Week 16 in the NFL wrapped up Monday night with the Cincinnati Bengals earning a 38-27 victory against the Denver Broncos.
The upset leaves us with more questions than answers about both teams, but gives us better insight into the playoff seedings entering the final weekend of the regular season.
Playoff implications and questions about Peyton Manning headline our four takeaways from the Bengals’ Monday night win.
1. Cincinnati is returning to the postseason
For the fourth consecutive year, the Bengals are heading to the playoffs. That’s each of the first four seasons with Andy Dalton at the helm of the offense.
It’s an impressive feat for both the team, Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis. The next obstacle is overcoming their postseason woes.
Cincinnati is 0-3 with first-round losses each of their last three postseason appearances under Dalton. He’ll have another chance, though, to overcome those postseason ghosts again this January.
2. Something is up with Peyton, right?
There have been questions about Manning lately, largely because of the team’s dependency on the run and Manning’s lack of involvement in the Denver offense. On Thursday, Manning left practice to undergo treatment on his thigh, making us wonder if the future Hall of Fame quarterback is dealing with an injury.
Manning threw four interceptions against the Bengals — his highest total in a game since 2010 — including a pick-six with 2:41 remaining, as the Broncos lost their opportunity to remain in contention for the top seed in the AFC. Manning also threw three touchdowns and gave Denver a third-quarter lead, but it was essentially wiped away by the turnovers he also accounted for.
Obviously, Manning has not been himself the past month or so, which is a major deal for Denver as it creeps into the postseason. Perhaps we’re making too much out of nothing, but the signs point to something nagging Manning at the wrong time.
3. It’s Steelers-Bengals in Week 17 for the AFC North
The final week of the regular season has big-time implications for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, who face off for a second time in a four-week span, this time with an AFC North title at stake.
A month ago, the Steelers marched into Cincinnati and stole a 42-21 victory. Now, the tilt shifts to Heinz Field, where the Steelers are 5-2 this season.
More than just bragging rights, a first-round home playoff game is at stake in this Week 17 matchup. With a win, Cincinnati would be on track to host the Chargers on Wild Card weekend. If Pittsburgh wins, they will earn the No. 4 seed, presumably, which will set up a date with the Bengals.
4. Hill the best of the rookie running backs?
Quietly, Jeremy Hill has been a driving point for the Bengals’ rushing attack, despite all of the preseason hype Giovani Bernard garnered entering his sophomore season.
Hill became the first running back since 1995 to eclipse 140 yards rushing in four games his rookie season, according to STATS LLC and the Associated Press. He joins the company of Curtis Martin (1995) and Eric Dickerson (1983) to accomplish that feat. He has 295 yards combined over the last two weeks, and now leads the team in rushing on the year.