Broncos Look To Keep Streak Up on Monday Night Football

While the Denver Broncos have won four consecutive games and expedited a highly successful paradigm shift, they look to keep their winning ways up with a Monday night date against the Cincinnati Bengals that could have significant stakes in terms of playoff positioning in the AFC.

This battle between the AFC West-champion Broncos (4 consecutive AFC West championships) and the current AFC North-leading Bengals is the rare time ESPN has won the lottery this season, although the Green Bay-Atlanta game proved me right as that was a good game but generally Monday Night Football has been underwhelming prior to this.

Anyway, from my friends at Bengals’ SB Nation site Cincy Jungle, the Bengals will win the AFC North if they beat the Broncos Monday night, as well as if the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Pittsburgh Steelers or if they tie, or if the Houston Texans upset the Baltimore Ravens or if they tie.

Furthermore, the Bengals can at least clinch a playoff berth (there are still three available) if they beat the Broncos or tie them, or if the Ravens lose or if Kansas City and San Diego both lose this weekend or tie, as well as if Buffalo is upset by the Oakland Raiders.

In other words, the safest course for the Bengals to ensure their season ensues is to beat the Broncos Monday, but this will be a tall  order.

I spoke with a friend I have in the next community to me in Utah who loves his Green Bay Packers, and said that the Broncos cemented themselves as Super Bowl contenders the moment they  watched the film of the St. Louis debacle and made the running game a more focal point of their plans.

Anyway, as for the Bengals, their scoring defense is 10th in the NFL (20.6 points per game), so this represents the fourth consecutive week that  they have faced a team in the upper half of the league in scoring defense.  However, the Bengals are -2 in turnover ratio and 20th in total defense (358.4 yards surrendered per game) so they are not necessarily in propitious position against an offense that can put up points in a hurry.

Additionally, the Bengals are #24 against the rush (124.8 yards per game) and #11 against the pass (233.6 yards per game) so if the Broncos execute, they should be able to have success offensively as they heretofore have.

The leading defender is defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who has netted 7 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, while safety George Iloka has posted three interceptions, 9 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles so there is some talent on the defense even if the individual pieces haven’t clicked.

Cincinnati’s true strength is their running game, #6 in NFL annals, at 130.3 yards per contest. The Bengals are led by tailbacks Jeremy Hill (1,092 total yards, 8 rushing touchdowns and fourth in the NFL as he averages 5 yards per rush) and Giovani Bernard  (884 total yards, 5 total touchdowns), each of whom are threats not only on rushes but on short swing passes in open space.

Perhaps these short intermediate passes to such talented backs can assist signal-caller Andy Dalton (63.4 percent completion percentage, 15 TD’s/14 INT’s, 3,008 yards) in not taking unnecessary risks which, according to the film, he has done often this season.

Despite his numerous mistakes, Dalton does have reliable targets to throw to in the passing game as receiver A.J. Green (61 rec, 959 yards, 6 TD’s) has overcome the ill effects of a toe injury to still be #9 in receiving yards per game in the league, at 87.2 yards per contest. Additionally, Mohamed Sanu is an excellent second option at wideout as not only does he have 54 receptions for 758 yards and 5 TD’s, he has shown an aptitude for running successful trick plays. This was seen earlier this season in a win against the Tennessee Titans as in the 1st Quarter of the 33-7 Bengals’ victory in Week 3, Sanu threw a touchdown pass to Dalton.

Kicker Mike Nugent has not had a terrible season, but his 22 made field goals in 28 attempts (.786) is significantly below the .847 clip that was the NFL average through Week 15 on field goal attempts.

Meanwhile, the Broncos come into the game playing their best football of the season and, as I cited earlier, have a nasty swagger that has been missing from previous renditions of this team, especially in the Peyton Manning era. Nevertheless, with no statistics affixed, the win against San Diego looked spectacular in the regard that this is how postseason games are often won.

A crucial component in the Broncos’ success of late has been kicker Connor Barth who was signed November 25 and has proceeded to go 11 of 11 on field goal attempts, joining Indianapolis Colts’ legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri who is 28 of 28 on field goals, as the only perfect kickers in the NFL in 2014.

Beyond this, the Broncos are #4 in both total offense (400.7 yards) and total defense (309.4). The symmetry ensues as they are #16 in scoring defense (21.6) and rushing offense (111.3). Conversely, both the scoring defense and rushing offense have been better in this four-game winning streak as the Broncos round into contention form more and more with every passing week.

It is not a coincidence that the Broncos look like contenders the past few weeks and have improved their rushing offense (164.75 yards per game during their streak) and scoring defense (15.75 points per game) since their loss to the Rams on November 16.

Meanwhile, the scoring offense is #5 in the NFL (29.1 points per contest) and the passing offense (289.4 yards per game) is #4 in NFL annals. The rushing defense is #2 in the NFL (71.6 yards surrendered) so if this particular Broncos’ strength beats the Bengals’ strength, it shouldn’t be difficult for Denver to flummox Dalton.

However, and I say this because some Broncos fans have surmised Manning is struggling, he still remains the team’s greatest strength. Against San Diego, Manning overcame a bout with the flu, or perhaps food poisoning to be more precise, to throw for 233 yards and a clutch touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.

Manning continues to be near the NFL’s lead in many key statistical categories as he is #6 in completions (346), #5 in completion percentage (67.1 percent), #2 in yards per attempt, not completion, but attempt (7.62 yards), #4 in yards per game (295.9), #4 in net passing yards (4,143), #2 in touchdown passes (37) and nowhere near the league lead in interceptions as he has only 11. For good measure, he is also #3 in passer rating, at 106.4 so anyone who suggests he is struggling is, in the words of sportscaster Jim Lampley, “intellectually dishonest” the way I see it.

Now tailback C.J. Anderson (928 total yards, 6 TD’s, including 679 rushing yards and four touchdowns) has been amazing, while his understudy Juwan Thompson (270 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry and 3 TD’s) is getting the job done whenever given the opportunity. I always petition the Broncos, on Twitter, to play him more, I honestly think he deserves the reps.

The aforementioned Demaryius Thomas continues to excel as his 96 receptions are second in NFL annals, while his 1,389 yards rank him third overall and he has 11 touchdowns, which is tied for fourth in the league. Additionally, his 99.2 yards per game is 7th in the NFL.  Right behind him is Emmanuel Sanders, whose 89 receptions are sixth in the NFL, as are his 1,261 yards and his seven touchdowns rank for third in the league. Furthermore, Sanders’ 90.1 yards per game is 7th in the NFL, so Manning is once again blessed by having productive receivers.

Defensively, I think safety Rahim Moore is becoming the team leader as he has 4 interceptions (including the game-clincher against San Diego last Sunday) on the season, as well as 5 passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Additionally, cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib (3  INT’s apiece) have been solid in the secondary and give opposing signal-callers something to think about.

Perhaps the biggest star on the defense remains linebacker Von Miller, whose 13 sacks are 5th in the NFL, while DeMarcus Ware has 10 more sacks and burgeoning star, defensive tackle Malik Jackson has three sacks and two passes defensed.

In short, once again, if the Broncos execute, this is a game they should win, while Weather Underground predicts a 70 percent chance of rain Monday evening at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium so the running game could be the pivotal component. Time will tell. This telecast will be available nationwide on ESPN and air on local TV stations in both the Denver and Cincinnati markets per NFL law.