JACKSONVILLE – Each week during the 2021 season, Jaguars experts – Rick Ballou, Tony Boselli, Frank Frangie, Jeff Lageman, Brent Martineau, John Oehser, Brian Sexton, J.P. Shadrick and Ashlyn Sullivan – will break down the following day's Jaguars matchup.
Up this week:
The Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Brian Sexton, jaguars.com senior correspondent
- The Jaguars will win if: Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence protects the ball. I get the sense the Jaguars' running game is finding its groove, and Jaguars wide receivers all made plays downfield in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals this past Sunday. It felt like that's how Head Coach Urban Meyer wants this young team to play – and if it wasn't for four turnovers, they might have had something. It isn't all on Lawrence, but he can't give the Bengals anything cheap. If he has a turnover-free game, maybe the improving Jaguars can finally cross the finish line.
- The Bengals will win if: Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow takes advantage of the Jaguars' young cornerbacks as effectively as Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray did. Rookie corner Tyson Campbell is always around the ball but doesn't yet have the instincts or timing to make a play. Second-year corner Chris Claybrooks was drafted to be a return man in 2020 and has evolved into a cornerback. Neither is the equal of CJ Henderson, traded to the Carolina Panthers Monday. Claybrooks and Campbell will have the target on their backs the rest of the season. They must improve, quickly.
- As Sexton sees it: A Thursday Night Game against Cincinnati would be a good opportunity to get Win No. 1 if it were in Jacksonville. They Jaguars are playing better but going to Cincinnati and facing a quarterback starting to look like the guy the Bengals drafted No. 1 overall last year and who is coming off a three-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh … it's a lot to expect.
John Oehser, jaguars.com senior writer
- The Jaguars will win if: They contain Joe Mixon and have their best offensive game of the season. Mixon is more than just one of the NFL's most-underrated running backs; he's one of the most underrated players – and he represents an improved Jaguars run defense's toughest task of the season. The Jaguars' offense has scored 21, 7 and 13 points in three games. It's tough to win in the NFL if you can't consistently get into the mid-20s offensively.
- The Bengals will win if: They protect Burrow and continue playing at a high level defensively. Cincinnati's much-maligned offensive line held Pittsburgh without a sack last week, and Burrow will beat the Jaguars' secondary deep if he has time. Cincinnati has been one of the NFL's best defenses early in the season and will be a tough test for the Jaguars' struggling offense.
- As Oehser sees it: Call this a fourth consecutive tough test for the Jaguars. Thursday night games are tough for the road team, and the Jaguars never have won on the road on Thursday. The Bengals are an ascending team starting to find an identity, and it will be tough – probably too tough – for a Jaguars team still trying to find its own.
Jeff Lageman, Jaguars analyst and former Jaguars defensive end
- The Jaguars will win: If they win turnover differential with a plus-two number. The Jaguars right now are struggling to protect the ball and struggling to get takeaways – and this is the path to breaking the rock of an 18-game losing streak. You must win the turnover battle in convincing fashion to help a young quarterback who is learning – and a surrounding cast that must be better.
- The Bengals will win if: Burrow is comfortable in the pocket all night. Mixon is off to great start to the season as the NFL's second-leading rusher. If his production continues, the Jaguars defense will struggle to impact Burrow in the pocket. Similar to last week's game, the opposing quarterback has excellent weapons.
- As Lageman sees it: This is a tough game as recent NFL history shows road teams on a short week have a tough go of it and statistically have little success. Thursday Night Football is a game of core game plans by both teams with the lack of time to prepare intricate plans. The team that is fundamentally better will have the winning outcome. The Bengals have had a really good start to their season and are coming off a big win at Pittsburgh; the home crowd will be fired up to welcome their team back. The Jaguars must dominate the turnover category to win.
Brent Martineau, Action Sports Jax Sports Director
- The Jaguars will win if: They play a clean game. Lawrence is showing signs of progress, but the turnovers are a killer right now. If it's one or fewer turnovers, I think this is the win for the Jaguars. Cincinnati is not bad, but I think the Jags are desperate to get a "W" and a clean game wins it.
- The Bengals will win if: They can run the and hit on some explosive plays. That usually goes hand in hand. The Jaguars are pretty good against the run so far this season. The pass defense has been suspect at times. If Cincinnati mixes run and pass, the Jaguars will have no answers defensively.
- As Martineau sees it: I think this is it! Lawrence's first win! I do think the Bengals are pretty good, but they are very beatable too. I think the Jags put together a clean offensive game and that's enough to beat the Bengals – and give Lawrence a little coming out party on national television: 27-23 the final.
Ashlyn Sullivan, Digital reporter and host
- The Jaguars will win if: the defense limits explosive plays. Easier said than done with the Jaguars having Mixon and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase – the latter of whom is fast … really fast. This will have to be cornerback Shaquill Griffin's best game of the season for the Jaguars to hold the Bengals' offensive weapons in check. Burrow still has some rookie tendencies and could throw an interception. The Jaguars must capitalize on opportunities and will need a couple of breaks to go their way to win this prime-time game.
- The Bengals will win if: Lawrence turns the ball over. The Jaguars are not talented enough to commit turnovers and win. Lawrence threw two interceptions last week against the Cardinals, one being a Pick Six that deflated the Jaguars' momentum. Lawrence must have to have a clean game to give the Jaguars a chance to win.
- As Sullivan sees it: The Jaguars will win. They have been improving week to week and there was a drastic difference in the competitive level from Week 2 to Week 3. The Bengals do not have as talented a roster as the Cardinals – and if not for costly mistakes last Sunday, I think the Jaguars would have won. Head Coach Urban Meyer told us, "Our team has to learn how to win." The Jaguars will play a complete game this week and win on the road.
Frank Frangie, Radio Voice of the Jaguars
- The Jaguars will win if: They continue to play defense as they did much of last week. They must stop Mixon and they have been good against the run. And they must continue to run running back James Robinson – like last week. They must continue the progress from the Cardinals game, just take better care of the ball.
- The Bengals will win: If they play like they did last week against the Steelers, with a harassing defense that collapsed the pocket. The Bengals have gained some confidence with a rare 2-1 start and will play well early. Burrow will try to hit Chase deep. If he does, the Bengals are at their best.
- As Frangie sees it: The Jaguars will break through at some point. If they get Robinson going, take care of the ball and don't let Chase get behind them, they have a chance.
Rick Ballou, Jaguars sideline reporter
- The Jaguars will win if: They can limit the turnovers. Jacksonville is minus-8 in the takeaway radio in the first three games. The Jaguars need to have a balanced attack offensively and run the ball at least 20 times with Robinson.
- The Bengals will win if: Burrow was outstanding last week in Pittsburgh. Pro Football Focus said he was the NFL's No. 1-rated quarterback. If Burrow can spread the ball around and Mixon can run, Cincy will go to 3-1.
- As Ballou sees it: This will be another step forward for the Jaguars, and for a second consecutive week they will be able to move the football. Unfortunately, the Bengals are playing well on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati will prevail.
J.P. Shadrick, Jaguars senior reporter
- The Jaguars will win if: They quit turning the ball over and continue running effectively. Last week there were some weird plays: a drop that turned into a pick, and a fumble in the pocket when Robinson grazed Lawrence's arm. Make plays when they're there, and hold on to the ball. A league-worst minus-eight turnover differential is the reason they are winless. The Jags are 18th in the league in rushing average per game, but sixth in the league in rushing yards per play. When they run the football, it has been effective.
- The Bengals will win if: They run effectively and balance the attack against the Jaguars' defense. They played a strong game against the Steelers. A repeat performance would be bad news for the Jaguars.
- As Shadrick sees it: Another matchup of first-overall quarterbacks this week, and that's usually Must-See TV. The Bengals could see this as their coming-out party after a big win last week, but the Jaguars feel improved over the last couple weeks overall. That hasn't resulted in wins, but why not a short week on the road to find a killer instinct? Go spoil the Bengals' party.