The Cincinnati Bengals are 10-3 and can clinch the AFC North with a win over the 4-9 San Francisco 49ers. That sounds pretty straightforward on paper, but the Bengals will be missing an important player under center.
Andy Dalton broke his thumb early in last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steeelers. It has the makings of a season-ending injury, but Cincinnati is hoping to have him back for the playoffs. Regardless, AJ McCarron is the man at quarterback for the time being.
A two-time national champion at the University of Alabama, McCarron saw his first extended NFL action in Week 14, completing 22 of 32 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He showed some flashes of brilliance, such as a pretty 66-yard bomb to A.J. Green, but he is still a clear downgrade from Dalton. To make matters worse, tight end Tyler Eifert suffered a concussion and will be questionable at best for Week 15.
If there's one thing McCarron has going for him, the 49er's defense is 27th against the pass, allowing 268.5 passing yards per game. San Francisco's offense hasn't been much better, either. After a month of surprisingly competent play, Blaine Gabbert finally came undone in Week 14, taking nine sacks in a 24-10 loss to the lowly Cleveland Browns. The 49ers have never been in playoff contention this year, but that loss mathematically eliminates them for good. It will be interesting to see how Jim Tomsula holds the team together with nothing left to play for.
Despite the critical situation at quarterback, the Bengals are still heavy favorites to take care of the 49ers. Six of eight writers at CBS Sports and seven of eight at SB Nation are picking Cincinnati in this one.
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