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Saints at Bengals game preview: The big not-so-easy

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The Saints come to town after beating the best team in the NFL, while the Bengals are still on the mend and still have their eyes on the postseason.

Cincinnati Bengals v New Orleans Saints Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

November and December are the months where they separate the men from the boys in the NFL. And as it turns out, this coming Sunday is a big step in the 2018 maturation process for two teams who have already been largely competitive over the past 15 seasons.

This Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, it’s “Who Dey?” versus “Who Dat?”.

The New Orleans Saints had a solid squad last year, going 11-5 and winning the NFL South. Unfortunately for them, the lost the divisional round via one of the most iconic plays in postseason history.

However, they’ve picked up where that 11-5 record left off, going 7-1 through the first half of this season. Their last victory was particularly impressive, as they knocked off the previously-undefeated Los Angeles Rams in Week 9.

By the time Drew Brees retires, he’ll own quite a few significant NFL passing records. He’s playing some of the best football of his career, as he’s currently tied for sixth in touchdown passes, and is tops in the league in passer rating (120.6), as well as completion percentage (76.3) by quarterbacks with any significant attempts.

That sound you hear is defensive coordinator Teryl Austin biting his fingernails.

While Austin’s scheme hasn’t produced the type of results Marvin Lewis has coveted after waving goodbye to Paul Guenther, the injuries haven’t helped matters. As he prepares to go up against one of the best quarterbacks in league history this Sunday, he does so without the services of Carl Lawson, Darqueze Dennard, Vontaze Burfict and others.

I guess there’s that built-in excuse.

Side note: Brees will not only own very significant NFL passing records when he hangs up the cleats, he may steal the mantle of “Most Likable Quarterback Ever” from Peyton Manning:

Meanwhile, further irking Bengals fans this week was an out-of-the-blue addition to New Orleans’ roster. They added Dez Bryant, who was still inexplicably available on the open market, to complement Michael Thomas in the passing game. He should have a nice bounce-back season with Brees feeding him the football.

Whether or not Cincinnati will see Bryant this Sunday remains to be seen, but he would have been a nice band-aid with A.J. Green nursing a toe injury. However, Cincinnati’s brain trust wants to see what it has from other young pass-catching options.

The spotlight will be on Tyler Boyd and John Ross as Green heals up. Boyd has been outstanding, but he’ll now be bracketed without the threat of No. 18 out on the field.

Meanwhile, like so many aspects of the 2018 Bengals, Ross has been feast-or-famine. He has two nice touchdown grabs this year, but he has been dealing with a nagging groin injury.

It appears that he’s back for the first since Week 7. He, like others behind him, will need to grow up quickly the next couple of weeks if Cincinnati is to keep pace in the AFC North.

The Bengals may also be getting back Giovani Bernard. The hope is that he can line up as a wide receiver and bring back some creativity to the offense after missing the past four games with a sprained knee ligament.

Bernard is truly a triple-threat: he can catch, run and block from the running back position. Coupled with Joe Mixon, this can be one of the most potent duos in the league.

In an odd way, these two players might provide a form of defense this week. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and Andy Dalton have worked well together this season, but the second half dry spells are worrisome.

Some believe that it’s once the offense gets off of the scripted plays from the first half when the issues surface. In Week 8 against Tampa Bay, Cincinnati’s offense had four consecutive three-and-outs to start the second half and spur the Buccaneers’ furious comeback.

Sure, the Bengals’ defense is underachieving, but the point droughts aren’t helping. These guys are human and they get fatigued. Think about the result if Lazor’s crew was to disappear like this against Brees and the Saints.

That’s why Mixon and Bernard should provide an interesting form of defense, so to speak, this week. The former is averaging nearly five yards per carry this year (just 3.5 last season), while Bernard has a 4.6 average. If they can go “old school” and get the ground game going, they might pull out a shocker by chewing up the clock and keeping Brees off of the field.

Did we mention that Billy Price is returning to the offensive line this week?

Part of me thinks that this Sunday is headed for the type of a blowout in the form of the Sunday Night Football debacle against the Chiefs. Brees and his offensive unit will provide countless problems for Austin’s crew.

But, might the Saints be a little tired after the emotional win against the Rams? Will Brees struggle a little more in the weather than we think? Hopefully, but betting against him right now is probably not the wisest move to make.

Saints 31, Bengals 20

AC — Dat’s who.