The Denver Broncos will go to Cincinnati for a big showdown with the Bengals on the last Monday Night Football game for this season. There are a lot of playoff implications on the line. The Broncos already clinched the AFC West title, and the Bengals lead in the AFC North, albeit by the slimmest margin possible of half a game.
Denver sports an 11-3 record entering the game, tied for best in the league with Arizona and New England entering this weekend in the NFL. They have been among the favorites all season long, and many expected them to be easily the most dominant team in the league. The Broncos season, however, has not played out in that way. They have been surprised in upset losses on occasion, and just have not looked as dominant throughout the season as they did last year at this point. That is particularly true with their offense, which has looked far less explosive than their record-setting offense of last season. That said, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has generally shined on Monday Night Football, boasting a 13-4 career record entering this game. Even more impressively, Manning has never lost against the Bengals, having compiled an 8-0 mark against the team, with three of those meetings coming in December. If the Bengals want to win their division, they are going to have to get past those impressive marks by Denver’s star quarterback, who is definitely scheduled to play this Sunday, despite some recent injuries and illnesses.
Denver has employed a more conservative, run-oriented game plan this season. Behind the running of C. J. Anderson, Manning has seen some relief from the pressure of handling the offense, as the offensive production has been spread around more evenly this season. And while it has produced more modest numbers then the record-shattering numbers that the team enjoyed last season, this new approach has nevertheless helped the Broncos overcome some tough obstacles to ultimately clinch the division, and to be in the hunt for home field advantage in the AFC playoffs. That would be a third season in a row, although they are behind the New England Patriots, who hold the tie-breaker because of their victory over Denver earlier this season.
Entering this weekend, the Bengals still have an outside shot at home field advantage but, more realistically, they could possibly still be in contention for a playoff bye with a win over Denver if the Colts happen to lose one of their next two games. Also, Cincinnati definitely needs this win to stay atop the division, where the Ravens and Steelers are nipping at their heels. If the Bengals lose this game, it is more than likely that their division title hopes will have evaporated, and quite possibly, their playoff hopes will be seriously compromised as well.
Cincinnati will need strong running from back Jeremy Hill, who has been on a tear for the team since week nine. The Bengals are likely to employ a ball control style against the Broncos, but they will also need their defense to step up in a big way to keep the potentially explosive Denver offense in check. To that end, however, the Bengals are coming off their most impressive defensive effort in years, when they played a complete game on the road last weekend in Cleveland for a convincing shut-out victory of 30-0.
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton will also need to eliminate some of the costly mistakes that he has made at critical moments in games this season. Some of his decisions compromised the Bengals and their chances at winning some games, and he was particularly bad on a nationally televised game against the Browns last month. With Dalton at the helm, the Bengals are a dismal 2-9 in nationally televised games dating back to 2011. Dalton has been remarkably inconsistent all season long, at times showing glimpses of potential stardom, while at other times, he hardly has resembled an NFL starting quarterback, let alone one with an over $100 million contract.
Commentary By Charles Bordeau
Photo by Jeffrey Beall –Flickr License