Thursday Night Football Preview Week 4
In this week’s Thursday Night Football contest, we will get to see two of the best young up-and-coming quarterbacks lead their rebuilding teams as the Jacksonville Jaguars visit the Cincinnati Bengals. The Jaguars have had a rough start to their 2021 season but will look to right the ship against a Bengals team coming off a high after a win against one of their biggest rivals last week.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals (-7.5)
Cincinnati will be a 7.5 point favorite on Thursday Night and it is easy to see why. Jacksonville has looked quite deficient in parts of their first three games this season and is yet to win a game in over a calendar year. While the Bengals still have a ways to go in their own right, Vegas has this game pegged as an easy win for the home team. The Jaguars have lost their games this season by an average margin of 12 points and there is nothing to show why Thursday Night will be any different, especially with the momentum the Bengals have currently. Bet on the Bengals and the points this week.
After suffering a horrific injury in Week 11 last season, many people came into the 2021 season wondering what they should expect of Joe Burrow as he takes the reins again for the Bengals. Burrow flashed in some games during his 2020 campaign but also had his fair share of rookie moments as well. He was on pace to finish with over 4000 yards and 21 touchdowns last season but he was also getting sacked over three times per game as well, leading to the injury that cut his year short. The Bengals made some improvements to their offensive schemes and lineman but Burrow is still facing an immense amount of defensive pressure in 2021, being one of only four quarterbacks who have been sacked ten or more times through Week 3.
Despite this, Burrow has continued to show why he was such a highly regarded prospect and why Cincinnati fans have so much hope for him and the team going forward. He will look to build on that Thursday Night. The Jaguars’ secondary has been exposed so far in 2021, allowing the sixth-most passing yards and the third-most air yards on completions through Week 3. This matchup is a great one for Burrow, look for him to post a top-five fantasy finish this week on Thursday Night.
When Jacksonville selected Trevor Lawrence first overall in the 2021 draft, fans and analysts alike expected many great things from the former Clemson star. However, his transition to the NFL has been a bit bumpier than expected. Lawrence is tied with fellow rookie Zach Wilson for the league lead in interceptions with seven through Week 3, throwing one on just under six percent of his total passing attempts. While the season is still young, Lawrence has yet to show fans and fantasy managers his full potential under center. He will get a chance to make things right on Thursday Night against a Bengals defense that has allowed more than 290 passing yards in two of their first three games in 2021. Although there is some upside based on the matchup, Lawrence should be kept on your bench/waiver wire this week.
One of the best surprises of a wild 2020 season was the emergence of James Robinson. After departing with Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville put the fate of their running game in an undrafted rookie from Illinois State. Little did we know just what a gem they had found. Robinson finished 2020 as the RB7 (in 0.5 PPR scoring formats) with 1070 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns along with 49 receptions for 344 yards and three receiving touchdowns. His 1070 rushing yards were second all-time for an undrafted rookie behind only Dominic Rhodes who had 1104 yards in 2001.
Robinson became both an overnight sensation and a hotly debated topic in the fantasy football realm. Would he be able to carry that success into 2021 or would he regress and fall off the wagon? So far, he has kind of done both, in a way. Robinson was held under 65 all-purpose yards in both Week 1 and 2 but broke out for 134 all-purpose yards and one rushing touchdown against Arizona last week. He will need to find a way to match that production on Thursday Night and should be able to find his way. While the Bengals have allowed the eighth-fewest rushing yards through Week 3, they have also allowed a top-eight fantasy finish (in 0.5 PPR scoring formats) in two of their three games. Robinson is in a prime position to get back to his 2020 ways and will be an RB1 this week on Thursday Night.
Joe Mixon is one of the most intriguing running backs in both the NFL and in fantasy football. When you watch him play you can see the talent he possesses as he uses his speed and strength to gash opposing defenders and make plays. But, when you look at his statistics or fantasy finishes throughout his career, you can also see why he is not among the top-tier running backs selected early in drafts. Mixon has had a solid start to the 2021 season, he is currently the RB13 (in 0.5 PPR scoring formats) and has had at least 70 all-purpose yards in all three games so far. Although these numbers are nice, fantasy managers are waiting for Mixon to put together a monster game that will help propel their team to an easy victory; and Thursday Night certainly looks like a great opportunity for that to happen. Jacksonville so far in 2021 has allowed an average of 138.4 all-purpose yards and 1.67 touchdowns to opposing backfields through Week 3, making them one of the best matchups for fantasy running backs in the league. Look for Mixon to take control of this game and post an RB1 level performance on Thursday Night.
Over the course of the 2021 preseason, a major talking point for Bengals fans and fantasy managers was the status of Ja’Marr Chase’s hands, or lack thereof. He had multiple drops over the course of those three games and fear had begun to spread that Chase was already doomed to be a bust in the NFL. Fortunately, he has been anything but. Chase is currently the WR5 (in 0.5 PPR scoring formats) and is on pace for an 1173 yard season with 21 receiving touchdowns. Now, obviously his season finish will not hit those numbers (especially for those touchdowns), but it is nice to see the rookie has shaken out of his preseason funk and has shown up when it matters. He, along with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, has made for an amazing wide receiver trio that Burrow has used this season and will have for years to come. While Cincinnati will be without Higgins for Thursday Night, Chase and Boyd are still in a prime position to put up solid numbers this week. The Jaguars have allowed over 650 yards to opposing wide receivers so far in 2021 and will be a good matchup for Bengals wideouts. Keep Chase and Boyd in your starting lineup for Thursday Night.
For teams that are starting a rookie quarterback, it can be hard to know how that will impact the team’s wide receivers, especially from a fantasy perspective. There have been many wideouts who have been able to maintain fantasy relevance despite playing with a fresh quarterback but there have also been many who have suffered from inconsistent play under center. Thankfully for those managers who have Marvin Jones and D.J. Chark, both players have found a way to make things work, even with Lawrence struggling out of the gate. Jones has been especially good, currently ranked as the WR21 (in 0.5 PPR scoring formats), and has been a solid WR2/Flex option for many fantasy teams. Chark, on the other hand, has not been as consistent as Jones but has still found a way to be productive with the few receptions he has had so far in 2021 (Chark is the only player in the NFL to have 20 or more targets and less than ten receptions through Week 3). Both players, along with young wideout Laviska Shenault, will look to make more plays on Thursday Night. Jones is the only one at this point worth starting and even then that is as a Flex option. Chark and Shenault have some upside but are just a bit too risky to start on Thursday Night.
While there is plenty of firepower on both teams’ offenses in this game, neither one has used the tight end in a primary role in their game plans so far in 2021. Of both teams, only one tight end has more than five receptions so far this season (James O’Shaughnessy with seven). Between their low usage and neither team being a particularly great matchup, tight ends for both the Jaguars and Bengals should remain on your bench/waiver wire this week.
For those fantasy managers who stream their D/ST every week, one of the key components that are considered when trying to figure out which unit to start each week is the team your D/ST is playing that week. Units playing teams like the Chiefs or Buccaneers are usually left alone but those who are playing weaker opponents are the cream of the crop and can become contentious waiver wire acquisitions. For Week 4, one unit that was surely snagged quickly was Cincinnati. The Bengals’ D/ST overall has been average when compared to others in the league but this week they are a great choice. Between Jacksonville’s propensity for turnovers (lead the NFL with nine through Week 3) and diminished ability to score points (one of six teams to average less than 18 points per game), Cincinnati’s D/ST is in a primer spot to yield an exceptionally positive impact on your lineup. Grab the Bengals D/ST and start them wherever you can this week.
This matchup being in a primetime slot gives many fans a chance to watch two teams they may otherwise not get to see very often. Cincinnati and Jacksonville both have some time left on their rebuilding/retooling but have the talent to make for an interesting matchup, especially on offense. Burrow and Lawrence, despite their inconsistencies, will be looked upon to manage the game and not make any crucial mistakes that will give their opponent a prime opportunity to take a hold of the momentum. If and when these lapses happen, it will be up to the supporting cast of players on each team to help bring their team back and put their squad back in contention. With the status of the Bengals’ roster versus that of the Jaguars, I see that playing a major factor in this game and will help push Cincinnati to a Thursday Night win by a score of 28-13.
Brandon Sysak is an staff writer for Gridiron Experts. I have been covering different aspects of the NFL, fantasy football and the NFL Draft since 2017. I am originally from Midland, MI but now reside in the Cincinnati, OH area. I began my career with Gridiron Experts covering the 2017 College Football National Championship.