Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos (-3.5, 41 o/u)
Two of the top teams in the AFC will square off this Monday with a potential playoff bye on the line. The Cincinnati Bengals (11-3, 6-1 Away), who currently occupy the second spot in the conference, travel to Mile High to face the Denver Broncos (10-4, 4-2 Home), who can take over that position with a win on Monday Night Football (8:30 PM Eastern).
At the start of the year, this game figured to pit future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning against up-and-comer Andy Dalton. But injuries to both starters – and some downright terrible play from Manning – will see Denver’s Brock Osweiler duke it out with Cincy’s AJ McCarron.
Theoretically, the Broncos have the advantage in the QB department. Osweiler has already started five games this year, going 3-2 in the process. McCarron has just one start under his belt, last week’s 24-14 win over the lowly 49ers.
McCarron will also be facing (arguably) the best defense in the league. Denver leads the league in total defense and is tied for first in sacks (47). The Bengal D is solid, sitting first in scoring (17.4 PPG), but surrenders nearly 60 more yards per game (337.3) and doesn’t get to the QB at quite the same rate (38 sacks).
The Cincy defense will be facing a fickle Broncos O come Monday. Denver has been efficient – at worst – in the first half of the last three outings; yet, the team has scored zero points in the second half of each of those three games. Last week, they let a 27-10 lead slip away in a 34-27 loss to the Steelers.
Osweiler threw three touchdowns passes in the first half against Pittsburgh and started the game by converting eight straight third downs. After that, he completed only 7 of 26 passes for 84 yards and a pick.
“You play 60 minutes, not 30 minutes,” Osweiler told the Associated Press. “That is something we will work on, and we will fix.”
McCarron, meanwhile, was solid in his first start, going 15 of 21 for 192 yards, one touchdown, and no picks. He had the good fortune of facing a Niners team that sits last in the NFC, but the performance should still allay some fears among the Cincinnati faithful.
More importantly, the Cincinnati players have confidence in Dalton’s understudy.
“Coming in, [AJ] knows what to do, and from watching Andy … I’m not saying that we’re going to have just the best chemistry ever, but it’s still good. We expect a lot from him, and he expects a lot from us in helping him through this. The sky is still the limit,” said Bengals receiver Marvin Jones.
This will be the second straight year the Bengals and Broncos hook up on Monday Night Football. Last year, Cincinnati won 37-28 at home. The loss continued a concerning trend for the Broncos, who are 1-5-1 ATS in their last seven Monday games (and also 1-4 ATS in their last five games as a home favorite).
For what it’s worth, which might not be much now that Dalton is out, the Bengals are a perfect 7-0 ATS on the road this year.
Points should be hard to come by come Monday; both QBs are likely to struggle against the other team’s top-notch defense. Expect a tight, low-scoring affair, making Cincinnati and the points (+3.5) the better value.
Pick: Bengals +3.5.
(Photo credit: emeybee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)