A first-round bye and a top-two seed in the AFC playoffs are on the line Monday night when the Denver Broncos host the Cincinnati Bengals in primetime.
The Bengals enter Week 16 holding the AFC's second-best record and are still in the hunt for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. That's ever so crucial for Cincy's playoff hopes as that bye week may give quarterback Andy Dalton enough time to recover from his fractured thumb and return to the starting lineup.
In his absence, AJ McCarron has shown he can be a competent starting quarterback. Since Dalton went down, McCarron has completed 37 of 53 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns vs two interceptions with seven sacks taken. Whether that will be good enough against a stout Broncos defense in Week 16 and then in the playoffs remains to be seen.
Ironically, those same Broncos are dealing with issues at quarterback entering this matchup. Peyton Manning has been dealing with a foot injury that's causing him to miss games, and probably won't play again in the regular season.
In his place, Brock Osweiler has been a mixed bag in all of his performances thus far. He'll look like a star one half and then look like he shouldn't even be a backup the next. ESPN's Coley Harvey wrote a good piece that details Osweiler's struggles after halftime:
Per Stats & Information, Osweiler's completion percentage dips from 73.4 percent going into halftime, to 50 percent over the final two quarters and overtime this season. His first-half Total QBR has been 82.5 (ranks second among qualifying quarterbacks), but his second-half Total QBR plummets to 19.1 (ranks 36th). Clearly, he isn't the same player following the intermission. And before halftime this season, the Bengals have allowed a Total QBR of 54.3. After halftime, they have permitted a Total QBR of 37.0. Opposing rushing attacks haven't fared well after the half, either. Opponents gain 53.9 yards per game in the first two quarters, but just 39.3 yards over the final two quarters and overtime periods.
As for what's at stake for the Broncos, a victory could mean a division title or a playoff berth. For Denver to clinch the AFC West, it needs a win and a Kansas City Chiefs' loss on Sunday. Denver can also get a playoff spot with a win and a loss by the Steelers or the New York Jets on Sunday.
But a Denver loss and a win by K.C. puts the Chiefs in the lead for the AFC West. If that happens along with Steelers and Jets wins, the Broncos will end Week 16 out of the playoff picture.
While this is a must-win game for both teams, it's more critical for Denver since they can still miss the playoffs, whereas Cincinnati has already clinched a postseason berth. That, plus Denver being the home team, is why they are a 3.5-point favorite entering Monday night, per Odds Shark.
Here are some of the need-to-know betting trends with these two teams:
- Cincinnati is 4-1 ATS in its last 5 games
- Cincinnati is 11-3 SU in its last 14 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Cincinnati's last 8 games
- Cincinnati is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games on the road
- Cincinnati is 6-1 SU in its last 7 games on the road
- The total has gone UNDER in 10 of Cincinnati's last 14 games on the road
- Cincinnati is 4-2 ATS in its last 6 games when playing Denver
- Denver is 2-4-1 ATS in its last 7 games
- Denver is 10-4 SU in its last 14 games
- Denver is 12-3 SU in its last 15 games at home
- Denver is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games when playing Cincinnati
- Denver is 13-3 SU in its last 16 games when playing Cincinnati
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Denver's last 5 games when playing Cincinnati
As for how the experts see this game playing out, former Bengals kicker John Breech is going with the good guys in a defensive struggle while also noting Denver's second-half struggles:
Then I made a list of all the teams in the NFL that have scored more second half points then the Broncos in the month of December. That list was hard because I had to write down 31 teams because EVERYONE has scored more second half points than the Broncos in December .
The Broncos have played three games this month and they've scored ZERO second half points. Basically, if the Bengals are leading at halftime, there's a 119 percent chance they're going to win this game.
Fellow CBS Sports writer Pete Prisco, who's typically riding the Bengals bandwagon, is not so optimistic.
Broncos 23, Bengals 21: This is basically a game for the second seed in the AFC. Both teams would love that. The Bengals are playing consecutive road games, while A.J. McCarron will be making just his second start. The Denver defense will come out and play well after getting ripped up in Pittsburgh last week. The Broncos take it.
Here's a look at how all of the national experts are picking this game:
- Seven of eight experts at SB Nation are going with the Broncos.
- All four NFL.com pickers are siding with Denver.
- The Bengals received just two of a possible 13 picks at ESPN.
- Six of eight Fox Sports pickers went with Denver.
- Five of eight CBS Sports pickers are siding with the Broncos.
- NFL Pick Watch, which keeps track of every expert pick, has the Broncos getting 83 percent of the picks this week.