Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5)*
“Prove it. Win when it matters.”
Typically, these words are spoken to the Cincinnati Bengals of the past few years, frequent visitors to the playoffs, but without a postseason win in three games in the past three years — amazingly, the last Bengals’ playoff win was 1990, despite five attempts since then. While Monday Night Football is not actually a playoff game, it might be the next best thing.
A Cincinnati win would give the team it’s fourth straight playoff berth, capping off a season that, excluding a small stretch during which wide receiver A.J. Green was injured, has been relatively solid. Of course, everything could be erased with a loss to the Broncos followed by a visit to Pittsburgh to close out the season.
Denver has already clinched the AFC West division and, while it is still fighting New England for the AFC’s top seed, remains unable to pass the Patriots without help from either the Jets — keep dreaming — or Buffalo. The Broncos have every reason to push for a victory in Cincinnati, but the reality is that they are probably going to end up as the second seed in the AFC. In addition, the ‘push’ the Broncos make may be relatively subdued this week, as future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning left Week 15’s game against the Chargers for a short period of time with conflicting reports of injury. If any team may let its foot off the gas pedal in Week 16, it would be the Broncos.
Regardless, the Bengals have four 20-point losses on their resume this season. They rank statistically average in almost every category, except their stellar pass defense – allowing the fewest passing touchdowns in the league. Luckily for the Bengals, this is the likeliest recipe for an upset of the visiting Broncos. That, and the fact that all three of Denver’s losses have come on the road.
With the national spotlight and a home crowd at their back, the Bengals finally win a clutch game with a playoff-like atmosphere, beating the Broncos by a field goal and beating the spread.
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