Both the Cincinnati Bengals (11-3) and the Denver Broncos (10-4) have a lot riding on their matchup in Week 16 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on "Monday Night Football."
Cincinnati clinches the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win or tie. A loss and a Pittsburgh loss or tie still wins the division for the Bengals. Denver clinches the AFC West with a win and Kansas City loss or tie or a tie and a Chiefs loss. The Broncos clinch a playoff berth with a win and a loss or tie from either the Jets or Steelers or a tie and a loss from one of those two teams.
What Denver and Cincinnati have in common is that they’ll try to navigate Week 16 with their backup quarterbacks.
After winning his first three starts it’s been two losses for Brock Osweiler, who has struggled in the second half. The Broncos have been outscored 36-0 in the second half of the last three games, with Osweiler’s rating dipping from 109.4 to 65.8 after the break. He’ll likely continue to look toward Demaryius Thomas, who has seen double-digit targets in three of the last four games. Thomas totaled 61 yards and two scores on five catches a week ago in a 34-27 loss to Pittsburgh.
“It starts with me and I need to play better in the second half, and I will play better in the second half,” Osweiler said earlier this week. He remains the starter for now as Peyton Manning continues rehabilitation for a torn plantar fascia in his left foot.
Osweiler threw for 296 yards and three scores but goes in Week 16 against a defense that forced four turnovers last week and ranks No. 9 in yardage allowed per game (337.3). Cincinnati is also the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense, allowing just 17.4 points per game. In their last three wins, the Bengals have allowed a grand total of 24 points.
Cincinnati backup AJ McCarron will attempt to secure a bye and give Andy Dalton an extra week before having to play in the wake of fracturing his right thumb two weeks ago. McCarron threw two touchdowns and two interceptions in relief in Week 14 but went 15 of 21 for 192 yards and score in a 24-14 Week 15 win over San Francisco. This week he faces a defense that is tied for the league lead in sacks (47) and ranks No. 4 in points allowed (18.5
The Bengals backfield averages 110.9 rushing yards per game anchored by Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Hill notched two scores last week but has rushed 26 times for just 47 yards over the last two weeks. Bernard hasn’t recorded a rushing score since Week 6 and managed just 33 yards on 14 attempts in San Francisco.
Denver’s league-leading defense (279.9 yards per game) allowed a season-high 34 points last week against Pittsburgh but looks to bounce back against a Bengals team that recorded a season-low 242 total yards against the 49ers.
Betting Odds: Denver -3.5
Prediction: Both quarterbacks face stingy defenses but Osweiler’s extra few weeks under center could be the difference, especially at home. One would expect a defensive battle where the team who turns the ball over less is going to win and McCarron might be more prone to the big mistake. Plus, the Broncos have run the ball well while the Bengals have struggled recently.
Denver wins, 23-13