This will be the first time the Bengals take the field without the services of Andy Dalton since the 2010 NFL season. Dalton will be gone for the foreseeable future with a broken thumb during last week's 33-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In his place, second-year quarterback AJ McCarron will make his first professional start. After being drafted in the fifth round out of Alabama in the 2014 NFL Draft, McCarron saw his first significant action during last week's loss to Pittsburgh. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 280 yards with two touchdowns, but his two interceptions and three sacks taken proved to be costly in the 13-point loss.
McCarron doesn't even have as many career snaps (61) as Dalton has NFL starts (77), so expecting him to step right in and produced the kind of Pro Bowl numbers Dalton was putting up simply isn't realistic. The good news is he'll go against a 49ers defense that's made most quarterbacks they've faced this year look like studs. They rank 30th in total defense, 31st in rushing defense, 27th in passing defense, and are tied for the fifth-fewest sacks of any team (22).
San Francisco also knows what it's like having a new starting quarterback. Colin Kaepernick was actually part of the same draft as Dalton in 2011. Both quarterbacks would become their team's full-time starters for much of the next four years, but neither will be on the field this week.
After starting in 47 straight games from 2012-15, Kaepernick was benched earlier this season in favor of Blaine Gabbert. Ironically, Gabbert was drafted 10th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in that 2011 draft, but quickly turned into a bust who was benched and later let go before the 49ers picked him up.
With Kaepernick now benched and placed on I.R. due to shoulder surgery, Gabbert has a combined passer rating 93.5 in his past four starts while scoring five times (4 passing, 1 rushing) with just one turnover. He's also gone 2-3 as a starter after San Francisco opened the year with a 2-6 record under Kaepernick.
Oh, and you may recall of a certain Super Bowl that happened to feature these two teams in 1989. Some quarterback threw a late touchdown and San Francisco won a game. Not much else to it. I was thankfully born three months later.
Here's a look at everything you'll need for this Sunday's matchup between the Bengals and 49ers.
When: Dec. 20, 4:25 p.m. EST
Where: Levi's Stadium
TV Broadcast: CBS: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots and Jay Feely (sideline reporter)
Radio Broadcast: Coverage on the Bengals Radio Network, led by a "triple cast" on Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham. SIRIUS: 83 (Cin), 145 (SF). XM: 226 (Cin), 231 (SF).
Weather: 57 degrees and a chance for rain [Weather Underground]
Odds: The Bengals opened as a 4-point favorite, and the line has since increased to 4.5, per Odds Shark.
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