The NFL wasn’t anticipating a double-digit spread when scheduling the Cincinnati Bengals at the Jacksonville Jaguars to close out Week 13 on “Monday Night Football.”
That changed the moment Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow left at a Week 11 loss to Baltimore with what would turn out to be a season-ending wrist injury. He has been replaced by Jake Browning, who will make his second career start Monday night against a Jaguars team seeking home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Browning has completed a respectable 65.9 percent of his passes, but that doesn’t mean defenses are respecting Cincinnati’s passing game. Browning has been sacked seven times while attempting 40 passes since replacing Burrow against the Ravens. The Jaguars know they need to take care of business to keep pace in the AFC, and the only question is whether they cover the spread.
Prediction: Jaguars 27, Bengals 17
Jacksonville opened as a 7.5-point favorite at BetMGM, and the line has grown to 10.0 points with the Jaguars backed by 59 percent of the spread-line bets and 64 percent of the money. The spread is also 10.0 at DraftKings.
The Over/Under at both books is 40.0 points, with the Over drawing 55 and 66 percent of the action, respectively, at BetMGM.
Jaguars TE Evan Engram Over 4.5 Receptions (-160 at DraftKings): Engram has had at least five receptions in all but three games this season, and he managed four in each of those three. That has contributed to this being the most popular player prop at the book. Jacksonville wants to control the time of possession and field position, forcing Browning to drive the length of the field. Engram is an excellent weapon in that game plan and has averaged 7.7 targets over the past 10 games.
Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor brings his Bengals (5-6) into Jacksonville having lost three straight and falling into the cellar of the AFC North after winning the division the last two seasons.
Jacksonville (8-3) is coached by Doug Pederson, and Taylor’s younger brother Press serves as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator.
“He’s somebody I’m very proud of,” Zac Taylor said of Press. “I’ve watched his journey. He’s earned everything he’s ever gotten. He’s worked really hard for it. He’s really smart and takes care of people.”
The Jaguars are playing their first Monday night game since Dec. 5, 2011, a 38-14 home loss to the San Diego Chargers. Jacksonville played two Monday night games that season, beating the visiting Baltimore Ravens 12-7 for a split.
The Jaguars are 8-7 all-time on Monday night.
Jacksonville has won seven of its last eight games and sits atop the AFC South. The Jags have the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense (87.4 yards allowed per game), while Trevor Lawrence leads the offense and is coming off a 364-yard passing performance in their 24-21 win at Houston.
“What I’ve been most impressed with was how he’s just leading the football team,” Pederson said of Lawrence. “He has been taking care of the football the last couple of weeks.
“Honestly, there’s still some room if you watch the film to grow and improve and really anticipate certain things,” Pederson added. “He’s just continuing to make impressive throws and he continues to grow.”
In his first career start last Sunday against the Steelers in Cincinnati, Browning completed 19 of 26 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown and a costly third-quarter interception. The Bengals held a 7-3 lead at the half and were driving for another score to open the third quarter when his pass for Ja’Marr Chase was intercepted.
“I thought he handled some things really well for us,” Taylor said. “It’s a tough task to play a divisional game versus a good defense in your first game. There’s going to be plenty of things he can learn from.”
The Bengals are trying to snap a long dubious streak of their own. With their loss in Baltimore on Nov. 16, Cincinnati has dropped 15 straight prime-time games on the road and have lost 26 of 27 night road games.
The Bengals have dropped nine straight Monday night road games, including last season’s 32-13 decision in Cleveland on Oct. 31, 2022. Their last win in this category was on Oct. 22, 1990, in Cleveland. The Bengals are 13-26 all-time on Monday night, with a 19-16 home victory against the LA Rams in Week 3.
Taylor said wide receiver Tee Higgins will return after missing three games due to a hamstring injury, as will linebacker Logan Wilson. However, cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt will not play after spraining his ankle in practice Friday. Offensive tackle D’Ante Smith (knee) and defensive tackle Jay Tufele (illness) are questionable.
The Jaguars enter the game relatively healthy, listing four players as questions: cornerback Tyson Campbell (hamstring), running back Travis Etienne (ribs) and tight end Luke Farrell (toe) returned to limited practice Saturday, while fellow tight end Brenton Strange (foot) sat out Saturday after getting in limited practice Friday.
THEY SAID IT
Browning is excited for the return of Higgins.
“Tee’s one of the top receivers in the NFL,” he said. “I don’t think you can really put it into words how important he is to this offense.
“I think Andrei (Iosivas) has continued to play really well. Trenton Irwin has proven he can do it, but there’s just something that Tee brings the table being as big, as fast and having the experience he does, where it’s always nice to have him and Ja’Marr on the outside.”