With two games left in the regular season, the Denver Broncos (11-3) have clinched a playoff berth and the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1) are looking to get into the postseason. In their Week 16 matchup, both teams still have a lot on the line.
Denver won the AFC West with their Week 15 victory over the San Diego Chargers, but they are still trying to gain home-field advantage for the entirety of the AFC playoffs. A win would guarantee them a first-round bye, but they need to finish with a better record than the New England Patriots, in order to grab the No.1 seed. New England enters Week 16 with the same record as Denver, and the AFC East champs own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Cincinnati controls their own destiny and currently holds a playoff spot, but they don’t have an easy road to the postseason. They have a half-game lead in the division over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, and three teams fighting for a wild-card spot have eight wins. After hosting the Broncos, the Bengals will end the season with a visit to Pittsburgh.
Both teams enter the contest playing well. Denver is on a four-game winning streak, and Cincinnati has won four of their last five contests. All three of the Broncos’ 2014 losses have come on the road, but the Bengals aren’t the dominant home team that they were last season. Cincinnati has lost two consecutive games at home by 21 points each.
Andy Dalton appears to have taken a step back this season, and he’s played some of his worst football at Paul Brown Stadium. The quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns and nine interceptions at home. In a loss to the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 6, Dalton threw for just 86 yards and had three passes intercepted.
Despite Dalton’s struggles, the Bengals have been able to overcome some of his lackluster performances. He threw for just 117 yards and posted a 53.6 passer rating in the team’s latest victory over the Browns, and he threw three interceptions in Cincinnati’s Week 13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Peyton Manning is playing like an MVP candidate, once again, having thrown for 37 touchdowns and 4,143 passing yards. The 13-time Pro Bowler, though, has been more mistake-prone than he was in either of his previous two seasons with Denver. After entering the season with four games with at least two interceptions as a member of the Broncos, Manning has been picked off twice in five games this year.
The Bengals boast one of the league’s top passing defenses, allowing 233.6 passing yards per game (12th) and a 76.4 opponents’ passer rating (3rd). Cincinnati has taken advantage of playing against some of the league’s worst quarterbacks, but they’ve struggled against some of the best signal callers in football. When facing Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger, the Bengals have been outscored 112-38 in three games.
The running game could play a major role in the contest, considering Cincinnati has a top rushing offense, and Denver is one of the best teams at stopping the run. The Bengals rank sixth in total rushing yards, as Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have combined for 1,531 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. The Broncos’ 71.6 rushing yards allowed per game is second in the NFL. Since their bye in Week 4, only one team has rushed for 100 yards against Denver.
Giving the Bengals three points at Las Vegas casinos, the Broncos are favored for an 11th straight week. The over/under is 47.5 points.
Prediction: Denver over Cincinnati, 30-20