CINCINNATI — Zac Taylor watched helplessly on the Rams’ sideline as Bill Belichick’s defense thwarted everything they tried to do in the Super Bowl. The first-year Bengals coach has even fewer options at hand when they go head-to-head again.

The Patriots can clinch their 11th straight playoff appearance Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium by thwarting Taylor’s best designs. He was the Rams’ quarterbacks coach when New England won the title.

This time he’ll be calling the plays and knowing what to expect from that deflating Super Bowl experience.

“That was a heck of a day in a lot of ways,” Taylor said. “They do a great job adapting to their opponent. They always have a great plan in place, and that’s what makes them difficult.

“They do a great job evolving because they’ve been together for so long.”

Taylor’s Bengals (1-12) haven’t done much against lesser defenses this season. They’re reliant on running back Joe Mixon to get yards. The NFL’s only one-win team has to play nearly perfect to pull off the upset.

“They’re very opportunistic,” said Andy Dalton, who threw a pick-6 in a loss at Cleveland last weekend. “When they see a tipped ball that’s up in the air, they’re coming down with interceptions. They’re great at forcing fumbles, and all that stuff.”

The Patriots (10-3) see few similarities between the Bengals’ offense and the one they mastered in the Super Bowl.

“It’s not really the same offense,” safety Devin McCourty said. “There’s some crossover in there, but I would say you gotta kind of watch Cincinnati for Cincinnati.”

WIDE RECEIVER Julian Edelman and center Ted Karras – both dealing with injuries – traveled with the Patriots for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Karras has been out since suffering a knee injury against Houston, while Edelman is dealing with knee and shoulder issues.

The Patriots announced Saturday that defensive lineman Byron Cowart was downgraded to out and did not travel to Cincinnati. That means Karras and Edelman are both on track to be game-time decisions Sunday, retaining their status as questionable.

Edelman has been the focal point of the Patriots’ passing attack during the second half of the season as the rest of the team’s receivers have struggled to establish themselves as reliable targets for Tom Brady.

Karras, meanwhile, has served as the team’s starting center since David Andrews was lost for the season due to blood clots. James Ferentz filled in at center for New England this past week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn returned to practice on Friday and was listed as a full participant on the final injury report of the week. He has missed Thursday’s practice with an eye injury.

FORMER PATRIOT Rob Gronkowski was named to the  NFL 100 All-Time team, joining fellow tight ends Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates.

“He’s certainly deserving and what a great player he was for us,” Brady said. “There have been a lot of other great tight ends and just to be even thought about is, I’m sure, very flattering. I’m sure he’s earned it.”

THE RAIDERS play their final game in Oakland on Sunday before closing out the season on the road against the Chargers and at Denver. Then its on to their new home in Las Vegas next season.

It’ll be the end of the era. Between the multi-purpose stadium and the fabled fan section called “The Black Hole,” playing the Raiders was different, to say the least.

“It was like Halloween every Sunday there,” Bill Belichick said, when asked about his memories of going against the Raiders. “It was a great environment. It was a baseball stadium so it was configured that way which you don’t see that much anymore.”

BEARS: Chicago activated defensive tackle Akiem Hicks from injured reserve Saturday as they traveled to face the Packers on Sunday.

Hicks hasn’t played in a game since he suffered a left elbow injury Oct. 6 against the Raiders in London.  The 6-foot-4, 352-pound Hicks is an eight-year veteran who made the Pro Bowl for the first time last season. He had his only sack of the year and two of his three quarterback hits against the Packers on Sept. 5.

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