The loss in Jacksonville felt hopeless in a way that the Bengals haven’t experienced since Ken Zampese was still coordinating the team’s offense. The offense simply wasn’t sufficient at any point in the game, before and after the ejection of A.J. Green in the third quarter for an action that no one in the world would’ve expected of him.
In Cincinnati’s defense: this Jaguars team is as legitimate of a title contender as the AFC has, alongside New England, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Their defense has been a buzz-saw for better teams than the Bengals, and will continue to be as long as their season continues. It was the first and most difficult matchup in the Bengals’ current three-game road stand, and the season isn’t buried yet.
‘Yet’ perhaps being the operative word. Now at 3-5 and battling for second in the division, Cincinnati can ill afford to drop winnable games.
Their opponent this week, Tennessee, is tied for the lead in their division at 5-3, having won their last three against Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Baltimore. Still, the question of whether they’re a real contender remains unanswered: the Colts, Browns and Ravens are collectively 7-19 on the season (and 1-2 against the Bengals). More telling: Jacksonville, the other horse in the race for the AFC South crown, outpaces them in point differential 89 to -12.
No other team with 5+ wins comes up negative in net points. The Titans can and should be knocked down, and the Bengals should be a good enough team to do it. If they can’t, their season will likely (and rightfully) be over.
OUT – HB Jeremy Hill (has since been moved to Injured Reserve)
OUT – LB Kevin Minter
OUT – DT Pat Sims
DOUBTFUL – S Shawn Williams
QUESTIONABLE – K Randy Bullock
Also Listed: WR Tyler Boyd, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Michael Johnson, WR Brandon LaFell, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, DE Chris Smith
OUT – G Quinton Spain
QUESTIONABLE – S Brynden Trawick
QUESTIONABLE – TE Delanie Walker
Also Listed: WR Eric Decker, LB Derrick Morgan, LB Nate Palmer
Vegas Odds (11/11): Tennessee (-5); Over/Under 40.5
Chris Simms (Bleacher Report): Bengals 19, Titans 23
Pete Prisco (CBS): Bengals 10, Titans 23
Katherine Terrell (ESPN): Bengals 10, Titans 21
Elliot Harrison (NFL): Bengals 23, Titans 27
Each of the four analysts above (selected because they provided not only a winner, but an exact score and some amount of written, freely-accessible analysis), favored the Titans in this one. Going through panels of picks on a variety of sites, the Titans were clean-sweep favorites in a couple of places. Optimistically, the Bengals were picked maybe 1 out of 6 times — national pundits seem to be as down on the team as the fanbase is, which is understandable.
Realistically, the Bengals have a better than 1 in 6 chance to win this game. Where the game goes depends – like most weeks – on the matchup between A.J. Green and the Titans’ defense. He has to capitalize against a secondary that lacks a favorable matchup against him, because the defense is plenty good enough to shut the Bengals’ down otherwise. Joe Mixon isn’t likely to have better luck against the Titans’ front than he’s had against any other front this season. John Ross – the other dynamic athlete still available to the unit – remains nowhere to be found.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Marcus Mariota leads an offense that prides itself on running the ball effectively but hasn’t consistently delivered, only crossing 100 yards on the ground once in the past five games. The passing game – especially if Delanie Walker is unavailable – doesn’t have a middle-of-the-field threat that can gouge the Bengals like Le’Veon Bell and Jack Doyle have recently (unless Jonnu Smith steps up). The outside receivers are starting-caliber, but nothing the Bengals’ corners should particularly worry about.
Editor’s Prediction: Bengals 20, Titans 17
The Titans haven’t won four straight games since Chris Johnson lined up in their backfield – it isn’t a common feat, and the Titans don’t appear to be an uncommon team. The Bengals need a win more than the Titans need to not lose, and the travel factor for an away team going between Cincinnati and Nashville isn’t substantial. Of any game this week to be a trap game (against the home team and the predictors) there’s a strong case to be made for this one.
– Andy Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32. Follow him on Twitter at @Andy_Hammel, and the cover32 Bengals team at @cover32_CIN.