By: Matt Bove
The Packers and Bengals are two extremely talented teams and this is a fantastic matchup. If you take away the quarterback position the Bengals might be the most talented team in the NFL.
Andy Dalton is the clear weak link for Cincinnati. He has A.J. Green, who might be the best wide receiver in the NFL( yes including Calvin Johnson). He has two athletic tight ends in Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham and two solid offensive tackles protecting him in Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith. Now, Dalton even has a talented running back in Giovanni Bernard, who was the first running back taken in this year's NFL Draft.
Yet, Dalton could not blow out the Steelers, who were begging to be run out of the building with their egregious offense. He was missing easy throws, and he does not have the arm strength to be able to afford to be inaccurate. The Bengals should be 2-0, as they absolutely blew their Week 1 game at Chicago in which that they had a 21-10 lead in.
Here are 3 key things to watch for in Sunday's game:
1. How will the Packers cover the middle of the field?
This is always a question with the Packers but even more so this week due to Eifert, Gresham and Bernard. Eifert was clearly the best tight end in this year's NFL Draft and he is a nightmare matchup. Eifert is huge at 6 feet 6 inches, ran a 4.67 at the NFL Combine and has outstanding hands. Eifert will not only be lined up at tight end, but is also very effective on the outside with his size. With Morgan Burnett on the sidelines again M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian will have their hands full.
Bernard is another issue with his incredible quickness catching balls out of the backfield. Bernard caught a 27 yard touchdown after the Bengals ran four verticals with their receivers and ran Bernard out of the backfield. Brad Jones will most be in charge of keeping him in check most of the time.
2. Packers offensive line vs. Bengals defensive line
The Bengals have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and it is a really bad matchup for Green Bay's offensive line. Carlos Dunlap (6-6, 280) and Michael Johnson ( 6-7, 270) are two very long and tall players for the undersized Don Barclay (6-4, 305) and David Bakhtiari (6-4, 300) to handle. Geno Atkins is the bets defensive tackle in the NFL and will be a load to handle inside and should require a good amount of double teaming. With Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn most likely out it will hurt the pass protection. Lacy and Kuhn are much better pass protectors than James Starks and Johnathan Franklin. Running the ball will also be much tougher in this game than it was against Washington.
3. Will Aaron Rodgers stay hot?
Aaron Rodgers ( 813 yards, 8 touchdowns, 1 interception, 127.2 passer rating) has had a fantastic start to the 2013 season. Rodgers has been throwing more shorter passes this season and letting his fantastic wide receivers and tight end do a lot of the work for him. The Packers lead in the NFL in YAC with 423 and they have not had a single dropped pass in the first two games. Outside of Leon Hall, the weakness of the Bengals defense is in the secondary and they do not have the athletes to contain all of the Packers' weapons. It does not help them that they're banged up with Brandon Ghee out, Dre' Kirkpatrick doubtful and Adam Jones questionable.
I have been going back and forth about this game in my mind a million times. I really worry about how the Packers will protect Rodgers, run the ball and cover all of Cincinnati's weapons. However, Rodgers vs. Dalton is a huge mismatch and Cincinnati is banged up in the secondary. Also, the Bengals are coming off an emotional Monday Night Football win against arch rival Pittsburgh. For the gamblers out there, Cincinnati is 3-11 vs. the spread in their last 14 games following a Pittsburgh game. They have lost against the spread by an average of over a touchdown.
Prediction: Packers 28, Bengals 24