Another week, another Thursday Night Football match-up including a team that might just be surprising a few people who had predicted a very different start before the season.
The Bengals knew internally that they had a serious offence all through the pre-season and first three games, but with distracting mis-quoted comments from Jamar Chase about not being able to catch the ball, many had lowered their expectations for a team who are a narrow Chicago Bears loss away from being 3-0.
Their opposition, the Jacksonville Jaguars, however, are very much more playing in line with what was expected of them, with a spirited, if eventually crushing loss to the Arizona Cardinals over the weekend to leave them 0-3, despite a rather incredible 109-yard field goal return touchdown on half-time.
So, is there any hope for the Jaguars then – um, sort of.
Old friends meet again
Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow are well versed in playing each other, they did it in already in college, if on slightly more competitive teams than either of their current franchises.
Lawrence knew that his first season in Florida was going to be a tough one, but even he probably didn’t expect quite the level of difficulty that he has experienced, especially for a player who had never lost a regular season game until he reached the NFL.
Yet entering week four with a 5:7 touchdown to interception ratio, and a tough Bengals defence awaiting him on Thursday, it’s not exactly certain that the team record, or his own personal stat line is going to improve any time quickly.
In Burrow, the comeback season has been mainly upward trending, with a positive TD:INT ratio and a quickly developing relationship with college team-mate Jamar Chase as well as his other receivers like Tee Higgins.
Overall, these are two quarterbacks a mile apart in their NFL journey, and each, while both seeking a win on Thursday, will determine a successful performance to be very different things.
Running-back to life
It’s not easy with the current state of the Jags to find anything super positive to look for, but if you were, the gradual increase in performance of James Robinson at running-back is one area of the team to do so.
Just the fourth player in history to rush for 1000 yards in a rookie season having gone undrafted, Robinson was a serious bright spot in a dark year for the Jags, but after a combined 72 yards and zero touchdowns over the first two games, it wasn’t clear whether the magic could be recreated.
Yet following Sunday, when Robinson managed 88 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, there is potential for the Jags to start taking some of the offensive weight back off of Lawrence’s equally young shoulders.
The Bengals once again trump the Jags however at tail-back, with 287 rushing-yards from their workhorse, top-five back; Joe Mixon.
The former Oklahoma Sooner continues to improve year-on-year, with a real combination of power and finesse, which keeps defensive players guessing and makes Mixon a real nightmare in the hole and the open field.
His performance is only likely to improve as well with the shaky Jags defence ahead of him, and an increasingly developed passing game to distract defensive coverages.
If it wasn’t already clear, I don’t think there is anything left to do but select the Bengals to win in Paul Brown Stadium this Thursday.
Unless the Bengals manage to beat themselves with multiple turnovers, and the middle ranked defence suddenly becomes considerably more porous against the triple threat receiving team of Marvin Jones, DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. for the Jags – I can only see the Bengals delivering a solid, if unsurprising win.
Expect Joe Mixon to run wild, and Chase to pick up another touchdown, especially with Tee Higgins potentially out with a shoulder injury, although I will do my best to give the Jags something by suggesting that Lawrence at least puts a couple nice scores on the board with his arm.
Bengals 31 – 14 Jags