The Cincinnati Bengals travel to Denver to take on the Broncos in a game that will have major implications for the AFC playoff picture. The winner of this game will be in a commanding position for a vital bye week and also still be in position to end up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the No. 1 seed thanks to the Patriots' loss to the Jets on Sunday. The loser will likely be playing in the wild card round, and the Broncos need a win to punch their postseason ticket, stay ahead of the Chiefs (who have clinched no worse than a a wild card berth) in the AFC West race, and not have to potentially sweat Week 17 out.
The Broncos have lost two games in a row, despite some promising moments from quarterback Brock Osweiler. As Peyton Manning gets closer to a return, the Broncos will be facing a major decision, but this is the week for Osweiler to shine and cement Denver's playoff hopes.
The Bengals have quarterback issues of their own with AJ McCarron winning his first start in San Francisco last week. With Andy Dalton out at least until the playoffs, and possibly longer, the Bengals must recalibrate with McCarron while their defense makes up the difference.
Cincinnati at Denver
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Monday)
Spread: Broncos -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Battle of the Defenses
These teams are extremely similar to each other. Both have new quarterbacks with plenty of weapons around them, along with two of the best defenses in the NFL. Brock Osweiler has a little more experience and a little higher ceiling, but how either quarterback will perform in an important game on national television with playoff implications is anyone's guess. That's why the defense that plays better, and forces turnovers, is likely to hand their team the win.
2. Broncos Play 60 Minutes?
The Broncos had 27 points in the first half against the Steelers and zero over the final 30 minutes. They also had zero points in the second half the previous week against the Raiders. This begs the question of whether or not the Broncos can break this trend and turn in a full 60-minute effort. Their season depends on it this week. The Broncos can make the plays, on both sides of the ball, but they must find consistency.
3. How Will the Bengals Generate Offense?
The Broncos have the best defense (yards per game) in the NFL both against the pass and the run. Without Andy Dalton, and with A.J. Green battling a back injury, moving the ball might be a major challenge for the Bengals. Marvin Jones had four catches for 89 yards last week, but the Bengals had 36 carries for just 68 yards. If they have similar problems running the ball this week, they could be punting a lot.
Despite their similarities, the key differences between these two teams – Brock Osweiler's experience and Denver's home-field advantage – should be the difference. The Broncos also need this game more than the Bengals do, as a loss could open the door for the Chiefs to not only take the division title, but potentially put the Broncos in a must-win situation next week. Look for the Broncos to turn in a full 60-minute game while shutting down AJ McCarron completely.