Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Matchups, prediction for Thursday Night Football tilt

Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals host Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night. Who will come out on top?

The Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars get a rare showcase game on national TV that will feature the last two drafts’ No. 1 picks — Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars and Urban Meyer are in search of their first win, while the surprising Bengals look to remain atop the AFC North.

Jacksonville Jaguars offense vs. Cincinnati Bengals defense

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a bottom-third offense that has been dragged down by their passing game. They’re 24th in yards per play (5.1) and score a meager 17.7 points per game. Cincinnati’s defense, meanwhile, is a much-improved unit over last year, holding opposing teams to just 18 points per game and 4.5 yards per play.

Trevor Lawrence vs. Bengals defense

It’s been a rough start to a promising career for Lawrence. His brutal pick-six late in the third quarter all but doomed the Jaguars against the Cardinals in Week 3. Lawrence has thrown 7 interceptions, ranks 34th out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage (54.2%), and has an abysmal QBR (23.3).

On the other hand, the Bengals have playmakers at all three levels. Larry Ogunjobi and Trey Hendrickson have been disruptive up front, Logan Wilson leads the NFL with 3 interceptions, and whenever Trae Waynes gets back from a hamstring injury, Cincinnati will have a legit top-10 defense.

Advantage: Bengals

Jaguars weapons vs. Bengals defensive backs

The one thing Jacksonville does quite well is run the football. The Jags are sixth in yards per carry (5.1) and have two capable backs in James Robinson and Carlos Hyde. The loss of Travis Etienne for the season hurt more from a receiving standpoint than rushing.

Wide receiver DJ Chark ranks third in the NFL with a 22.0 yards per catch average. He and Marvin Jones (194 yards on 17 catches) are a more-than-serviceable 1-2 punch. But those are really Lawrence’s only options, as tight end is a non-factor.

As for Cincinnati, Eli Apple hasn’t been great in place of Waynes, but if you’re going to have a backup as your weak link, life isn’t bad at all. Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III comprise one of the best safety combos in football, but Bates is out with a neck injury. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is doubtful to play with a groin injury.

Advantage: Jaguars

Jaguars offensive line vs. Bengals defensive line

The Jaguars’ bookends are just fine, with Cam Robinson (who’s playing on the franchise tag) at left tackle and Jawaan Taylor at right. But the interior line can be an issue. Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, and A.J. Cann are all average, at best. The Jaguars have allowed pressure on 15% of Lawrence’s dropbacks.

The Bengals will test that group with an attacking front seven. Hendrickson and Ogunjobi get all the attention, but D.J. Reader is the unsung hero. He’s a rock in the middle and a big reason why Cincinnati is surrendering a scant 3.3 yards per carry.

Advantage: Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals offense vs. Jacksonville Jaguars defense

Between the 20s, the Bengals are a below-average offense. They don’t run the ball efficiently, and Burrow offers up way too many interceptable balls. But the light has switched in the red zone, particularly in goal-to-go situations. Cincinnati has scored every time they’ve faced one. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are a bad defensive team. They rank 28th in yards allowed (418 per game) and points allowed (30.3 per game), and 25th in defensive efficiency (6.1 yards per play).

Joe Burrow vs. Jaguars defense

Burrow has taken a leap forward in accuracy (70.7%) and efficiency (8.5 yards per attempt) in Year 2 but has also been a bit careless with the football. His interception rate (5.3%) bears monitoring. Granted, that number was skewed by his 3 picks in 3 passes in the fourth quarter against the Bears. Aside from that, he’s been fine.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, have forced exactly 1 turnover this season (an Andrew Wingard interception). This is not a ball-hawking group. And opposing quarterbacks have lit them up for 302.3 yards per game and 9.0 yards per pass. Yeesh.

Advantage: Bengals

Bengals weapons vs. Jaguars defensive backs

Ja’Marr Chase is a budding star. He has 4 touchdowns and 220 yards on just 11 catches. Every time Burrow throws his way, the Bengals, on average, gain 13.8 yards. That’s bananas. Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd are a heck of a trio. Higgins will miss his second consecutive game with a shoulder injury.

They’ll be going against the fifth-worst defense in football in terms of passer rating (111.6). Wingard is a talent, but Shaquill Griffin has had a disappointing start to his Jaguars career, allowing a career-worst 9.7 yards per target.

Advantage: Bengals

Bengals offensive line vs. Jaguars defensive line

Joe Mixon is finally Cincinnati’s undisputed RB1, averaging 95.3 yards per game and 4.3 per carry. That’s a reflection of both his ample ability and solid run blocking from the offensive line. The strength of this OL is at tackle, with Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff dependable bookends. However, the interior is a bit dicier, especially with right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo sidelined with a knee injury.

As for the Jaguars, they have some big names up front but not a ton of production. Their sack rate (4%) is the third-lowest in the league. Josh Allen has 2 tackles for loss and 4 pressures in 153 snaps — no bueno. Defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris will not play due to an ankle injury.

Advantage: Push

Betting line and game prediction

The Bengals are 7.5-point favorites in a game Vegas believes will be relatively low-scoring. That seems right to us. Road teams on Thursday nights always have some structural disadvantages, and the Jaguars have shown little to think they can overcome them. Urban Meyer’s season of discontent continues apace.

Prediction: Bengals 27, Jaguars 13

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