Cincinnati Bengals vs Jacksonville Jaguars: CIN -1 (Pinnacle)
MarketsThere really isn't a lot to mention here. The Bengals opened as short favorites in the offseason and have remained there all the way through the look-ahead and opening lines. A large amount of public bets are coming in on the Bengals, and it's hard to blame them given what we've seen thus far. I like the pick at anything under a field goal.
The Lesser of Two Evils
They can't stop the run, defend the pass, pressure the QB, or stop people on third down. This is very concerning especially when you consider they've played the Vikings and Colts - not exactly two high-powered offenses.
Daryl Smith is still out, but they did get Derek Cox back. That should help the secondary, but I doubt it's going to be enough to slow down Andy Dalton and the high flying Bengals passing attack.
I can't believe I just said that, but Dalton might have had his best game as a pro last week. Football Outsiders have done extensive research on what years quarterbacks make the most progress and they found that year two is really the only year that there is a consistent improvement. I think we are seeing the fruits of that as Dalton has been lighting up secondaries all season.
And it's not just AJ Green. Last week I questioned whether or not guys like Armon Binns and fantasy revelation Andrew Hawkins can keep up their production, but it seems like everybody is getting in on the action. Let's also not forget about Jermaine Gresham over the middle. Collectively, these guys are hauling in everything thrown their way which is something that didn't happen last year. As a result, Dalton's completion percentage is among the league's best.
It's still too early to crown Dalton with the "arrived" status, but it sure looks like he's on the right path. They still need to improve on third down and red zone efficiency, but I think they'll get their chance this week against an underacheiving defense.
One Step Forward, One Step BackThis applies to both Blaine Gabbert and the Bengals defense.
Let's start with the good news. Gabbert has yet to throw an interception this year. If you watched him last year, you'll know how much of an improvement that is. Unfortunately, the bad news is he hasn't developed enough as a passer to convince us he's ready for prime-time. In back to back weeks, he didn't produce a single first down in 15 consecutive drop-backs. Ouch!
Even with MJD producing good numbers, this offense is near the bottom of every single meaningful statistical category.
The same can be said for the Bengals D. They also rank near the bottom of nearly every statistical category. Last week they got to RG3 quite a bit and the return of Carlos Dunlap certainly helped that, but take it with a grain of salt thanks to the Trent Williams injury. Having said that, Dunlap did have a sack and a forced fumble.
Even though the Jaguars are hoping to get Bradfield and Britton back on the O-line, the addition of Dunlap makes everyone on the D-line better. If Cincy win this battle up front, it will be curtains for Gabbert and company.
The bad news for Cincy are the injuries to Hall and Clements on the back end. This was a secondary that was already below average, so Gabbert will definitely have his chance to show us what he's got. He might have to do it without Laurent Robinson due to a concussion, so keep an eye on that on Friday's injury report. The challenge is clear though. If the Jaguars want to believe in Gabbert this season, this is the week that he needs to make some progress.
Bottom LineThis isn't a game that I anticipated getting involved in a few weeks ago, but the Jaguars are simply not the team I want to get behind right now. I've been hella impressed with Dalton's progression the last couple of weeks and I think he puts up enough points to keep this out of reach. MJD can only do so much.
NFL Pick: CIN -1.
The rest of my Week 4 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.