The Legend of Seamless Joe Burrow ("If He Comes, You Will Build It") gets another chance to grow in Thursday's beautifully scripted prime time game (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and NFL Network) at Paul Brown Stadium. It matches the NFL Draft's last two overall No. 1 picks and the installation of the Bengals' inaugural Ring of Honor class on a night former University of Cincinnati defensive back Urban Meyer returns as head coach of the Jaguars.
As the old and new mingle on the riverfront, the Bengals.com Media Roundtable emerges with a decisive take on a short week long with implications. Kelsey Conway, another UC grad off a six-year stint as the team reporter at atlantafalcons.com, sees the Bengals' passing game carrying the day and pushing them to a 3-1 start in her first year covering the team for The Cincinnati Enquirer. Dan Hoard, the Bengals' inexhaustible radio play-by-play voice entering his second decade in the booth who has also covered UC in three decades, doesn't envision a pleasant reunion for the old Bearcat Meyer.
The Jacksonville contingent is bullish on Jags rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the other half of this overall No. 1 matchup. But not yet. Gene Frenette, the estimable Florida Times-Union sports columnist who left Vermont four decades ago to blanket the south, was there at the Jags creation with Tom Coughlin and believes Lawrence is a big talent who can make this one close. Michael DiRocco, who has covered the Jags for nine seasons for ESPN.com, sees Lawrence improving each week but doesn't have enough around him to get this one.
Let's go around The Table. As always, ladies, visitors and the alphabet first.
Any time there's a prime time game, guys typically get up for it, so I think it's going to take the Bengals a little bit to settle in. But I think they'll be too much for the Jags secondary. I think Cincinnati's passing attack is way more talented and I don't think there is a cornerback that can cover Ja'Marr Chase deep. I think the Bengals are going to have a lot of success throwing the ball, but it's going to come a little bit later in the game.
Defensively, the Bengals will continue to have the type of success they've had pressuring Lawrence. I think he'll have a better game because every week he's going to get better and I think Meyer is going to have a good game plan for Cincinnati because this game means a lot to him going back to Ohio.
THE EDGE: The Bengals have too much talent across the board with Burrow and his receiving weapons proving too much for the Jaguars and breaking open a tight game. BENGALS, 24-14
I see this being a fairly easy win for the Bengals. Maybe it's a little close in the first quarter, but after that I think they'll pull away and the Jags get a late touchdown to make it look a little better than it was. The Jags have been pretty good against the run, but they haven't faced a back like Joe Mixon and they had trouble with him last year. The Bengals just have too many weapons for this team to really match up.
Lawrence has thrown a lot of interceptions, but at least two were not his fault. One was a tipped pass. It's not as smooth for him as a lot of people had hoped, but he's a rookie quarterback, he's learning, he's taking steps each week. Last week he made sure he was working through his progressions a little bit quicker and he did that against Arizona. He doesn't have a ton of weapons, either. By far Burrow is in a better situation. If he had better receivers other than Marvin Jones, Jr., he would be in a lot better shape.
THE EDGE: It's a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback in a short week on a road trip. They just continue to make the kinds of mistakes that lose games and they don't make the kinds of plays that win games. Let's be honest, weird things seem to happen to this franchise. Last week they had a 109-yard kick-6, held the Cardinals to one of nine on third down and got a turnover in the red zone and still couldn't win. BENGALS, 28-17
The biggest advantage for the Bengals is having a short week and not having to travel. It's pretty well documented Thursday night road teams struggle in short weeks. That's a huge advantage for the Bengals. Having said that, the Jaguars played a lot better last week. If not for the ill-fated flea-flicker that turned into a pick-6 for the Cardinals, they would have been in that game right to the end and might have won it.
You saw better things out of Lawrence in that game with the exception of that one play. He made better decisions. He talked about how he went through his progressions better. I look for this game to come down to the wire. It's going to be challenging for Trevor because the Bengals defense is really good.
They have to keep an eye on Bengals middle linebacker Logan Wilson because he's a really high impact guy in my opinion. Plus there's the Burrow-Chase connection. I don't know of any other rookie receiver off to a better start than that guy.
The Jaguars have kicker issues and that can't be discounted. Josh Lambo is in the worst slump of his career. He's 0-for-3 on field goals, he missed two extra points last week and we don't know if he's going to be the kicker Thursday.
THE EDGE: If the turnover battle is even, and that's been a big challenge for the Jaguars because they have the worst NFL turnover differential at minus-8, they'll have a shot to win the game. Hopefully it's a highly entertaining game between the last two No. 1 picks. BENGALS, 23-20
This is the game where we see the Bengals offense have a bit of a break-out performance for the first time this year. Not that they were bad against the Vikings in week one, but I think this is the first time they go over 30 points. They won't have wide receiver Tee Higgins, but I think they're getting better by the week. The Jags obviously aren't loaded, although they do have some very good defensive players, most notably linebacker Myles Jack, but I just have a feeling the Bengals offense starts to click the way we know they're capable of clicking.
THE EDGE: I think defensively the teams hit their averages. The Bengals are giving up 18 points a game and it's really more like 14 if you take away the ten the offense is responsible for in the Chicago game. The Jags are averaging about 17. They've got a rookie quarterback who is loaded with talent but is still figuring out the NFL as his seven interceptions indicate. I think the Bengals defense is playing extremely well and Thursday night games are the biggest home advantage you get in the NFL. BENGALS, 31-17.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Is there any doubt that Burrow steps up in this one and rises to the moment? He always seems to. Seamless Joe loves moments like this and what could be more of a moment?
On the other side is the guy that didn't start him at Ohio State and made things uncomfortable in those brutal spring games (Meyer) and the more highly recruited quarterback he beat for a national title two years ago (Lawrence) under these same bright national lights.
Throw in a halftime ceremony celebrating the Bengals' first Ring of Honor on a night saluting the Bengals' first Super Bowl team and you have to believe The Paul is going to be buzzing and packed at a level that hasn't been heard or seen in years.
That's a moment. And can't you see Burrow tipping his hat to the 1981 long ball combo of Ring of Honor inductee Ken Anderson and Isaac Curtis with a deep fling to the hottest rookie in the land, Chase?
But in the NFL, facing an 0-3 team in such favorable conditions is dangerous. The ever improving Lawrence teamed with Jones, Jr., and premier linebacker Myles Jack make the Jags better than the team Burrow beat for his first NFL win last year at PBS. And Lawrence takes aim at a secondary without a starting free safety (Jessie Bates III) and a starting cornerback (Chidobe Awuzie) and with a starting cornerback (Trae Waynes) playing his first game since 2019.
Plus, it's another game the Bengals have to prove they are legit stingy against the run. They've been very good the first three weeks stuffing Dalvin Cook, David Montgomery and Najee Harris on 3.3 yards per. But the Jags vet backs, James Robinson and Carlos Hyde, are both at five yards a bolt.
Still, the numbers are with the Bengals. The home team playing on a Thursday night almost always wins and the odds have to be up on the Bengals' seven-game losing streak to rookie quarterbacks. They've lost to No. 1s (Baker Mayfield), No. 2s (Mitchell Trubisky), future MVPs (Lamar Jackson) and a sixth-rounder (Gardner Minshew II) and it looks to be time to end that. Plus, it's been 12 years since the Bengals beat a No. 1 pick at home when they got another rookie, Matthew Stafford. So it's time.
It's going to be interesting to see how Bengals head coach Zac Taylor calls it. The Jags have been stingy against the run themselves on 3.4 yards per and it's going to be tempting to go after a secondary that Kyler Murray and A.J. Green carved just four days ago. But it was also just 360 days ago that Mixon had his second best day with 151 yards against them. And the two best passer rating days of Burrow's career have come this season with the Bengals balanced and Burrow averaging 23 passes.