The Cincinnati Bengals (11-3) have already locked up the AFC North, and can earn a first round bye if they can either tie or defeat the Denver Broncos (10-4) tonight or the Baltimore Ravens (5-10) next week. In a more peculiar position, the Denver Broncos will have a half-game lead over the Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) going into this week’s NFL Monday Night Football. The Chiefs are already guaranteed a spot in this season’s National Football League Playoffs, however, the Broncos are not.
Last week’s MNF match-up — Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints — had zero impact on the NFL playoffs. As noted by CBS Sports, the outcome of this game may impact the post-season for several NFL teams. As already mentioned, a win for the Bengals guarantees a bye in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The only way for Cincinnati to earn the No. 1 spot in the AFC is if they can beat the Broncos and the Ravens and the New England Patriots (12-3) lose to the 5-10 Dolphins in Miami next week. If the Bengals and the Patriots end the season with the same record, the Patriots retain the No. 1 spot via the NFL common-opponent tiebreaker rule.
If the Bengals defeat the Broncos tonight, the AFC South leaders Houston Texans (8-7) would then clinch the AFC South while the division’s second place team — the Indianapolis Colts (7-8) — would officially be eliminated. A loss for the Broncos means that the Chiefs would be on top of the AFC West and Denver would be the No. 6 seed going into the final week of regular season play. However, if Brock Osweiler and Broncos can defeat AJ McCarron and the Bengals, Denver would have a playoff spot guaranteed. If the Broncos host and beat the Bengals this week and the San Diego Chargers (4-11) next week, they will have won the AFC West and taken the No. 2 seed in the AFC half of the NFL playoffs.
Both teams will be starting different quarterbacks on Monday than they did in Week 1. Two weeks ago, in a losing effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bengals regular starting QB Andy Dalton injured the thumb on his throwing hand. Prior to that game, Dalton had lead the Bengals to a 10-2 start on the way to their fifth consecutive post-season appearance. Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler has been starting in Peyton Manning’s stead since the All-Pro quarterback was injured on November 15. The Broncos have been 3-2 with Brock in the starting position. McCarron lead the Bengals to victory last week in his first ever start for Cincinnati.
As ESPN pointed out, both back-up quarterbacks will be facing Top 10 defenses tonight. The Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos defenses — No. 9 and No. 1 respectively — are key components to both teams’ winning records. While Brock Osweiler will have to be worried about Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, AJ McCarron will be hoping that his offensive line can slow down Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
If your fantasy football team is still alive, there are a few players worth watching tonight. Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (16.80) has the highest projected score of anyone in tonight’s game, according to the standard scoring at the NFL.com fantasy football site. Bengals receiver AJ Green (14.10) has the highest projection of anyone on the Cincinnati squad. Other notables include Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard (13.70), Denver running back Ronnie Hillman (13.70), Brock Osweiler (12.94) and AJ McCarron (10.46). The Bengals defense is projected to score 10.50, while the Broncos defense has a projection of just 5.00. Kickers Mike Nugent (Cincinnati) and Brandon McManus (Denver) are both projected at 11.00.
NFL Monday Night Football for Week 16 will feature the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos beginning at 8:30/7:30c on ESPN.
[Photos by Justin K. Aller, Ezra Shaw/Getty Images ]