The Denver Broncos are not only fighting for a first-round bye in the NFL playoffs, but they have an outside shot at earning the top seed in the AFC. That would give them homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Cincinnati Bengals are just hoping to make it to the postseason.
They need one more win to ensure that happens, and their best shot at getting another W may be at home against Denver, but it will be far from easy to accomplish. The Broncos have won four straight and nine of 11 coming into this matchup, and quarterback Peyton Manning is 8-0 all-time vs. Cincinnati.
With games vs. Cincinnati and Oakland to end the year, Denver needs to win out and hope New England loses once more for the Broncos to earn the top seed. The Bengals need to win their final two games to win the AFC North, and just one win will be good for a wild-card spot.
So, what are the experts saying about this game?
Here are the ESPN Stats & Information research notes on this game:
Andy Dalton is 2-6 in primetime games in his career, with a 19.4 Total QBR.
The Bengals enter Week 16 with the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, as they'll host the 11-3 Broncos and visit the 9-5 Steelers in their final 2 games.
Peyton Manning has a Total QBR of 67.0 since Week 9, which is 9th in the NFL and down from 90.1 in his first seven games this season, which led the league. One reason why? Manning is facing defenses with at least 5 defensive backs on the field on 93.4 percent of his dropbacks (2nd highest in NFL) since Week 9. That's after he saw nickel coverage on only 67.1 percent of dropbacks in his first seven games. [+]
A.J. Green has been targeted on 34.1 percent of the routes he has run this season, the highest target pct in the NFL this season.
Peyton Manning is 22-1 vs the AFC North during his career.
Peyton Manning is 6-0 as the Broncos QB in December/January road games in the regular season, and has won 8 straight going back to his time with the Colts.
Over at ESPN, only two experts think the Bengals will punch their ticket to the postseason. Here's what beat writers Coley Harvey (Bengals) and Jeff Legwold (Broncos) had to say:
Jeff Legwold: Both teams have plenty at stake as they battle for postseason position. The Broncos still have designs on home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but need to win their last two and have New England stumble. Since Peyton Manning signed in 2012, the Broncos are 11-1 in December, including 6-0 in road games. The Broncos won't get caught napping. Broncos 31, Bengals 20
Coley Harvey: Only twice this season have the Bengals won a game without leading in time of possession. All of their losses and the tie came when they lost time of possession. In Sunday's win against the Browns, the Bengals rushed 11 times for 71 yards in the first quarter. With Jeremy Hill as their featured back, the Bengals will put on another rushing clinic and shock the league with a win that will put them in the postseason for a franchise-record fourth consecutive season. Bengals 28, Broncos 24
Only one of the analysts pick Cincinnati in this spot at CBS Sports, and here's what Pete Prisco believes is the key matchup in this game:
Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Broncos corners Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib: Green is one of the elite receivers in the league, but the Denver corners are good man-cover players and Harris is having a Pro Bowl season. Talib is bigger, so it will be interesting to see who matches up with Green.
Denver is also a popular pick among the USA Today panel, getting five of seven votes. At SB Nation, only PFT Commenter had the guts to pick the Bengals in the upset win at home.