Carolina @ Cincinnati (-7.5)
Power rankings: Carolina 29, Cincinnati 8
Spread update: This line moved away from the model. Cincy is now 7 point favorites.
Keys to the game: The Panthers (28th in offensive DVOA) have had a bottom-tier offense throughout the season. They are coming off strong offensive performances the last two weeks -- scoring 21 against Tampa and 34 against Atlanta -- thanks mostly to PJ Walker, who has put together back to back strong performances. Walker played college football at Temple before signing with the Colts in 2017 as an undrafted free agent. Unable to get any playing time, Walker then spent the 2020 season in the XFL, where he led the league in passing yardage and touchdowns, which led to another shot in the NFL. Even though he's looked like a decent passer this season, he wasn't good in college, wasn't particularly impressive in the XFL, and hasn't looked great in the NFL either. It's always possible that he suddenly became good, but the more likely scenario is he's still replacement-level at best. The matchup in the trenches should be a fun one -- the Panthers tackle duo of Ikem Ekwonu and Taylor Morton is above-average. Ekwonu is the 6th overall pick from this years draft who struggled badly to start the season, but has settled down to be a solid pass and run blocker. Morton is a veteran who is routinely underrated. The Bengals have a pair of strong edge rushers in Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard -- both of whom have 30 pressures. Panthers WR DJ Moore will have an advantage against a Bengals secondary that is missing cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie (ACL) and Mike Hilton (finger). The Bengals have strong safety tandem and are 7th in the league in pass defense DVOA, so there's certainly some room for injury, but those two losses will be difficult on the defense. The Panthers have been much better on the ground (12th in DVOA), though naturally that includes time where Christian McCaffrey was their running back.
Joe Burrow had a slow start to the year, but he's fully back to the Joe Burrow we all know and love. He's completing 69.2% of his passes, gaining 7.6 yards per attempt, and is PFF's 9th highest graded QB. The Bengals are without standout WR Ja'Marr Chase, but Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd should be more than enough against a Panthers defense that ranks 27th in pass defense DVOA. The Panthers do have a few bright spots in the pass game, mainly DE Brian Burns and CB Jaycee Horn, but there's enough weaknesses where they fail to generate consistent pressure (20.5% pressure rate ranks 22nd in the league despite a blitz-heavy scheme). The bright spot of the Panthers defense is their run game, where they rank a much more favorable 7th in DVOA. This is thanks to a very strong defensive tackle tandem in Derrick Brown and Matt Ioannidis. Carolina should have a decisive advantage here, as the Bengals offensive line continues to struggle, particularly along the interior.
Las Vegas @ Jacksonville (+1.5)
Power rankings: Las Vegas 21, Jacksonville 22
Spread update: The line has moved away from the model. Vegas is now 2.5 point favorites.
Keys to the game: Although we've seen Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa break out after their teams adding elite wide receiver talent, the same can't be said for Derek Carr. Carr is 24th of 39 qualifiers in PFF grades, completing 62.9% of his passes (1.7% above expectation) and gaining 6.8 yards per attempt. There isn't anything glaringly wrong with his play, it's just that every facet has been mediocre. Part of the issue is DeVante Adams hasn't been anywhere near as good as he was with the Packers, Hunter Renfrow is having a down season, and Darren Waller has been injured. Waller hasn't played since injuring his hamstring week 5 and is officially questionable for this one. He was limited in practice all week, making him more likely than not to return. Down year or not, they are still better than the Jaguars secondary, which has particularly been less than impressive at cornerback outside of Tyson Campbell. The Raiders offensive line is well improved over a year ago, but they still have issues on the right side of the line. The Jaguars do have an elite pass rusher in Josh Allen who typically lines up over the left tackle, but the Jaguars have moved him over to the right occasionally where he would have a major advantage. Jacksonville hasn't been great against the pass (21st in DVOA) or the run (20th). The run game in particular could be a problem with Vegas gets out to an early lead -- Josh Jacobs has been one of the better backs in the league, his 3.94 yards per attempt after contact ranks 5th among all running backs.
The Jaguars offense this season has been mediocre, ranking 15th in DVOA. This is a decently impressive rating considering the play of Trevor Lawrence, who ranks 32nd of 39 qualifiers in PFF grades while completing 62.5% of his passes (4.3% below expectation) and gaining 6.7 yards per attempt. Lawrence flashes shines that make him look the part of the number 1 overall pick, but the negatives have far outweighed the positives. He plays behind an offensive line that is far better at pass blocking than run blocking, which should come in handy against the Raiders pass rush. Although Las Vegas has Maxx Crosby, who has been one of the best pass rushers in the league since last year, they have absolutely nobody behind him. Crosby lines up exclusively over the right tackle, which will be a major test for Jawaan Taylor. Even still, when you know there's only one guy who can generate pressure, it makes things a lot easier schematically to limit the effectiveness of said player. The Raiders secondary has also been poor, which has led to their 31st pass defense DVOA rating. The Jaguars receiving core (Christian Kirk, Zay/Marvin Jones, Evan Engram) isn't scary by any means, but they are certainly better than the Raiders secondary. The Jaguars run game is hampered by the line, but Travis Etienne has emerged as a strong running back that gives the Jaguars at least somewhat of a rushing threat.