Enquirer beat writers Paul Dehner Jr. and Fletcher Page make their weekly predictions as the Bengals host the Saints in Week 10.
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The Cincinnati Bengals will host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast on FOX.
Cincinnati enters 5-3, coming off an off week after a 37-34 win versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints are 7-1 after a 45-35 win against the Los Angeles Rams.
Here’s a look at three keys to Sunday’s game and our predictions:
Next men up:We’ve talked Bengals injuries for most of the season, but this Sunday presents a challenge on an elevated level.
On offense, A.J. Green must be replaced. And, as we all know, that’s not really possible.
On defense, Carl Lawson has been lost for the season.
Green’s importance is obvious. He had a team-high 687 receiving yards and six touchdowns through the first eight games. Tyler Boyd actually had more receptions than Green (49 to 45), but there’s no question that total was boosted by Green’s presence.
Can the Bengals run the ball with Joe Mixon to offset Green’s absence? And/or will John Ross step up in return from the groin injury that’s cost him multiple games?
The Bengals need answers.
In the case of Lawson, the Bengals have lost yet another defensive lineman in what was initially a deep and diverse group. Rookie Sam Hubbard is the obvious choice to see increased snaps, but, not counting the expected production from Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, it’s a tough ask for anybody to replicate the pressure Lawson created the past two years.
He had just one sack through seven games before his injury. But the second-year rusher ranked second on the team with 17 hurries and tied for second with seven hits on opposing quarterbacks.
Limit the threat: The Saints have one of the most unique offensive weapons in the league in Alvin Kamara. He’s second in the NFL in first downs (55 total, 35 on the ground and 20 via receptions) and is averaging 114 total yards per game.
The second-year running back has two 100-yard receiving games and one with 100 yards rushing.
This would be a good time to have Nick Vigil. But the Bengals’ hybrid linebacker will miss another game with a knee injury, likely creating the need for Cincinnati to morph the defense, potentially with an extra safety, in order to defend Kamara.
Have corners, might travel: The Bengals changed a long-time defensive trait when cornerback William Jackson III traveled to each side of the field to shadow DeSean Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick matched up with Mike Evans.
Might that continue?
The Saints have a special wideout in Michael Thomas, who leads the team with 70 catches, 880 yards and five touchdowns. Thomas, no doubt, presents a challenge for a Bengals defense that ranks last in the league by giving up 319.4 passing yards per game.
Other than Thomas, though, the Saints don’t necessarily have a wideout that jumps off the page. Kamara is second on the team with 51 catches, and tight end Ben Watson is third with 26.
Receivers Tre’Quan Smith and Ted Ginn have 12 catches apiece.
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Paul Dehner Jr.
The nature of the NFL has me looking at this game differently than surface logic would suggest. Basics look at a Saints team that is 7-1, winners of seven straight and coming off an impressive victory against the league’s only undefeated team looking like a lock against the Bengals. Cincinnati’s defense is on pace to break NFL records for yardage allowed, and their offense just lost A.J. Green. Oh, the humanity!
This league doesn’t like the obvious, however. It detests it. And the obvious rarely plays out. This league runs week to week with everything you think you knew one week being proven completely false the next. Let’s look at the Saints on the road this year. They needed overtime to beat Atlanta, beat up on the awful NY Giants, needed the only missed PAT of Justin Tucker’s life to avoid OT in Baltimore then were assisted by two unbelievably awful Vikings turnovers to beat Minnesota by 10. All wins, but not exactly blowing folks away. Let’s take a look at the Bengals as home underdogs under Andy Dalton. Not only have they covered eight of the last nine, they are 7-2 straight up. Those only two losses were against the Steelers, who this team can never beat at PBS. New Orleans will be playing their second game in a temperature under 50 degrees since 2014.
This might just be finding reasons to believe in the Bengals, but I actually think they push the Saints to the brink on Sunday. This doesn’t feel like the latest coronation of New Orleans, despite the incredible run Drew Brees has them on. That said, the Saints find a way late, but not without a number of tense moments.
Prediction: Saints 31, Bengals 28
I respect the optimism and understand the Saints aren’t at their best away from New Orleans or in colder weather.
But a Hall of Fame quarterback armed with an elite receiver and a dual-threat running back isn’t something the Bengals defense has proven it can stop or even slow down.
Thinking of Alvin Kamara brings back highlights of Kareem Hunt running around, through and jumping over Bengals defenders.
Hunt had two receiving touchdowns and another score on the ground in that blowout last month. Kamara might have even more yards than Hunt did (86 rushing, 55 receiving) against a Bengals defense that is another week away from getting multiple injured starters back.
In that scenario, I don’t see how the Bengals can keep up offensively without A.J. Green. Perhaps we’ll be impressed with OC Bill Lazor’s ability to manufacture a scoring drive or three with creative sets and tight ends or wideouts way down the preseason depth chart.
But it’s not going to be enough.
Prediction: Saints 38, Bengals 24