Two years after squaring off in the Super Bowl, the Bengals and Rams will rematch in prime time to close Week 3, but they look a lot different than the last time they met. Los Angeles has enjoyed a high-flying offense, albeit with Matthew Stafford throwing to fill-in standouts Kyren Williams, Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell. The Bengals, meanwhile, are still in search of their first win as star quarterback Joe Burrow battles a calf strain that has some injury experts .
It's safe to say the Rams have far exceeded expectations out of the gate, whereas Cincinnati has flopped despite Super Bowl aspirations. But one game can change everything. Burrow is still in contention to suit up, but if he can't, the Bengals will be asking Jake Browning, Reid Sinnett and/or familiar face AJ McCarron to keep the Bengals from starting 0-3 in the AFC North.
With that said, who's poised to seize the Monday night lights? How can you tune in? Here's everything you need to know:
How to watch
- When: Monday, Sept. 25 | 8:15 p.m. ET
- Location: Paycor Stadium (Cincinnati)
- TV: ESPN | Stream: fubo
- Follow: CBS Sports App
- Odds: Bengals -2, O/U 43.5 (via SportsLine consensus odds)
Keys to the game
- Who's playing QB for the Bengals? Let's face it: nothing matters more to this matchup than which signal-caller is starting -- and/or staying under center -- for Cincy. Burrow is a top-five arm when healthy, but it's very clear he's not. So in one sense, it might actually benefit Zac Taylor's offense to just have a fully functional QB at his disposal. On the other hand, none of the Bengals' backups, save for the newly re-signed AJ McCarron, have legitimate NFL experience.
- How healthy is Puka Nacua? The Rams' unexpected star is listed as questionable for the game with an oblique injury, and while he's expected to play, it's unclear whether he'll be at full speed. His presence is invaluable, though, considering how quickly he's emerged as a favorite possession target for Stafford. Coach Sean McVay has said Nacua will be involved even after Cooper Kupp returns, which just shows how significant he is to L.A.'s attack.
- Can the Cincy secondary take over? Regardless of Nacua's status, the Bengals have a chance to prove their defensive backfield is for real, going up against the Rams' passing offense, which ranks No. 3 in the NFL. Only four teams have allowed fewer yards through the air this year. It would help if their pass rush also showed up, as it's been lacking early in the season.
The Bengals may well be the better team on paper, even after their 0-2 start. But are they really the better team right now? Again, Joe Burrow's availability isn't an end-all, be-all. Even if the Pro Bowler is back, how are we to know his calf will hold up trying to maneuver around a Rams interior headlined by Aaron Donald? Certainly Cincy's got the playmakers to snap its losing streak. But Sean McVay has proven this year he's still got some innovation in the tank, and the Rams' combo of young skill players have the tools to help Stafford get rid of the ball quickly. Call it a close one, with the unlikely NFC West contenders ending on top.
Score: Rams 24, Bengals 20
I like my pick for this game, but you might like R.J. White's better. He's our gambling guru over at SportsLine.com, and he's gone an amazing 51-35-4 on his last 88 picks involving the Bengals. If you want to check out R.J.'s pick, head over to SportsLine here.