What should have been a showdown between two of the game's brightest young quarterbacks is instead not that, thanks to Joe Burrow's season-ending injury a couple weeks back. Trevor Lawrence will still be under center for Jacksonville and Cincinnati's skill-position corps is healthier than it has been in recent weeks, but football fans will unfortunately not get to see the showcase they were meant to have this evening.
Of course, the games still count, and the Jaguars in particular remain in contention. Cincinnati can still theoretically make a playoff push, but is likely more positioned to potentially play spoiler down the stretch. And that matters, too.
So, can the Jaguars keep pace near the top of the AFC playoff picture, or will the Bengals deal their hopes a blow? We'll find out soon enough. Before we break down the matchup, here's a look at how you can watch the game.
How to watch
Date: Monday, Dec. 4 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: EverBank Stadium (Jacksonville)
TV: ABC/ESPN | Stream on fubo (try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Jaguars -10, O/U 40 (via Sportsline consensus odds)
When the Bengals have the ball
It was more than a bit sad to watch Cincinnati's offense sans Joe Burrow last week. Jake Browning completed 19 of 26 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown, and one interceptions, but two of his longest completions of the game were the result of dropped interceptions that turned into big gains to Ja'Marr Chase. His touchdown toss to Drew Sample, meanwhile, was a naked boot thrown at the line of scrimmage, with nobody near the receiver as he ran 11 yards for the score.
In other words, the Bengals actually had extremely little in the way of success moving the ball against the Steelers; and while their pass offense posted pretty good numbers with Browning averaging 8.7 yards per attempt, those numbers are a bit of a mirage. Getting Tee Higgins back from injury will help some, but he's been inconsistent even at his best (and healthiest) this season, and Browning's track record as a passer is not encouraging.
It doesn't help that Jacksonville's defense has been a borderline top-10 unit against the pass so far this season, checking in 11th in FTN's DVOA and 10th in opponent's EPA/dropback, per TruMedia. The Jags have gotten pressure at about a league average rate (35.2% of dropbacks), and their zone-heavy coverage schemes (79% zone) have done a good job of limiting explosive plays. With the Bengals relatively unlikely to matriculate the ball downfield by having Browning repeatedly complete passes underneath, they're going to need to break some big plays to remain in the game. And that is unfortunately a strength for Jacksonville's defense.
The Cincinnati run game was already a relative weakness even with Burrow under center, and the Bengals are even less likely to find running room with him on the sideline. This is a team that has averaged just 1.00 yards before contact per carry so far this season, per Tru Media, the third-worst mark in the league. With opponents increasingly likely to crowd the box and Joe Mixon still not much of a tackle-breaker, it's going to be tough sledding for this group.
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When the Jaguars have the ball
While the Bengals offense is now likely unrecognizable, the defense has actually been the more disappointing unit this season overall.
A lot of turnover on the back end has led to uncharacteristic breakdowns, and Lou Anarumo hasn't been able to get the same type of performances against elite units that we have gotten used to over the past several seasons. The Bengals check in 31st in yards allowed, 19th in points allowed, 26th in DVOA, and 24th in opponent's EPA/play.
All of that is likely welcome news to a Jaguars offense that has similarly failed to live up to expectations. After taking a massive step forward in the first year of the Doug Pederson era, Jacksonville has either stalled or taken a step backward in most areas of offensive performance this season. The Jags are just 13th in both yards and points so far, as well as 17th in DVOA and 21st in EPA/play.
The passing offense has been inconsistent at best, with Lawrence often unable to get on the same page as any receiver other than Christian Kirk. Calvin Ridley has popped up for big games here and there, including in each of the past two weeks, but he hasn't been the true No. 1 ceiling-raiser many expected coming into the year.
The Jags are coming off two of their better offensive performances of the year, though, piling up 834 yards and 58 points against the Titans and Texans over the past two weeks. It helps that they combined to turn the ball over just once in that pair of contests, after not going back-to-back games without a multi-turnover contest through the season's first 10 weeks.
Still, it has to be concerning for Jacksonville that the explosive runs have almost entirely dried up in recent weeks, with just 4.4% of the team's carries gaining 12 or more yards since Week 8. The Jaguars were already toward the bottom third of the league before that, but Travis Etienne and Co. have been stuck running in mud for a while now. The offensive line hasn't held up its end of the bargain in the blocking department, but the Jags have also run into loaded boxes more often in recent weeks than they did earlier in the year. Etienne enters this game banged up and could cede some work to D'Ernest Johnson, but Cincinnati has been dreadful against the run all year and this could be a spot for Jacksonville to finally get its run game back on track.
Prediction: Jaguars 24, Bengals 6
Cincinnati is just undermanned at the moment, and likely will not be able to hang with even a relatively disappointing Jaguars unit. Lawrence and Co. will maintain traction in the AFC race, and the Bengals will fall further back into the pack.
I like my prediction but do yourself a favor and check out SportsLine proven model. We can tell you that the model is leaning Over the total and it also says one side of the spread hits well over 50% of the time. Check it out here.
And if you're wondering who all of our experts are picking for the game, here are their predictions.