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Game Preview Week 16 - Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos (MNF)

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The Cincinnati Bengals travel to Denver for a week 16 Monday night rematch of last year's week 16 Monday night showdown.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent:

Denver Broncos

Blog:

Mile High Report

Location:

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado

Founding:

In 1960, Bob Howsam wanted a football team so he could fill his over-expanded, debt-laded Denver Bears’ minor league baseball stadium. When the NFL refused Howsam an expansion franchise, his team became one of five charter members of the rival American Football League.

2014 Record:

(12-4) Lost 24-13 in Round 2 of the Divisional Playoffs

2014 Denver Broncos Review

The 2014 Broncos featured a high powered offense which finished second in the NFL with 482 point scored. That offense was fueled by seven time All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning, who produced another gaudy stat line of 4,727 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, along with a 101.5 QB Rating.

As good as the passing game was for the Broncos, the running game struggled to keep pace until late in the year when third string running back C.J. Anderson stepped up with 648 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns over the final 6 weeks of the regular season.

Their defense finished better than average, but with the offense scoring over 30 points per game, there was only so much that the Broncos needed from their defense on a weekly basis. The unit was highlighted by Von Miller (14.0 sacks), and new acquisitions DeMarcus Ware (10.0 sacks) and Aqib Talib (4 interceptions).

The Broncos had something of a loaded team, highlighted by Manning, and easily reached the playoffs, sweeping through their division (AFC West). Many thought they had the potential to reach the Super Bowl for the second straight season, but they lost their first playoff game to the visiting Indianapolis Colts 24-13.

Denver Broncos History with the Cincinnati Bengals

Since they first met in September 1968 (a game the Bengals won 24-10 behind the arm of quarterback John Stofa), the Bengals are only 9-19 against the Broncos. The Broncos have won 13 of the last 16 contests.

The most memorable matchup has to be the 2000 game, which pitted a playoff bound Broncos team against an 0-6 Bengals squad. Despite a combined 2 for 14 passing performance out of Akili Smith and Scott Mitchell, the Bengals came from behind to win 31-21 thanks to a record setting day out of Corey Dillon. In that game Dillon rushed 22 times for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Bengals and Broncos last played each other last season in week 16 on Monday Night Football. The game featured a Broncos team fighting for the #1 overall seed in the AFC, and a Bengals team fighting for a spot in the playoffs.

The Bengals fell behind 7-0 early on a pick six from Andy Dalton to Aqib Talib, but fought back to take a 20-7 lead into halftime. The Broncos stormed back with 21 third quarter points, capped off with Emmanuel Sanders’ second touchdown catch of the night, giving the Broncos a 28-27 lead. But the fourth quarter belonged to the Bengals who took the lead on a 23 yard field goal from Mike Nugent, and sealed the victory with a Peyton Manning pick six to Dre Kirkpatick.

The Bengals defense forced four Manning interceptions, and sacked the hard to sack quarterback twice. Jeremy Hill pounded the Broncos defense with 147 yards on 22 carries.

2015 Denver Broncos Outlook

Manning’s career as a Colt was something of a broken record – double digit wins, and a loss in the playoffs (outside of one Super Bowl victory). Upon moving to the Mile High city, that record has continued to play loud and clear: At least a dozen victories every year followed by a disappointing exit from the playoffs.

Apparently a hugely successful regular seasons followed by a playoff exits is not good enough for the Broncos. One day after losing to the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs last season, the Broncos announced that John Fox was no longer their head coach. Former Houston Texan head coach Gary Kubiak replaced Fox (who was unemployed for all of four days before being hired as the head coach of the Chicago Bears).

The general consensus out of Denver is that the offense is going to change from a heavy passing offense featuring Peyton Manning, to a more balanced attack. They are expected to switch to a zone blocking scheme, with C.J. Anderson picking up where he left off late last season, as a three-down workhorse for the team.

The Broncos are stacked at the skill positions with Manning leading the way at quarterback. They have three solid options at running back (C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, and Montee Ball) who all spent time as a starter last year. The receiving corps lost Wes Welker, but still retains the uber talented Demaryius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders. Tight end Julius Thomas left in free agency, but an argument could be made that he was more a product of an effective passing game than an elite talent. Julius Thomas has been replaced by Owen Daniels, who seems to follow Kubiak like a lost puppy (drafted by Kubiak in Houston, then played for him in Baltimore, and now playing for him in Denver).

Offensively, the line could pose problems for the Broncos. Despite Manning only being sacked 17 times, and despite the running backs averaging a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, the offensive line has been viewed by many as the weakest link on offense. The most noticeable spot could be left tackle, where the team has no Ryan Clady this year, but will need to rely on rookie Ty Sambrailo. The team also recently added former Bengal Evan Mathis to shore up the line.

Defensively, the Broncos replaced Jack Del Rio with Wade Phillips, who is switching the team to a 3-4 scheme. Generating pressure on the edge should not be a problem with a pair of elite, well established 3-4 outside linebackers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, plus highly talented rookie rusher Shane Ray.

Where the defense will need to prove itself is up the middle with nose tackle Sylvester Williams, and the duo of inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall. The secondary is solid with Aqib Talib as their top cornerback, and T.J. Ward as their top safety. The secondary also includes former first round pick Bradley Roby who is pushing for an increased role from nickel corner to a full time spot either as a starting cornerback or free safety. Interestingly, both of the Broncos’ starting safeties are former AFC North safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart.

The Broncos have won the AFC West four years in a row, and while San Diego and Kansas City will provide a challenge, the expectation is that the Broncos will likely win the division title yet again in 2015.

2015 Denver Broncos vs. Cincinnati Bengals Storylines

Late Season Rematch of 2014:
December 28th will mark the second consecutive season in which the Cincinnati Bengals have faced the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football in Week 16.

Geno Atkins:
As many Bengals’ fans are aware, Geno Atkins has sickle cell trait. While some athletes with sickle cell have played in Denver, the ‘mile high’ air is a less than ideal environment for the condition, as Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety Ryan Clark can attest to. If Geno Atkins has to miss the game due to sickle cell trait, it will be a big hit to the Bengals’ defense hoping to contain a very good Broncos’ offense.

Key matchups #1: Dre Kirkpatrick vs. Demaryius Thomas
The imposing 6’3" wide receiver for Denver has totaled at least 1,400 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. Now that Dre Kirkpatrick is finally a starter at cornerback, can our tall 6’1" cornerback contain the very dangerous Thomas?

Key matchups #2: Andrew Whitworth & Andre Smith vs. DeMarcus Ware & Von Miller
Ware and Miller are very effective pass rushers, who accounted for 24 sacks last year. Whitworth, on the other hand, gave up zero sacks. Something has to give. Will Andre Smith still be healthy that late in the season, or will the Bengals be relying on rookies Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi by Week 16?

Key matchups #3: Andy Dalton vs. primetime
This is the storyline that never goes away. Dalton’s track record in primetime regular season games, and in the playoffs is abysmal. Some contend that doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results is insanity. But will year five be the year when Dalton finally produces different primetime results?

Who wins the game?

While we may know that most folks won’t be wearing white after Labor Day, what we don’t know is how well both teams will be playing after Labor Day, let alone how they will be playing after Christmas – four months away. Late season games are so dependent on what injuries the teams face, and what they have to play for late in the season, if anything. What we do know is that the game is in Denver, with Manning at quarterback. The national media will likely be siding with the Broncos, and if the Bengals are missing Atkins, and Dalton plays like typical primetime Dalton, the media could be correct. So, let’s say Denver by a touchdown?