New England Patriots should be paying attention to the Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin lifts up Joe Burrow (Syndication: The Enquirer)
Bengals defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin lifts up Joe Burrow (Syndication: The Enquirer) /

When looking back on the New England Patriots 2021 campaign, many will be quick to identify the season as one of encouraging growth and progress. Despite that, the heartbreaking Wild Card loss to the Buffalo Bills has certainly left something to be desired for this team moving forward.

The Patriots were at one point during the season the top seed in the entire AFC, putting them ahead of superpower teams such as the Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and Tennessee Titans. While their late season collapse showed they aren’t at the top of the conference, or even their own division, just yet, the Cincinnati Bengals have recently proved that not all hope should be lost just because of the sour end to the season.

The Bengals continued their wild postseason run yesterday with an overtime victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium to earn themselves a spot in Super Bowl LVI. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a team that finished with just two wins in 2019, which happened to be the lowest total in the NFL.

The reason Cincy’s Super Bowl berth is so noteworthy is because their quick rebuild provides a blueprint for what the Patriots should be looking to accomplish in the future. The Patriots were left for dead after Tom Brady decided to ship off to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 2020 season, but they still managed to make the playoffs this season. If they take notes on what Cincinnati has done this season, they may just be able to pull off a similar run next season.

The New England Patriots have some striking similarities to the Cincinnati Bengals

It’s already been established that the Bengals were pretty bad in 2019, and they weren’t much better in 2020 when they won only four games. However, much of their struggles were due to the fact that they were starting things over with their rookie quarterback, Joe Burrow. Burrow went 2-7-1 as a starter before tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 10 against the Washington Football Team, which put an end to his rookie season.

Prior to his injury, Burrow was solid if unspectacular during his first 10 games. He would finish his rookie season with 2668 yards, 16 total touchdowns (13 passing, three rushing), and nine turnovers (five interceptions and four fumbles). For the most part, he did a good job at keeping Cincinnati in games, but he rarely found ways to pull out wins. Sound familiar?

The Bengals still had a pretty good core surrounding Burrow in his rookie season. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd both were around in 2020, and while A.J. Green wasn’t the player he once was, he still offered a solid veteran presence for Burrow. Joe Mixon was Cincy’s top running back, although he ended up missing 10 games due to injury. The defense wasn’t good, but the Bengals made some shrewd moves last offseason to help them shore up their weakest unit.

light. Related Story. So, what really is next for Tom Brady?

Cincinnati added a premier pass rusher in Trey Hendrickson (14 sacks this season), some solid interior linemen (Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill), and a trio of cornerbacks (Chidobe Awuzie, Eli Apple, and Mike Hilton) to help solidify their secondary. The Bengals defense isn’t the best the world has ever seen, but they have now done enough to get past the Titans, Chiefs, and Las Vegas Raiders in the playoffs so far.

Easily the Bengals biggest addition came in the draft though, with Cincy drafting Burrow’s former LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase. Chase should be a shoe-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year (81 REC, 1455 YDS, 13 TD), and his connection with Burrow provided Cincinnati’s offense with the de facto number one wide receiver needed to open up the offense.

Ok cool, so what does this mean for the New England Patriots?

The reason I provided you with a rundown of the Bengals situation is because the New England Patriots find themselves in a somewhat similar position. Hopefully the coaching staff has been paying attention to what Cincinnati has done in the playoffs, because the team has an opportunity to put together a similar season next year if they have a successful offseason.

For starters, the biggest common denominator for both teams is their young quarterbacks. While Burrow’s rookie season was seven games shorter than Jones’ was, both quarterbacks had fairly similar rookie campaigns. Mac Jones got some more support from the rest of his team, while Burrow was tasked with doing more on his own, and it didn’t really work out too well for him.

Burrow took a massive leap during his second season in the league thanks in part to having a full cast of playmakers at his disposal. Chase was a stud in just his first year in the league, with Higgins not far behind and Boyd continuing to be one of the best slot receivers in the game. Mixon was healthy for the most part, and C.J. Uzomah took a step forward at tight end to give Burrow a ton of weapons to work with.

The New England Patriots have a somewhat similar setup to what the Bengals had in 2020. Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne aren’t as good as Higgins and Boyd were that season, and similar to those two players, they serve better working behind a top tier wideout. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are a solid 1A-1B combo at running back, and maybe Jonnu Smith can wake up and help out Hunter Henry at tight end next season.

I’m not going to outright say that adding a top receiver will automatically lead to Jones making a similar jump to that of Burrow, but I don’t exactly think it’s outside the realm of possibility. Burrow probably has a bit more physical upside than Jones in terms of pure passing, but Jones’ style isn’t predicated on chucking 40 yard bombs every play. Jones is an extremely accurate passer, and getting him a receiver who can get open on any given play is the key to opening up this offense.

Defensively, the Patriots are probably in a bit of a better spot than the Bengals (yes I know that’s tough to believe after the Buffalo disaster). Assuming they can re-sign J.C. Jackson this offseason, which is anything but a guarantee at this point, the Patriots will be in a good position to transition away from some of the older players slowing down their defense, such as Dont’a Hightower.

Next. 2 potential replacements for Josh McDaniels. dark

Regardless, it’s clear the Patriots should be taking note of what the Bengals have done this postseason. They are far from the perfect team, but they have given their young quarterback enough weapons to the point where it feels like they can beat anybody no matter what happens during the game.

It’s clear that if the New England Patriots want to reach the same spot the Bengals are at, they are going to need Jones to develop into a similar player. Good thing the Bengals have already outlined how to do that.