3 personnel matchups that will decide how the Patriots start the season 

Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots
Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots / Nick Grace/GettyImages
1 of 3

The football gods saw fit to test Jerod Mayo and his regime when they arranged the 2024 schedule. While their first three games could be more difficult, but they are not the three games you would choose if you were starting a rebuild.  

Mayo’s tenure will begin with a 1,764-mile round trip to Cincinnati to reunite with Trent Brown. That’s followed up with a home opener against the Seahawks. The Seattle outfit is also transitioning, with Mike Macdonald attempting to fill Pete Carroll’s sizeable shoes. Week 3 sees the Patriots’ first divisional game and a trip to a stadium where they haven’t lost since 2016! 

Usually, a good start is imperative when a new head coach begins their career. But by drafting a quarterback who definitely won’t be ready to go in Week 1, the Patriots seem comfortable with a lengthy rebuild. Let’s not forget ownership didn’t fire the last coach until he went 41-42 after his last Super Bowl win, so Mayo and Co. have to be safe for at least a year or two. 

Having said that, if they don’t find at least one win in the first three games, there’s a real chance they start the season 0-6, and patience might wear thin. How can they win at least one game in September? Well, these individual matchups will go a long way toward deciding that.

Christian Gonzalez vs. Ja’Marr Chase 

They’re two of the most exciting young players in the league, and they both had shoulder injuries in 2023. Chase’s problem only kept him out of one game, though. The former LSU receiver sprained his acromioclavicular joint and had to sit out the Bengals Week 16 game. However, Gonzalez’s shoulder dislocation and labrum tear in Week 3 robbed him of most of his rookie season. 

Brian Callahan’s departure to become the Titans' new head coach means Dan Pitcher is the new offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. He’s been the Bengals’ quarterbacks coach since 2020, so Chase should still be the cornerstone of their system. With Joe Mixon heading to Houston and being replaced by Zack Moss at running back, the passing game becomes increasingly important.  

Moss only caught 27 passes last year compared to Mixon’s 52. Presumably, that means Chase Brown will see more game time. But Brown's arrival on the field will be a big signal they're about to pass to the back, so they'll have to mix it up.

Moss did have a better yards-per-attempt average in 2023 than the departing Mixon, but the former Oklahoma Sooner scored more touchdowns. It looks like the Bengals will have to rely more on their passing game to get the ball in the endzone in 2024.  

24-year-old Chase has only faced the Patriots once in his career. That game was played on Christmas Eve in 2022, and the Bengals won a close game 22-18. On that occasion, the teams met in Foxborough. Chase didn't score a touchdown, but he did catch eight passes. Chase's 11 targets accounted for 21% of Burrow's 51 passes! 51 is a lot of passes any time of year, but in late December in Foxborough, it's an awful lot.

That’s where Christian Gonzalez comes in. There isn’t much data to illustrate how well he adapted to life in the NFL; he has only played 228 snaps, after all. In truth, Gonzalez’s limited stats aren’t very impressive. He missed three tackles in his three and a bit games.

The Oregon product allowed 68.8% of passes thrown his way to be completed and gave up 225 receiving yards in fewer than four games. But he came alive when he matched up with star receivers. 

When Gonzalez came up against Garrett Wilson at MetLife in Week 3, he kept the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year to just five yards on two receptions! That came the week after the 21-year-old Texas native held Tyreek Hill to just 32 yards. The Patriots’ 2022 first-round pick also picked off a Tua pass intended for Tyreek in the game at Gillette Stadium. 

The Bengals are loaded with offensive talent, but if the Patriots' defense can keep a lid on Joe Burrow’s receiving options, they will have to rely on the run game. There is a chance of an upset with new pieces on their offensive line, including rookie tackle Amarius Mims (who looks great but will be making his competitive debut).