I have decided to preview the absolutely monumental clash in the AFC over the Christmas weekend, as the 11 – 3 Cincinnati Bengals travel to Denver to face the 10 – 4 Broncos, in a match which will have serious playoff ramifications regardless of who comes out on top.
The Broncos, despite starting the season 7 – 0 are now in some danger of dropping out of the playoff race completely. With the surging Kansas City Chiefs just one game back in the AFC West and both the Pittsburgh Steelers & New York Jets holding 9 – 5 records, they could still get edged out of the post season action.
Admittedly, it will take a highly unlikely series of events to happen for the Broncos to miss out altogether but, should they lose this game, there will be a real question mark over their ability to take the divisional title.
On the other hand, the visiting Bengals are virtually assured to claim the AFC North title, with a home game against the hapless Ravens in the final week of the regular season. However, with the New England Patriots just one game ahead on 12 – 2, they still have an outside shot at claiming the number one seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Believe it or not, these playoff scenarios are not a complicated as they usually are due to the top heavy makeup of the AFC Conference. However, the one caveat to everything in the AFC playoff picture is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are currently the number six seed.
The implications of this for both these teams and the Patriots is massive because, if the Steelers head to the post season as the six seed, the winner of the AFC West will have to face them in the Wildcard round and if the Steelers won that match, they would then face the number one seed in the Divisional round.
Nobody wants to be playing against the Steelers high power offence, even at home, in the playoffs where anything can and usually does happen.
So, taking a closer look at this matchup it is a very tough game to decipher because both the Bengals and Broncos, as highlighted in previous weeks are now being led by their backup QBs, AJ McCarron and Brock Osweiler respectively.
With young backs under Centre, both team offences have had to make adjustments to their scheme’s and it makes life very tough for us to put any faith in previous results, performances or stats. Inexperienced QBs are naturally very inconsistent at the best of times.
It makes more sense to base our betting decision on what we do know about the rest of these rosters and in particular the defensive units. Cincinnati do have a very solid D, currently 1st in the NFL for Opponent Points Per Game and 4th in Opponent RZ Scoring Percentage.
But, we all know about the quality of Denver’s defence which, leads the league in Opponent Yards Per Game and ranks 5th in Opponent 3rd Down Conversion Percentage.
On the other side of the ball, as expected with the young QBs learning complex schemes, they have both been struggling to find their best form. The Bronco’s average 19.3 PPG with Osweiler calling the shots and the Bengals are averaging 22 PPG with McCarron as QB, but as he has played just two games, this number is particularly unreliable.
It will be a surprise if they can score that many points in Denver against such a talented & aggressive defence. With the home field advantage, extra playing time that Osweiler has had and their impressive record against the Bengals, it makes sense to lean towards them this week.
Taking Denver -3 for the big match looks like a fair bet here, despite their dismay performance against Oakland that cost me in Week 14. Another option would be taking the Under 40.5 Points line, with limited offensive schemes in place, tough D’s and potentially bad weather to contend with.
Other teams I like this week are: Redskins, Panthers, Buccaneers, Colts & Cardinals.
Handicap Betting Pick: Split Stake on Denver Broncos -3 at 1.90 & Under 40.5 Points at 1.99 with Matchbook
Prices correct at the time of writing.