For the second week in a row, the Cincinnati Bengals will have a chance to lock up the AFC North as well as a first round bye in the postseason, when they travel to Sports Authority Field at Mile High, to take on fellow playoff hopeful, the Denver Broncos (8:30pm ET, Monday on ESPN).
At this point in the season, it seems the Broncos and Bengals are on two different paths. Denver, without five-time MVP winning and future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning for the past few weeks, has lost back-to-back games and despite starting the season an undefeated 7-0, could be on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason. Denver currently holds a minuscule one game lead over rival Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West crown as the Chiefs, despite starting the season 1-5, have won eight in a row. With the New York Jets also at 9-5, Denver will need to win not only to keep pace for the division but for the potential wildcard spot as well.
Cincinnati meanwhile, has already assured themselves a trip to the postseason for the fifth consecutive year. They have a two game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the North, which if won would be only the fourth time in the team’s 47-year history of taking the division. They will be looking for the win on the road, a place where the Bengals are 6-1 this year compared to 5-2 at home.
But just like their opponents, Cincinnati will be without their starting quarterback as Andy Dalton continues to recover from an injury sustained just a few weeks prior. While it is expected he will be back in time for the playoffs, it will be up to former college standout AJ McCarron (pictured) to get them there and to get them in position for the first round bye and possibly, as the Bengals stand just one game behind the New England Patriots, home field advantage throughout the AFC Championship.
Battle of the Backups
It is safe to say that when people looked at the regular season schedule in September, this was likely a game that was circled as having playoff implications. While that much is true, it is also a fair assumption to say that people did not expect the QB matchup would be between McCarron and Brock Osweiler. And since everybody knows the book on Manning and Dalton, let’s take a look at the tale of the tape of the men replacing them.
The 25-year-old Osweiler in his fourth season in the NFL out of Arizona State, is about to embark on the biggest game of his career. The second round draft pick has played in just 19 games in his four seasons and has started just six. His record is 3-3 and he has thrown eight touchdowns to four interceptions. Osweiler’s numbers are average but in a year where Manning had one of the worst TD to interception ratios of all quarterbacks, believe it or not, Osweiler is the better choice to start. He will be looking for his first win since the December 6th victory over the San Diego Chargers. That said, despite losing each of his last two, Osweiler has been the go-to guy for the Broncos. He has attempted 95 passes in the last two weeks alone and has three touchdowns and just one interception, and over 600 yards in that time period.
Another 25-year-old, McCarron is in his first season in the league after being drafted by the Bengals in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft. Known for his “big Saturday” performances while at Alabama, McCarron won’t shy away from the Monday night stage and hasn’t shied away from the opportunities he has had thus far this season. McCarron has started just two games but in that time has completed just under 70 percent of his passes. This is not enough attempts for McCarron to be eligible to rank for completion percentage, but if it was, the quarterback would be in the league’s top five. McCarron is coming off of his best game last week against the San Francisco 49ers as despite throwing for just 192 yards and one touchdown, he completed over 71 percent of his passes with a 115.6 rating.
A big Monday night game with playoff implications is the perfect way for both of these rookie quarterbacks to really show what they are made of. Fortunately for Osweiler, the matchup is favorable as Cincinnati’s passing defense ranks 17th in the league. It will be a taller order for McCarron as he faces the NFL’s best passing defense which allows just 200 passing yards per game.
Our Preview’s Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos Betting Picks
With two young quarterbacks, similar defenses and a rushing component that has faced its fair share of struggles this year, it is anyone’s guess which team comes away with the victory. Obviously Denver will have home field advantage but the way the Bengals have played on the road this year, it’s tough to say how much of an impact this might have.
The line does favor Denver by 3.5 but the Broncos have struggled lately and this should be taken into consideration. The defense, as good as it has been, will have its hands full with AJ Green. Green should test the Broncos secondary as his ability to work the deep ball is as good as anyone in the game. That said, Green and Dalton spent the last three years developing their incredible chemistry. McCarron has had just one week.
There have been the fair share of growing pains for both McCarron and Osweiler and Monday night will be a real indicator, separating the men from the boys. Likely the winner will be the one that involves their top weapon the most, be it Green for Cincinnati or Demaryius Thomas in Denver, who has been quiet in some of Osweiler’s recent starts.
For my betting picks prediction I’m going to go with the Broncos and the points. Their defense has been incredible all year long and as big game as McCarron can be, facing that secondary and doing so in Denver, might be too big even for him.
- So bet on the Denver Broncos -3pts @ -125 betting odds with BetOnline. That extra half point may be worth taking for the lesser odds. This betting line is next best at -3.5pts @ -105 with 5Dimes and then -3.5pts @ -110 with Bovada.
- As for the total game points, it is set at just 39pts with BetOnline and given scoring is always up when at Mile High, my pick is to take the over on the points with that sportsbook @ betting odds of -110.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.