CINCINNATI — The Patriots are entertaining the possibility of starting the season 5-0 with a win Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, marking the first time since 2007 the team will have done so and the fourth time in team history.
But the game will come with its challenges.
The Patriots have to square with the loss of stalwart defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (placed on injured reserve) as well as a depleted running backs group with Stevan Ridley (knee) out for Sunday’s game. And then there is the matter of the Bengals’ offensive talent that has to be properly sized up, including leading wide receiver A.J. Green (26 receptions, 300 yards, 3 TDs).
Key Patriots are certainly expected to make sizable contributions given the circumstances, including defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Joe Vellano to replace Wilfork, and running backs LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden to replace Ridley. Meanwhile Patriots star cornerback Aqib Talib (four interceptions) will likely be zeroing in on Green, making for one of the highlight matchups of the clash between these two conference powers.
The Bengals are coming off a 17-6 loss to the Browns, a disappointing effort for a talented team that has lacked consistency.
“We really haven’t performed to expectations totally throughout an entire football game,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told reporters earlier in the week. “We can play brilliantly and we can play with a lot of error, and the error gets you beat. So we have to do a better job of taking care of the football, we have to do a better job of converting third downs and we have to get takeaways on defense.”
The Patriots are 14-8 all-time against the Bengals in the regular season and 4-0 with Tom Brady as the team’s starting quarterback. The last time these two teams met in the regular season, Sept. 12, 2010, the Patriots won 38-24 with Brady throwing three touchdown passes. In the same game, wide receiver Brandon Tate, then with the Patriots and now with the Bengals, returned a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) may return to the Patriots’ lineup this week after reports surfaced Saturday he traveled with the team to Cincinnati. Those same reports indicated that all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) did not travel with the team. Both are listed as questionable.
Here are the details for today’s game:
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Records: Patriots 4-0; Bengals 2-2.
TV/Radio: CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak).
Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.
Patriots offense: WR Julian Edelman, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, FB James Develin, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.
Patriots defense: DT Tommy Kelly, DT Joe Vellano, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont’a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.
Bengals offense: WR Mohamed Sanu, LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Kyle Cook, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith, TE Jermaine Gresham, WR A.J. Green, QB Andy Dalton, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, FB Orson Charles.
Bengals defense: DE Carlos Dunlap, NT Domato Peko, DT Geno Atkins, DE Michael Johnson, SLB James Harrison, MLB Rey Maualuga, WLB Vontaze Burfict, LCB Terence Newman, RCB Leon Hall, SS George Iloka, FS Reggie Nelson.
– Erik Frenz breaks downs the matchup between Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson.
– 5 questions with Bengals beat writer Joe Reedy.
– From the Cincinnati Enquirer: The Patriots are always special for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
– Follow today’s game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around noon.