NFL GAME PREVIEW

Monday Night NFL Preview: Bengals at Broncos

Jeff Reynolds

December 28, 2015 at 10:21 am.

Dec 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) looks to pass the ball during the first half against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) looks to pass the ball during the first half against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Photo Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Bengals (11-3) at Denver Broncos (10-4)

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High – TV: ESPN

*TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters

*Keys to the game: Starters-in-waiting AJ McCarron and Brock Osweiler have been pushed into duty ahead of schedule because of injuries with predictably uneven results. McCarron’s numbers in the Bengals’ win at San Francisco last week look solid, but he led scoring drives on very short fields and let his defense do most of the work. That’s the recipe both teams want to follow Monday. What Cincinnati has of late that Denver lacks is a steady running game.

The Broncos put most of the game on Osweiler at Pittsburgh and were shocked by being outscored 36-0 in the second half. Protection issues are problematic in the passing game and RB C.J. Anderson (ankle) has been missed in a rotation with Ronnie Hillman. Coach Gary Kubiak thinks the running game is ready to spring a few big plays, but game tape shows that might be merely optimistic coach speak.

RB Jeremy Hill had 147 yards on 22 carries when the Bengals beat Denver 37-28 last December. The Bengals subscribe to the strategy of running at a team’s top pass rusher, and they could slow down LB Von Miller with the tactic Monday. The Broncos yield only 79.9 rushing yards per game and have the personnel to shadow WR A.J. Green downfield. The secondary isn’t bullet-proof, as Antonio Brown’s 16 receptions proved last week, when Denver doesn’t get pressure.

*Matchup to watch – Broncos LT Ryan Harris vs. Bengals DEs Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson: The Bengals bump outside and passing windows will be tight because of the freedom to roam granted Cincinnati’s safeties. Harris and Michael Schofield will both get snaps at left tackle hoping not to tack on more hurt to Osweiler’s 19 sacks in 214 pass attempts.

*Player spotlight – Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas: Based on STATS Inc. totals, he leads the NFL with 10 dropped passes and doesn’t seem to be on the same page – or in the same book – with Osweiler when Denver needs a critical catch.

*Fast facts: The Broncos started the season 7-0, but could miss the playoffs with losses in the final two regular-season games. … Bengals Pro Bowl S Reggie Nelson leads the NFL with eight interceptions. The team single-season record is 10.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Teams that look like identical twins on paper – including the predicament at quarterback – ask their defenses to save the day with playoff positioning on the line. Denver’s crowd and thoroughbred pass rushers deliver.

*Our pick: Broncos 28-24

 

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