Denver Broncos (11-3 SU, 7-7 ATS) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1 SU, 7-6-1 ATS)
NFL Week 16
Date and Time: Monday, December 22, 2014, 8:30 pm EST
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: DEN -3.5/CIN +3.5
Over/Under Total: 47.5
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Two teams currently leading their respective divisions will be tussling for the right to host multiple rounds of potential playoff games in their home stadium, when the Denver Broncos go on the road to visit the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium on this weeks Monday Night Football on ESPN.
By virtue of their, 22-10, victory over the San Diego Chargers last weekend, the Broncos have clinched the AFC West title again this season, but theyve got bigger fish to fry as they are still looking up at the New England Patriots when it come to the AFCs No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs. Both the Pats and the Broncos are tied at the top with11-3 records, but with a head-to-head victory over the Broncos, New England would still get the chance to host a potential late-round game and another Peyton Manning-versus-Tom Brady matchup if and when it would come down to it. So theres still plenty of motivation for Denver and Manning to continue to keep their current four-game win streak alive throughout the rest of the regular season.
The motivation is also still there for the Bengals to keep the pedal to the floor and finish their final two games strong too, especially since the AFC North division is far from wrapped up this season. Because of their tie with Carolina back in October, Cincinnati still holds a slim lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the North, but with a date against the Steelers on the schedule next week getting another much needed victory over the Broncos not only would give the Bengals confidence going into the finale, but would also allow them to stay ahead of the wild card chase pack should they stumble.
Of course, Cincinnati was the team that embarrassed Johnny Football and the Cleveland Browns last week, 30-0, so one week after giving up 42 points to the Steelers at home on the same Paul Brown Stadium turf, it appears the defense has got things back on track and just in time for a visit from Manning and the Broncos.
As you would expect with Denver and Manning coming to town, oddsmakers opened the Monday Night Football game this week with the Broncos as 3-point favorites on the road. The Broncos have been favorites in every game theyve played this season, due partly to the fact that they are a heavily wagered team by the public every week. This week its much of the same, with nearly 70 percent of the money on Denver, many sportsbooks have been forced to raise the number up the hook to Broncos minus -3.5 currently.
The over/under total opened at 48 or 48.5 at most sportsbooks, but its already dropped a full point down to 47.5 at a majority of the books both in Las Vegas and offshore on the Web.
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That opening total may be a little low to some, but its set low based on the fact that Denver has been running into some strong defenses of late, which has caused them to not reach their normal scoring output week to week. Injuries in the backfield and to tight end Julius Thomas may have a little to do with it too, but the fact of the matter remains that Denver seems to have refocused their offense toward running the ball with C.J. Anderson to try and take some of the load off of Manning. The Broncos are still 4th in the league in yards (401 ypg), but they are up to 11th in rushing each week (111 ypg), which will likely continue to be the focus because Cincinnatis defense has had the toughest time stopping the run so far in 2014 (allowing 125 ypg 24th).
Not tryin to sound like a broken record, but the Bengals will likely try and get rookie running back Jeremy Hill plenty of carries in this game too. Hill has been a huge bright spot out of the Bengals backfield, and for the year they are running it for 130 yards per game (6th), but thats going to be harder to come by this week since the Broncos defense has been stout against the run all season long and is currently ranked No. 2 in the league allowing a mere 72 yards a game. Once again, the Bengals and quarterback Andy Dalton will have to find a way to win it by throwing it, because thats been the focus for defenses in stopping the Bengals all season and all of last season too.
On the field, Denver currently holds a four-game win streak over the Bengals in previous head-to-head meetings, including a, 31-23, victory in Paul Brown Stadium the last time they played in November in 2012. In 2009, they also won on the road, 12-7, so you have to go back to the pre-Manning days of 2004 to find a victory for Cincinnati at home against the Broncos. All told, Denver is 8-2 SU against Cincinnati dating back to 1996.
The results have been a little more balanced at the window for sports bettors in this series though, with the teams splitting the last 10 right down the middle at 5-5 ATS. Although the Broncos have covered the last two games in Paul Brown, historically Denver is 4-3 ATS on the road in the series. The Broncos havent been so hot under the lights of Monday Night Football lately though, going 1-4-1 ATS in their last six appearances in primetime.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Although theyve been playing under the total in their last few games, and perception is that both of these teams have playoff-caliber defenses to keep things close, I think this game is going to turn into a shootout. Im not a huge fan of taking road favorites, but my lean is toward the Broncos to beat a Bengals team that I just dont think is as good and as healthy as they have been the past few years. Im taking the over of 47.5 in what I think will turn into a 31-27 or 31-24 type of game.