The Denver Broncos (11-3), who have clinched a playoff berth by winning the AFC West, travel to play the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1) in week 16 of the 2014 NFL season. This Monday Night Football game is a big one for the Bengals who have played well this season and are coming off a 30-0 win against Cleveland.
Why is this game so important? In the final week of the season, which is next week, Cincinnati must meet Pittsburgh. If the Bengals lose tomorrow night, they will probably have to beat the Steelers to be assured a spot in the playoffs. Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh hammered the Bengals, 42-21. The Bengals don’t want to rely on the final game of the season to be the one that dictates their playoff destiny, especially a game in which they have to win against the Steelers.
For Denver Monday night’s game is important because they are still contending for the second of two, week-one AFC playoff byes. The New England Patriots snagged the first one on December 21st, beating the Jets in a 17-16 squeaker.
Keys for Denver
Denver comes to Cincinnati with one of the top passing games in the league and an average run attack, which is just enough to keep defenses on their toes. Plus, there’s one more positive for Denver- they put a very good run defense on the field, and Cincinnati’s bread and butter on offense is the run.
Denver QB Peyton Manning (37 TDs, 11 INTs, 14 Sacks) is having a great year. His 106.4 QB rating certainly attests to that. The Denver running attack, headed by C.J. Anderson (679 YDs, 4.6 AVG, 4 TDs ) and Ronnie Hillman (378 YDs, 4.2 AVG, 3 TDs ), offers him enough variety to be able to mix it up and keep opponents guessing as to what play he’ll run. Plus, Manning has a wealth of fine pass catchers to whom he can throw. His primary targets are Demaryius Thomas (14.5 YPC, 11 TDs) Emmanuel Sanders (14.2 YPC, 7 TDs), and Julius Thomas (11.1 YPC, 12 TDs)
The Denver defense is massive upfront, having posted 38 sacks and 48 TFL. The secondary boasts 16 picks. This is a very good squad that can shutdown opponents. LB Von Miller and DE DeMarcus Ware lead the team with 13 and 10 sacks respectively, while LB Brandon Marshall leads the club with 10 TFL. Corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. each have 3 INTs.
The Broncos have the ability to control both sides of the ball. The more they can make the Bengals go four and out, the better chance they will have to score and score quickly and often with Manning tossing the ball.
Keys for Cincinnati
The Bengals must run to win and they have to keep the Denver offense in check. Neither will be an easy task in this game. Still, they sport a better than average pass defense, and when they can get some traction on offense they can be dangerous.
With QB Andy Dalton (15 TDs, 14 INTs, 18 Sacks), the Bengals want him to make as few mistakes as possible and that means passing as little as possible. Dalton, who has a QB rating of 82.9, needs to keep the team moving up the field with short passes, and he must set up solid opportunities for the Bengals to exploit their running game.
Dalton’s go-to receivers are A.J. Green (15.7 YPC, 6 TDs ) and Mohamed Sanu (14.0 YPC, 5 TDs ). Both are capable of making the big play to break the game open. Jeremy Hill (877 YDs, 5.0 YPA, 6 TDs) is the primary force in the ground attack. A big day for Hill means a big win for the Bengals.
The Bengal defense will be tested. This is not a team known for putting pressure on quarterbacks; still, the secondary does a decent job of keeping the ball out of receivers’ hands. DE Carlos Dunlap (7.0 Sacks) will be looking to bring Manning down a few times. Along with leading the team in sacks, he is also first in tackles for a loss with 8. SS George Iloka (3 INTs) is the featured pass disturber on the club. He’ll need to have a big day.
One major worry for the Bengals is their penchant for fumbling. They have fumbled 12 times this season and lost 4. For this team to win, they will need to play flawless football on defense and grind it out on the ground on offense.
How This Game Looks
Denver is a 3.5-point favorite. That’s not a lot. This will be a hard-fought contest. It is Denver’s game to lose, while it’s Cincinnati’s to win. The Bengals are capable of an upset. This is especially the case because they are at home. The weather looks fine and should not be a factor.