It’s a matchup between two teams that tied for the AFC’s best record last year, and possibly the best game on the Week 3 schedule. The Denver Broncos visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon, pitting the defending Super Bowl champions against one of their top threats in the conference.
Even after winning the title a season ago, the Broncos haven’t gotten the respect that reigning champs usually garner. After being named underdogs in Week 1, Denver is getting points in their first road game of 2016. Cincinnati is a three-point favorite at Las Vegas and online sportsbooks, via OddsShark.
The Broncos have plenty of doubters, largely because of their questions on offense. Trevor Siemian has taken over for Peyton Manning as the team’s starter in 2016, and the second-year quarterback that never threw an NFL pass before the season opener has been far from impressive. His 74.4 passer rating ranks 31st in the league, and he’s thrown for one touchdown and three interceptions.
Andy Dalton has received his share of criticism as the Bengals’ starting quarterback since 2011, but he gives Cincinnati a major edge at the most important position in football. He leads the NFL with 732 passing yards, almost 300 more than Siemian, and he’s a proven winner with five straight trips to the playoffs.
But having the better quarterback might not be enough when facing an all-time great defense. Denver won Super Bowl 50 because of the team’s ability to stop opposing offenses, and they’ve picked up where they left off in February.
Against the reigning MVP in Week 1, Denver allowed just 176 passing yards, holding the Carolina Panthers to just 20 points -- the following week Cam Newton threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns in a 46-27 win. A week after the Indianapolis Colts scored 35 points, they lost 34-20 in Denver, allowing the Broncos to score two defensive touchdowns. Andrew Luck went from throwing for 385 yards and four touchdowns to a 197-yard performance against the Broncos.
Following two big passing performances to start the season, Dalton could be in for a long day, as well. He faces a defense that ranks second in the NFL with eight sacks, and linebacker Von Miller might be the NFL’s best defensive player, aside from J.J. Watt.
Eventually, Siemian is going to cost the Broncos a game. The quarterback has gone 2-0 behind Denver’s defense and running back C.J. Anderson, who has 232 yards of offense and three touchdowns. If the Broncos find themselves in a position in which Siemian needs to make big plays, they’re going to have trouble winning.
But Siemian has been just as good, if not better than Manning was last year. The future Hall of Famer threw eight more interceptions than touchdown passes in the regular season, and his Super Bowl performance was one of the worst in league history. That didn’t stop the Broncos from finishing as the No. 1 seed in the AFC and winning the title.
The loss of linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who’s expected to miss about a month with a broken arm, could impact Denver. A high-scoring game that goes above the over/under of 41 would also hurt the Broncos’ chances.
The Bengals, however, have only scored 23 points and 16 points in their first two games, respectively, and they might have a tough time approaching those totals against the NFL’s best defense.
Prediction: Denver over Cincinnati, 17-13