Last year, the Bengals needed a victory to be assured of a playoff spot, while the Broncos needed a victory to wrestle the No. 1 seed away from the Patriots.
This year, the Bengals and Broncos are fighting for a first round bye in the playoffs. A Bengals' victory would assure them of no worse than the #2 seed in the playoffs. While a Broncos' victory would give them the tiebreaker over the Bengals for that first round bye, and likely push the Bengals into the #3 seed vs #6 seed Wild Card game.
With the high stakes again in play, let's take a look back at the previous games between these two teams.
The ugly offensive showing on to open the season ended with a great come from behind victory that vanished only seconds later.
Carson Palmer was subpar, tossing a pair of interceptions and no touchdowns. The running game struggled, generating only 86 yards in a three yard and a cloud of dust type of performance. But with half a minute to play in the game, that was all forgotten as Cedric Benson plunged in from one yard out to give the Bengals a 7-6 lead.
Two plays later Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton threw a desperation pass toward Brandon Stokley, which was destined to decide the game. Bengals' defenders converged on the ball, hitting the ball and each other. Unfortunately the ball was tipped to where Stokley could catch it, and jog to the end zone for the game winning score.
Early in the second half, the Broncos took a 17-3 lead, and it looked like it would be a long day for rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, and the Bengals' offense.
But the rookie quarterback, starting only his second NFL game would not go down without a fight. He led the Bengals on four consecutive scoring drives, as the Bengals fought back for a 22-24 deficit with much of the fourth quarter remaining.
Jerome Simpson and Jermaine Gresham were only able to haul in six of their fourteen targets, and the Bengals failed to get the ball into field goal range, as the game ended with a 22-24 loss. But Dalton impressed with a 332 yard performance with a pair of touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Following a Trindon Holliday kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the second half, the Bengals trailed 17-3 in what looked to be another loss for the 3-4 Bengals, looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat on the season.
But then the Bengals found their groove: A.J. Green caught a touchdown, Peyton Manning was intercepted and MIke Nugent kicked a field goal. Another Manning interception came soon later, followed by a BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run. And with less than a quarter to play, the Bengals had stormed back to take a 20-17 lead.
Unfortunately, the Bengals were playing Peyton Manning, who has destroyed them for much of his career. And this day was no different, as Manning tossed a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes, leading the Broncos to a come from behind victory.
Just last year the 9-4-1 Bengals were fighting for a playoff spot against the favored 11-3 Denver Broncos, who were looking to lock up the top seed in the AFC. WIth the game being a primetime affair, and featuring Peyton Manning who was 8-0 all time against the Bengals, the outcome was all but certain in the minds of many.
The game began with an Aqib Talib pick-six of Andy Dalton, which did little but cement the pre-game sentiments that the Broncos were going to leave Cincinnati with a victory. But then Jeremy Hill happened. On the next play of the game, Hill busted loose for an 85 yard touchdown run, pumping life into the Bengals.
The Bengals charged ahead to a 20-7 halftime lead behind Hill's big 146 yard and 2 touchdown game, and an effective game managing Dalton. But then Peyton Manning remembered he was 8-0 against the Bengals, and after a pair of third quarter touchdown passes to Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos had pulled ahead 28-27 late in the quarter.
A third Mike Nugent field goal put the Bengals back on top with a 30-28 lead, and a Dre Kirkpatrick pick-six off Manning, with under three minutes remaining, gave the Bengals a big 37-28 lead. Kirkpatrick wasn't done, as he picked off Manning in the red zone, halting a potential Broncos scoring drive, and securing the victory for the Bengals.
With the win, the Bengals made the playoffs, knocked the Broncos from the No. 1 seed, and Dalton showed that he could win in primetime - even with A.J. Green leaving the game early and having no statistics on the day.
The 2015 Bengals vs Broncos game offers some interesting similarities:
- Both teams have elite defenses. The Bengals lead the NFL with an average of 17.4 points allowed, while the Broncos lead the NFL with an average 279.9 yards allowed. They also have 47 sacks, and four pick sixes.
- Both teams are using a backup quarterback, AJ McCarron and Brock Osweiler.
- Both teams feature an elite wide receiver, and a good second receiver A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Demaryius Thomas + Emmanuel Sanders
- Both teams use a backfield committee, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson
After starting the series tied six games apiece, the Broncos reeled off eight consecutive victories from 1983 to 1998, and now lead the overall series 9-19. Can the Bengals win their second straight game, and close the gap with the Broncos?