Sunday Night Football
Cincinnati @ New England
Monday night's loss to Kansas City provided Bengals OC Hue Jackson with an intriguing blueprint on how to defeat the Patriots. Now playing on a short week, New England was dismantled for 199 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries (5.85 YPC) by Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis. Charles added two touchdowns on red-zone passes. Look for Giovani Bernard to fill the Charles role in Foxboro while Hill mimics Davis. I like Gio as a borderline RB1 and Hill as an exciting flex option. ... It's fair to wonder how long Bernard will stay on his 358-touch pace with Hill on course for just 150. Over his last seven games, Bernard has 305 yards on 106 carries (2.88 YPC). Bernard is saving his fantasy value with goal-line scores and his PPR value with catches, but he's getting outplayed by Hill on the ground. This season, Bernard is averaging 3.36 YPC to Hill's 5.08. Hill has also caught both of his passing-game targets and graded out perfectly on his nine pass-blocking opportunities, per Pro Football Focus. Hill's playing time is going to rise. It's just a matter of when and to what extent. ... Although Andy Dalton has played very effectively on the field in Jackson's offense, the preseason game-manager fears are being realized. Dalton has fired off just 46 attempts over his last two games and ranks a lowly 30th in per-game quarterback scoring, behind the likes of Austin Davis and Brian Hoyer. On the road against a run-vulnerable opponent, this game wouldn't appear to set up well for Dalton's leash to be loosened. Expect another high-percentage performance, but with limited volume. He's a two-quarterback-league play.
Dalton's Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Bernard 19; A.J. Green 18; Mohamed Sanu 17; Brandon Tate 10; Jermaine Gresham 9; Dane Sanzenbacher 4; Hill 2. ... Despite the offseason signing of Darrelle Revis, the two No. 1-caliber receivers New England has faced (Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe) have dropped stat lines of 7-81-1 and 5-81 on the Pats, having plenty of success against Revis. Back from a bye to rest his toe injury, Green should be confidently locked into fantasy lineups. ... Initially expected back from his fractured foot in Week 5, Marvin Jones sprained his ankle in practice this week and now appears likely to be inactive. On the field, Sanu has held down the fort admirably in Jones' absence, but is a low-ceiling WR4 in fantasy leagues. When Jones finally returns, it's conceivable the two will rotate snaps in two-receiver sets. I'm taking a wait-and-see approach on the Bengals' complementary receivers. ... Simply not a big part of OC Hue Jackson's passing attack, Gresham failed to exceed five targets in any of Cincinnati's first three games, and topped out at 25 yards. PFF has Gresham blocking on 62% of his snaps. Gresham only blocked on 55% of his 2013 snaps, and 50.5% in 2012. Despite early-season injuries to Green, Jones, and Tyler Eifert, Gresham is being phased out and used as a sixth offensive lineman.
You can hide your eyes and pretend or you can see that Tom Brady is a problem. Reacting to pressure that isn't there, Brady is frenetic and inaccurate, and forcing far too many passes in 5-foot-10, 195-pound Julian Edelman's direction. On tape and statistically, Brady is a liability by every measure. A Week 5 date with Cincinnati should inspire zero confidence that a rebound is imminent. In Weeks 1-3, the Bengals held Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Jake Locker to 76-of-140 passing (54.3%) for 761 yards (5.44 YPA) and a 2:6 TD-to-INT ratio, with seven sacks taken. Brady is officially a low-end two-quarterback-league play. If he struggles again, I think the Pats should give serious consideration to inserting impressive rookie Jimmy Garoppolo. ... Brady's Weeks 1-4 target distribution: Edelman 35; Rob Gronkowski 25; Brandon LaFell 22; Shane Vereen 21; Kenbrell Thompkins 11; Danny Amendola 6; Tim Wright and Stevan Ridley 4; Brandon Bolden 3. ... A combination of double teams and Brady's lost ability to make quick decisions has limited Gronk's catch and yardage totals, not his diminished speed. He's still scored in 3-of-4 games and remains an every-week fantasy starter. Gronkowski's playing time continues to rise. After playing 43% of the Patriots' downs in Weeks 1-2, his Weeks 3 and 4 snap rates were 58% and 62%, respectively. For matchup purposes, it's worth noting Cincinnati has allowed the fifth most receptions in football to tight ends (22) despite an early-season bye.
Edelman is an every-week fantasy starter despite Brady's struggles, but don't be entirely shocked if he strings together another slow game. Keyed by slot CB Leon Hall's shutdown between-the-numbers coverage, Cincinnati has held enemy slot receivers Harry Douglas (4-38-0) and Kendall Wright (5-44-0) in check over its last two games. Edelman does play outside enough to get some opportunities against RCB Pacman Jones and LCB Terence Newman, but this is a difficult matchup. ... The Patriots' outside receivers continue to be a weekly crapshoot. Thompkins and Dobson were both inactive for Week 4. LaFell had a big game against the Chiefs, but got much of his production in garbage time and produced stat lines of 0-0, 0-0, and 4-46 in New England's first three games. With poor quarterback play and an uncertain role, LaFell is not remotely a trustworthy fantasy starter. ... Amendola is now averaging under two targets per game and should've been dropped from 14-team-league rosters weeks ago. ... The Bengals are more vulnerable on the ground than in the air -- they're allowing 5.07 yards per carry -- but OC Josh McDaniels has been willing to abandon the run at the drop of a hat, which really hurts Ridley. His carry totals through four games are 8, 25, 19, and 5. ... Vereen is at least a somewhat stable flex option with 11-plus touches in three of the Patriots' first four games. He's on pace for 112 carries and 56 catches, and offers high-end RB2 upside in PPR leagues.
Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Patriots 20