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Game Scout: Patriots at Bengals

The SportsXchange

New England Patriots (4-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf

*Keys to the game: WR A.J. Green had three 20-plus yard plays in the opener -- since then, his timing with QB Andy Dalton has been erratic. The Bengals want to set up the downfield throws with more consistent inside running. In theory, that's easier to do with Patriots NT Vince Wilfork (Achilles) out, but the Patriots' disciplined gap-minding means BenJarvus Green-Ellis and wiggly rookie Giovani Bernard see many run-focused fronts. TE Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, a tight end who has also lined up as a slot receiver, are capable of big plays if the Patriots roll their safeties deep to shade to Green's side. The Patriots might use more of LeGarrette Blount with Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden ailing. He's a power back but hasn't started a game since 2011. The Bengals could shuffle their defense if Vontaze Burfict (neck) isn't 100 percent. It's unlikely they'll waiver much from their defensive approach -- locking up wide receivers in man-to-man coverage and rushing only four to get pressure. Even if DE Michael Johnson (concussion) misses this week's game, the Bengals are capable of getting to QB Tom Brady.

*Matchup to watch - Bengals DT Geno Atkins vs. Patriots LG Logan Mankins: Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered reams of pages worth of praise or Atkins this week -- calling him the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft if there were re-do's and saying the Pro Bowl pass rusher can wreck a game by himself. Mankins is no slouch but few interior linemen win this battle solo.

*Player spotlight - Patriots CB Aqib Talib: Living up to the shutdown moniker this season, including last week against the Falcons' Julio Jones, Talib goes toe-to-toe with arguably the AFC's top receiver. He has at least one interception in three consecutive games.

*Fast facts: The Patriots have won six consecutive road games and are 7-1 in the past eight meetings. ... The Bengals are 10-1 when Dalton has a 100-plus passer rating.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Tom Brady delivers another road victory with a band of no-names in supporting roles as the Patriots keep Cincinnati's offense off-balance in the red zone.

*Our pick: Patriots 24-20
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