Starting on Sunday, the Denver Broncos face a new challenge. Up until this point, they have been playing teams that were considered as good, if not better than, the Broncos. They have survived that stretch at 4-3 and are now being talked about in many circles as one of the teams to beat in the second half of the season. So now the question is: can the Broncos play the role of favorites? They are likely to be favored in every game for the rest of the season, with the possible exception of the Dec. 16 game versus the Baltimore Ravens.
The test begins with a road game versus the Cincinnati Bengals and this is one of those dangerous games. The Broncos should beat the Bengals even on the road, but it is also a game that the Broncos could lose if they do not take the game seriously.
At this point, it’s hard to believe any defense stopping Peyton Manning, who is playing some of the best football of his career and was just named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October. Manning is the biggest advantage the Broncos have for a lot of reasons, but the biggest advantage he gives the team this week is one that very few will talk about. Manning will not let the Broncos overlook anyone. He is maniacal when it comes to preparation and that attitude will go a long way towards preventing a letdown.
The Bengals are an average defensive team at best and the Broncos will be able to throw and run. The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to run at will on the Bengals a couple of weeks ago and they did it with a fourth string running back. Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman should have a very productive day on the ground.
At this point, there are few if any defenses that are going to slow down Manning and the Bengals are not one of them. As long as Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas don’t take the week off, then the passing game will be very good again. Decker and Thomas are still young players who show immaturity at times and that could be an issue if they decide not to take the Bengals seriously. Look for veteran Brandon Stokley to stay on them through the week of practice and into the game on Sunday.
Defensively, the Broncos need to be mindful of a letdown as well. They have been playing some of the best offenses in the league and in the last six quarters, no unit is playing better than the Broncos defense. As long as they continue to play with that same level of intensity, then they will be fine. The Bengals’ biggest threat is second year wide-receiver, AJ Green. Green is already one of the top receivers in the game and is capable of taking over. The Broncos will probably use Champ Bailey to cover him and even provide some help over the top with a safety.
The Bengals are led on offense by quarterback Andy Dalton, who had a very good rookie season but has not built on that success. Outside of Green, Dalton does not have many other weapons and often holds the ball too long. The Broncos pass rush, featuring Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, could have a field day in Cincinnati on Sunday. The one Bengals player other than Dalton and Green who could give the Broncos some headaches is tight end Jermaine Gresham. Gresham is an athletic tight-end and those types of players have given the Broncos fits in the past.
As long as the Bengals are unable to establish a running game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, then it should be another solid day for the Broncos defense. In short, stop the run and then get after Dalton. The Denver Broncos survived the first seven games and are now one of the fashionable picks to go deep in the playoffs, but they need to prove two things. They need to prove they can win on the road and beat teams they are supposed to beat. If they do those two things, then the Broncos are in great shape. The game versus the Bengals is the Broncos’ first test as the favorite and they will pass it. It will be closer than many believe, but the Broncos win 27-21.
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