This sets up as a get-right spot for the beleaguered Patriots offense, and it’s an especially interesting spot in that the Patriots are one of the few teams in the league that can be expected to run their “normal offense” in this matchup, as this team tends to be more focused (in “anything goes” spots like this) on continuing to develop their offense than they are in “just securing a win.” In other words: the Patriots will look to come out and dominate, rather than just looking to “keep the ball on the ground and kill off this game against the Bengals” — and while the Patriots’ offense has not shown anything that would lead us to believe a true “domination” is in store (barring short fields created by the Pats defense), this does at least mean that we can expect this team to attack, rather than just sitting back.
As for the matchup the Patriots run into :: the Bengals — as explored numerous times in recent weeks — have been improving and continuing to play hard as this season has progressed, and if not for their struggles in the YAC department, this would actually be a pretty solid all-around pass defense, as Cincy is shaving almost 9% off the league-average aDOT while holding opposing pass catchers right around the league-average catch rate. Cincy is allowing over 4.7 yards per carry to running backs still, but with the third best red zone touchdown defense in the league, they are making it tough for running backs to truly roll up slate-breaking lines against them. And outside of games against Baltimore and San Francisco, no team has topped 27 points against the Bengals, while they’ve held three of their last four opponents to 17 or fewer points.
With the Patriots struggling to move the ball on the ground, they have continued to lean on the pass game to pick up yards, and with this approach has come a fairly remarkable eight straight games of double-digit targets for Julian Edelman. Edelman doesn’t boast the big-play upside that would be optimal in a matchup against a team like the Bengals (which struggles most heavily in the big-play-through-YAC department), but most paths for this game have him seeing double-digit targets yet again, which locks in a fairly high floor (78+ yards in five of his last six games) alongside touchdown-driven ceiling.
Behind Edelman, the backfield is the place where the Patriots are next likeliest to focus their action — with James White the most likely to succeed here, given how poorly Sony Michel has played this year (3.5 yards per carry; zero games north of 91 yards). White played 40 snaps last week against the poor run defense of the Chiefs, while Michel played only nine snaps and Rex Burkhead mixed in for 18. White soaked up only six carries and seven targets, but he’s only one week removed from a 14-carry, 11-target game, and he has shown a fairly high floor this year on PPR sites.
When we move beyond Edelman and White, we hit the rough patches that have turned this Patriots offense into the disappointing unit it has been this year, with a rotation of “guys Tom Brady doesn’t trust” that consists of two tight ends (Ben Watson // Matt LaCosse) and four wide receivers (Mohamed Sanu // Phillip Dorsett // Jakobi Meyers // N’Keal Harry). Watson and LaCosse are non-threats who need a broken play or a touchdown to do anything of note. Dorsett seems completely unable to run the route Brady wants him to run at the moment. Meyers is struggling to make plays outside of balls that hit him directly in his hands (and even those haven’t been guarantees). And Harry played only two snaps last week. Sanu played 39 // 66 snaps last week but saw only one target. This group behind Edelman and White is just throwing up a prayer.
You’re praying even harder if you swing over to the Bengals this week, and you’re on your own if you choose to scoop up players from this squad in this spot. As in: you’ll fairly literally be on your own in tourneys — which is the only real case to be made for going to this team against a Patriots defense that ranks first in points allowed, first in yards allowed, first in drive success rate, and first in DVOA. If going here, of course, you’re likeliest to luck into a slate-breaker through upside-hunting rather than through volume, as it’s likelier that one player hits a big play than it is that one player repeatedly wins in this matchup. I won’t be going here myself, but if I were choosing to attack with Bengals in large-field play, I would focus on John Ross for my exposure.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’ll avoid the Bengals in this spot, and I’ll wait for volume on the Patriots to shake out behind Edelman and White before I start to play a guessing game with the large number of remaining, volume-insecure players on this offense. I do like Edelman for the rock-solid scores he has been producing over the last two and a half months (in his last nine games, his worst DK/FDraft score has been 13.7, and he’s gone for 17+ in seven of nine and 23+ in five of nine). Edelman is unlikely to post a true top-of-the-slate score, but there is also something to be said for fairly locked-in points. I also like White as a potential mix-in piece for my builds — and while we don’t typically get to defense until later in the week, we should also point out that the Patriots rank sixth in sacks and second in turnovers forced, while the Bengals have the fifth most giveaways and the seventh most sacks taken. The Pats stand out as a strong option on this slate.