FOXBORO — The common message encompassing the New England Patriots locker room this week is that the record of the Cincinnati Bengals doesn’t tell the full story.
The 10-3 Patriots will travel to 1-12 Cincinnati after two straight losses. New England is in current possession of the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture, meaning they will get a first-round bye, and are in position to control their own destiny.
“I think this is a football team that doesn’t have a good record, but they actually do a lot of things really well in all three phases of the game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told Cincinnati reporters during his mid-week press conference at Gillette Stadium. “I’ve been very impressed watching them play and they cause a lot of problems.”
The good news for the Patriots is that it will be another chance to get their running game going. A week removed from playing one of the worst rushing defenses in Kansas City, New England will face a Cincinnati run defense that is the second-worst in the NFL, allowing an average of 156.7 rushing yards per game.
It has played a major part in the Bengals’ defense allowing the second-most yards in the league (399.5 per game).
“I’d say one of the better, more disruptive groups that we’ve faced, and we’ve faced some good ones here over the course of the season,” Belichick said of the Bengals’ front, including Carlos Dunlap (5.5 sacks), Sam Hubbard (5.0 sacks) and Geno Atkins (4.5 sacks).
“So, they present a lot of problems there,” Belichick added. “It’s a very aggressive defense and (they) really make you work for the yards.”
On the offensive side of the football, the statistics show much of the same for the Bengals. Cincinnati is second to last in the NFL in points scored (15.2 per game) and 28th in rushing yards per game (85.8). The Bengals rank a bit higher in passing yards (18th in the NFL at 226.8 per game).
“Offensively, very good skill group,” Belichick said of the unit led by quarterback Andy Dalton. “Good backs, guys that are different — (Joe) Mixon and (Giovani) Bernard — but both outstanding players. They make a lot of yards on their own, both good in the passing game, both good in the running game, very versatile players. (Tyler) Eifert and (C.J.) Uzomah at tight end do a great job, too.”
Dalton has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,757 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games. Tyler Boyd (73 receptions, 833 yards in 13 games) leads the receiving corps along with third-year receiver John Ross likely to return for his second game since Week Four.
“Another explosive player,” Belichick said of Ross, who has 18 receptions for 356 yards (19.8 yards per catch) in five games this season. “Yeah, he’s tough. Good receiver, can stretch the defense, but a good catch-and-run player. They have a lot of skill.”