Around the NFL the stories focus on the bizarre breakdown of Terrell Owens, the showing of some serious spleen by Chris Simms, and the rejuvenation of the New Orleans Saints, but here in New England all thoughts focus on one simple fact: the Bengals cometh.

Cincinnati is the type of team that is fun for a football fan to cheer for: a dynamic young QB (Carson Palmer), a strong downhill RB (Rudi Johnson), the most exciting and dynamic receiver in the NFL (Sorry T.O., Randy Moss, et al: it is Chad Johnson), a young defense that creates turnovers and flies around all over the field, and a solid special teams unit. Other than the hideous orange-and-black uniforms, there is not much to dislike about the Bengals (OK, there are off-field problems, but anything short of the Zeke Mowatt-Lisa Olsen-Victor Kiam triangle of embarrassment is small potatoes. You want off-field issues, see the Patriots teams of the 80s and early 90s.).

While the Bengals offense should cause all kinds of problems for the Patriots, their defense has one HUGE weakness: stopping the run. With Corey Dillon dinged-up, Laurence Maroney could be hosting his big busting out party this weekend. I would expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to give him the ball again and again to grind down the field and keep the Cincy offense on the sidelines. While the Bengals defense is young and athletic, they are vulnerable to cut-backs by the running backs, screen passes, and reverses and end-arounds. In other words, the Patriots offense should match-up well with the Bengals defense.

As far as facing the high-flying Cincinnati offense, the Patriots need to tackle better. They must keep the receivers in front of them (no big plays) and wrap them up, keep Rudi Johnson from breaking tackles and getting to the secondary (Vince Wilfork needs to get his butt into the inside running lanes and tie-up multiple blockers, and try to get pressure from a four man rush to get some turnovers.

The Patriots need the momentum of a quality win, and beating Cincinnati would be a huge confidence boost for Tom Brady. Doug Gabriel, Reche Caldwell, and Chad Jackson are all quality wide receivers. When they get healthy and time on the field, they will produce. Ben Watson and Dan Graham are also huge assets for passing game that have not been as effective as expected.

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