With an ominous weather report coming out of Jacksonville for Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), the Bengals.com media forum is gathering in the Ark and projects a Cincinnati (2-2) victory over Jacksonville (1-3) in which the Bengals march in with the NFL's No. 1 defense and a healthy special teams.
Those two items are traveling necessities and The Forum thinks they should be a big challenge for a Jaguars team that is next-to-last in the league in offense and is probably going to be without its two Pro Bowl special teams coverage players.
The lone dissenter, John Oesher of Jaguars.com, believes Jacksonville is playing good enough defense to complement the ball-control running of Maurice Jones-Drew to get a home victory for a rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert that has looked physically impressive in his first two starts even though they have been losses.
But Oesher is in the minority in our forum. CBS Sports.com's Pete Prisco, who along with Oesher was there at the creation of the Jaguars, gives the edge to the Bengals and their relentless defensive front in the matchup with a dinged Jacksonville offensive line. ESPNs John Clayton picks the Bengals (that's a rare lecture for The Professor) because their rookie quarterback is farther along than the Jags rookie quarterback. Steve Tasker, the CBS analyst working the game, gives the edge to the Bengals because their defense is simply the best unit on the field.
Tasker, who also worked last week's game in Cincinnati when the Bengals beat Buffalo, pulled off a strange double. He was on the last Bills team that lost to the Bengals 22 years ago and then called the end to the Bills 10 game-winning streak. The key play for Tasker was another former Bill, Bengals cornerback Nate Clements, disrupting a third-and-one pass to Stevie Johnson long enough to get the pass ruled incomplete and stop an early fourth-quarter drive.
Prisco, who covered the Tom Coughlin Jags for The Florida Times-Union with Oesher in the mid-to-late 90s, is enamored with the job Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has done without a dominant sacker or run-stopper.
Clayton isn't sure how Dalton and Gabbert are going to stack up against each other over the next decade but he says Dalton is better now and that should be good enough to win Sunday. Oesher, who co-authored with Prisco the book "Jags to Riches" that chronicled the Jaguars climb to the AFC title game in just their second season of existence, thinks the Jacksonville defense is going to have the last word in this one.
Let's go around the table.
These teams are really mirror images of each other relying on running games to help their rookie quarterbacks. What gives the edge to the Bengals is their defense because it's the best unit on the field and Jacksonville is going to have to come up with an answer.
The Bengals play everybody on that defensive line and that makes them travel well. Now that they've played so well so early, that's going to give them more confidence and allow Zimmer to come up with more wrinkles. Moving Rey Maualuga to the inside (at middle linebacker) has really freed him up to run around and make pays and Nate Clements has been a nice addition.
Dalton should be ahead of Gabbert at this point. He started from day one and hasn't been behind anybody for five or six weeks. And now Dalton has the league's No. 1 defense behind him.
THE EDGE: Bengals, but no score predicted.
The Bengals are playing a stretch of games where they're playing teams that aren't much better than them, so they have a chance to win some games. Dalton looks to be much more comfortable with his three-step drops than Gabbert is in his offense. Dalton has completed more passes and seems to have taken well to the scheme. Mike Zimmer has done a very impressive job with that defense, which doesn't look to be a good matchup for a rookie quarterback.
EDGE: Bengals, no score projected.
I was talking about this with Prisco the other day. The Jaguars have a lot of solid parts and don't need too many more. They're about a year away.
Yeah, they could use a dominant pass rusher and a dominant receiver, but they think they've got the quarterback, who has got a big arm and pocket presence, a terrific running back and they're very improved on defense with guys like Paul Posluszny at middle linebacker and Dawan Landry at safety. They've got very good defensive tackles in Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton and they're not easy to run the ball on.
They threw the ball around a lot last week (42 times) and while I think they're going to try and be more balanced this week and they know the rookie quarterback is going to make some mistakes, I think they like his arm and want to get some mileage out of it. The offensive line has played pretty well; it's not the reason for their problems on offense.
On Sunday I think they can play solid enough defense to give a rookie quarterback enough problems on the road and ride MJD to a win.
EDGE, Jags, 24-20.
The key to this game is the mismatch the Bengals defensive line has on the Jaguars offensive line. Jacksonville has had some guys hurt and I'm really impressed with Cincinnati's defensive front. They come at you in waves. I bet most people who watch the league couldn't tell you five names off their defense and yet Mike Zimmer has done such a good job.
I mean, the young defensive linemen are very athletic. Dunlap, Atkins, Michael Johnson, they keep coming after you and I think it's going to be very tough for Jacksonville to hold up. Gabbert got blitzed last week and he did what rookie quarterbacks do and held the ball a little bit.
I'm looking forward to this game. I want to see Blaine Gabbert and Andy Dalton. I've liked what I've seen of Dalton and I think the questions about his arm strength have been misguided. The Jaguars are better on defense. They're better in the secondary with Dwight Lowery and Dawan Landry at safety. They've got two good tackles.
The problem is they don't have that hand-on-the ground pass rusher that offenses need to take away. The Bengals don't have a dominant pass rusher yet, although I think Dunlap and Johnson can get there, but they've got so many guys that can be factors that it gives them really good pressure.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 24-17. I think they make Gabbert struggle.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Forum likes the Bengals in this one and isn't that just like the Bengaldom way? Where they always seem to play well in the games they're not supposed to and struggle against the teams they're supposed to handle.
Only four games into the season and the Bengals weren't supposed to win a road opener in Cleveland with a rookie quarterback or take down the undefeated Bills. And, they weren't supposed to lose to the depleted Broncos or a bad 49ers road team in the Paul Brown Stadium opener with a sub-.500 quarterback.
Now the Bengals have the NFL's No. 1 defense playing a Jacksonville team that can't score with a rookie quarterback and if you do the math the Bengals ought to win. But the Jags play good defense, too (No. 12) and the Bengals haven't scored three TDs in a game since the opener.
If Bobbie Williams returns to right guard as everyone expects, that will be an interesting matchup in the middle of a good Jaguars front seven. In back-to-back efforts, Jacksonville allowed two very good rushing teams in the Titans and Jets a combined 144 yards on the ground in limiting them to 3.2 yards per rush.
The Bengals defense has its own challenge against running back MJD, the NFL's second most prolific back of the last three years testing the NFL's best 3.1 yards per rush front. Zimmer is going to be much more effective making life miserable for Gabbert if they can stop MJD with seven in the box. Gabbert has been sacked six times in his two starts, so someone is getting to him and that means the Bengals should, too.
The Bengals have the edge in playmakers at wide receiver, where they have a big one in A.J. Green and the Jags are trying to find people to put around a solid No. 2 in Mike Thomas. The Jags do have a Pro Bowl tight end in Marcedes Lewis, but he's not a matchup nightmare that stretches the field and he may be a better blocker than receiver. And if they have to the Bengals can double team him without a lot of repercussions.
It says something about how well Dalton has played and how well the coaches have used him that The Forum gives him an edge over Gabbert.
Another advantage for the Bengals should be on special teams, where the Jaguars look like they won't have two Pro Bowl coverage players in Kassim Osgood and Montell Owens.
On paper it says the Bengals should win. The forecast is for 70 percent rain, too. The Bengals are looking to make the paper translate.