But even though the circumstances have changed since then with Burrow's season-ending wrist injury, there's still intrigue and high stakes for both sides when the Cincinnati Bengals (5-6) and Jacksonville Jaguars (8-3) meet up on Monday night in a game that could have wide-ranging implications for a tight AFC playoff race.
On the one side are the Jaguars, who have won seven of their last eight and sit atop the AFC South after defeating the division rival Texans last week. Though the Jags entered Week 13 with a two-game lead in the standings, along with the No. 3 overall seed in the AFC playoff picture, Jacksonville can't let up on the gas for fear of the Texans or Colts, who both won on Sunday, gaining ground in the division.
On the other sideline will be the Bengals, whose playoff hopes took a serious hit when Burrow was lost and are coming off of a third-straight loss to the Steelers. But despite sitting in last place in the tough AFC North, they still have an outside chance of sneaking into the postseason due to the logjam of teams on the bubble. With Jake Browning leading the team the rest of the way, Cincinnati will have a tall task ahead over the final six weeks in order to stay in contention, starting with Monday's matchup with the Jaguars.
Which of these teams will be able to advance their playoff efforts in a prime-time matchup in Jacksonville, and what are the key storylines to follow?
Here are four things to watch for when the Bengals visit the Jaguars on Monday night:
- WHERE: EverBank Stadium (Jacksonville, Fla.)
- WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, NFL+
- Can Jake Browning lead the Bengals into contention? In his first career start against the Steelers last week, the QB finished with 227 yards on 19-of-26 passing with a touchdown and interception, a middling performance that led to only 10 points in the loss. Browning will almost definitely need to be better than in his first outing if the Bengals are to have any chance of defeating the Jaguars, much less earning a postseason spot in the home stretch of the season. Backup quarterbacks have in rare cases been able to step up and lead their teams to playoff success (just ask Brock Purdy), but it's not a common occurrence. Whether Browning will be able to find such success and what that means for the rest of the Bengals’ season is yet to be determined, with his second NFL start against a solid defense presenting a daunting second test. It should help that wide receiver Tee Higgins will play this week after missing the last three games with a hamstring injury, giving Browning another high-quality pass-catching option.
- Cincinnati hopes to jumpstart run game. Browning might not have played at the highest level last Sunday, but his efforts were not helped by the lack of a Cincinnati rushing attack. RB1 Joe Mixon came out of the contest having recorded only 16 yards on eight rushing attempts, with a team total of 25 yards on the ground. And this wasn’t a one-time issue, as the Bengals rank dead-last in the league in rush yards per game. Mixon averages only 56.6 yards per contest, and there's not much significant playing time from other players (the three other RBs on the roster have a combined 77 yards). That could change this week, as Bengals coaches indicated rookie Chase Brown, who was activated off injured reserve last week but didn't get a touch against Pittsburgh, could see a much bigger role against Jacksonville in the hopes he can spark something in the stagnant run game. With an inexperienced quarterback under center, the Bengals could use the support of a complementary ground game to get the offense moving. Whether they’ll be able to get that against the Jaguars’ fourth-ranked rushing defense is the question.
- Jaguars offense faces fortuitous matchup. Since losing in blowout fashion to the 49ers in Week 10, Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars offense has rebounded well, scoring 34 points against the Titans in Week 11 and then beating the Texans last week behind Lawrence’s season-high 364 passing yards. Wanting to keep things going this week, they have the good luck to be facing the Bengals’ struggling defense. Cincinnati ranks 31st in total yards per game allowed through Week 12, and last week the Bengals allowed 421 yards to a Steelers offense that had previously not surpassed 333 yards in an outing. It was the sixth time this season the Bengals defense surrendered over 400 yards in a game. This obviously bodes well for the Jaguars, as not only should it present an opportunity for another big game for Lawrence, but it could also help break Travis Etienne (questionable; ribs) out of the mini-slump he’s been in. After scoring two rushing TDs in three straight games from Weeks 5-7, Etienne has failed to find the end zone in his last four appearances. A matchup against Cincinnati’s 29th-ranked rushing defense could be just what the doctor ordered to get him back on track.
- Will Josh Allen continue his recent tear? Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen had a career game last week against the Texans, collecting 2.5 sacks and four hurries in the win -- including 1.5 sacks on Houston’s final drive, which ended with an unsuccessful field goal attempt after a combined sack by Allen and Travon Walker pushed the Texans to the edge of FG range. It was Allen’s third game this year with at least 2.5 sacks, one fewer than Lawrence Taylor’s record for such games in a season, and it gave him a career-high 12.0 sacks on the year (half of Jacksonville’s team total). He also has 66 QB pressures in 2023, second only to the Cowboys’ Micah Parsons. Considering that the Bengals offensive line has notably struggled to protect its quarterbacks on occasion, plus has given up 13 sacks in the last three games, this could turn into another big game for Allen -- especially with the relative inexperience of Cincinnati’s quarterback.