secondary, but the Bengals have unreal talent in their receivers’ room. There is no doubt New England will have its hands full with wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon.
With Jalen Mills already ruled out, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, and Myles Bryant will need to have their best games matched up against the game’s elite.
I expect Jonathan Jones to be matched up with Chase for the majority of the game, while Jack Jones will likely face Tee Higgins, with Myles Bryant, Marcus Jones and others trying to eliminate Tyler Boyd on the inside.
Patriots offensive line vs Bengals defensive line
The Bengals have one of the best run defenses in football with the unit currently sitting as top-10 in the league. They also have an underrated pass rush that could cause problems for the Patriots’ banged up, and inconsistent offensive line.
With the Patriots offense struggling all season, they cannot afford to do it this week. The offensive line had one of their best matchups against the Minnesota Vikings, and the offense actually resembled an NFL offense for a bit in that game.
If the Patriots wish to have any chance, they need to create space for the running backs, while keeping Mac Jones on his feet.