The Bengals will face off against the World Champion Denver Broncos in their 2016 Week 3 home opener. Providing both teams live up to their expectations in 2016, it should be the kind of game that gets a lot of attention not just from Bengals and Broncos fans, but the entire NFL community.
It's actually a bit surprising that the game is currently set to be featured on CBS at 1:00 p.m. ET that day. That's especially true since the Sunday Night Football game that week features the Cowboys and Bears, who both finished below .500 last year. Still, it's likely to be one of the most exciting and pivotal games of the season. However, there's one particular matchup that will make this game even more interesting than it already should be; the matchup between Andy Dalton and the Broncos' secondary. As we highlight the most exciting matchups of the Bengals' 2016 season, this one ranks No. 5 on our list.
The Bengals and Broncos are no strangers on the football field. Since 2011, the teams have met four times, three of which have resulted in close victories for the Broncos. Dalton, in particular, has only played in three of those four games, missing the most recent one in 2015 with a thumb injury that kept him out for the last quarter of the season.
With Dalton on the field, the Bengals have a losing record of 1-2 against the Broncos over the last five years. However, there's every reason to believe that they would have beaten the Broncos last year and evened the record up to 2-2 had Dalton played.
Dalton was on pace for a career year in which he could have broken multiple records before going down with his thumb injury in Week 14. Behind backup quarterback AJ McCarron, the team only lost to the Broncos by a score of 20-17 in overtime. So, you have to like their chances if Dalton had been healthy and continued to play at the same level.
The Broncos' secondary helped their team to win the day when the teams met in 2015, but it's a little less impressive to do that against a backup quarterback in McCarron who had only started a single game in his career at that point. They will be looking to repeat that success against Dalton when they face off against the Bengals early in the seaosn this year.
The narrative for Dalton's career has generally revolved around the fact that his performances were very inconsistent throughout his first four years in the NFL, especially in primetime games. There would be times that he played like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but there would also be times that he completely laid an egg. There was plenty of controversy about whether or not the Bengals should continue to rely on him as their franchise quarterback going forward after the 2014 season. But, the team has stood by him and has been rewarded for their loyalty.
For the most part, Dalton silenced many of his doubters in 2015 by completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 3,250 yards and 25 touchdowns with only seven interceptions in the first 12 games of the season plus the first quarter of the team's 13th game. Unfortunately, it was near the end of that first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14 that he fractured his thumb, prematurely ending his season. Before his injury, he recorded a quarterback rating of at least 100.0 eight times during the course of the season and at least 90.0 two more times for an average of 106.2 over the season. His QBR, as reported by ESPN was the second highest in the NFL last season.
He'll be looking to repeat that success in 2016 and barring any unforeseen circumstances, there doesn't seem to be any reason why he can't reach those heights again. He'll quickly have the opportunity to show what he's made of as he faces off against the Jets, Steelers, and Broncos in the first three games of the season.
The Broncos secondary
In past years, the Broncos' secondary has been pretty average against Dalton. In their first meeting in 2011, they allowed a quarterback rating of 107.0 due to two touchdowns and a 65 percent completion rating. In 2012, they did better, holding Dalton to a single touchdown and recording an interception, but still allowing nearly 300 passing yards on the day. In 2014, they fell to Dalton's Bengals while allowing a 93.1 quarterback rating due to two touchdowns and only one interception.
Heading into 2016, the Broncos' secondary is easily one of the most talented in the NFL and should give Dalton a tough battle. In 2015, a stout defensive line put up 52 sacks on the season, but the combination of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, T.J. Ward, and Darian Stewart in the defensive backfield allowed the least passing yards per game (199.6) and the third least passing touchdowns (19) in the NFL in 2015.
There's no reason to think that they won't continue to play at a very high level. but, going up against one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in 2015, they should have their work cut out for them.
Who has the advantage?
The Bengals' schedule through the first three weeks could be a major factor in who has the advantage in this matchup. On one hand, going up against a stout Jets secondary and the hated Steelers on the road could wear Dalton out for Week 3's home opener. But, it could also prepare him to go up against some of the heaviest competition in the NFL, allowing him to be more prepared and relaxed against the Broncos.
Dalton's weapons are another wild card in this scenario. Yes, he will be working with a lot of new faces in 2016, but he will also have Tyler Eifert on hand, hopefully. Eifert has been hurt each time the Bengals have played the Broncos over the course of his career, so the Broncos might be at a disadvantage having no direct experience with one of the Bengals' best pass catchers.
Ultimately, it really depends on which Dalton shows up in 2016. If the product that we saw in 2015 shows up again, he should have absolutely no problem against the Broncos' secondary. But, if he regresses back to his inconsistent pre-2015 form, the odds may fall in favor of the Broncos' talented secondary.