Earlier this season, the Bengals vs Broncos game was penciled in as the deciding game for two teams fighting for the number 2 seed in the AFC. Both teams stumbled and were forced to go to their second string quarterbacks. Through all that, this still is the game that will more than likely decide the number two seed in the AFC.
If the Bengals win, they own it. They'll be AFC North champs and have a bye in the first round of the playoffs. If the Bengals lose, there is still a chance at the number two seed if Denver stumbles in the final week of the season. The Broncos on the other hand face a different animal. If they drop this game, they not only lose the number two seed, they are in danger of missing the playoffs all together.
Needless to say this is a big game for both teams. Here are the five keys that if the Bengals can accomplish will give them the victory on Monday.
Stop the run
In the games the Broncos have been able to limit the pass attempts from Brock Osweiler, they have been very successful. This means Denver has found success on the ground. In the Broncos' recent struggles, the running game has gained no traction and Denver has been forced to throw the ball a ton.
If the Bengals can be disruptive in the backfield and eliminate the Denver run game, Cincinnati will be in a great position to jump routes and create turnovers. Any time a team becomes one dimensional, they become easier to beat. Stopping the run severely limits the Denver offensive threat.
Make Brock beat you
This is a situation where you want the opposing quarterback to throw a ton. Denver is in a quarterback mess. They have one of the greatest of all time on their roster and he is not playing. Instead they have his backup who seems to be struggling as teams figure out what he brings to the game.
The turnover differential since Osweiler took over has gone from +2 to -2 for the Broncos. Cincinnati wants to force Brock into making mistakes. This is probably the biggest way Cincinnati can shut Denver down. Force mistakes and capitalize on them with short fields.
Take what the defense gives you
In a change from recent years, the Broncos' best unit is the defense. The Bengals know this and shouldn't force throw; sometimes a 4 yard completion is the best option in a check down. If AJ McCarron forces the ball to receivers, this will create turnovers for Denver. Play smart and don't turn the ball over.
Run the ball
As important as it may be for the Bengals' defense to make opponents one dimensional, the same can not happen to Cincinnati's offense. There has been a pattern of the run game struggling and no time would be better than now to get this phase of the game on track.
If the Bengals fail to generate any offense in the running game, the Broncos' defense is talented enough to cover the Bengals' wideouts. This would spell disaster for a quarterback facing his second NFL start.
Weather the storm
In the last three games, Denver has had pretty good first halves. As Bengals fans we were all excited to see that the Broncos built a big lead on the Steelers, they ended up giving it away in the second half. In fact, the Broncos have scored exactly 0 points in the second half of the last three games they have played. If the Bengals can limit the initial attack of the Broncos, history shows they will be facing an under-performing team in the second half.