Denver Broncos (4-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)
The Broncos rank 2nd in the league in yards per play differential at 1.4, just .1 behind San Francisco, who has looked untouchable for weeks in that category. No one else is above 0.7. They rank just 9th in rate of sustaining drives differential, thanks to a 3rd down defense that’s 20th. However, they were much better in this area against the Saints in a complete, shut down victory. New Orleans went just 1 of 12 on 3rd down.
The Broncos rank 6th in the league against both the pass and the run on a per play basis and Peyton Manning is playing like vintage Peyton Manning right now, if not better, as he’s completed 107 of 142 for 1289 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 1 interception in his last 4 games. On the season, he’s completing 68.5% of his passes for an average of 8.2 YPA, 17 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, all ahead of career averages. And they’re doing this all against the league’s toughest schedule so far, in terms of opponent’s winning percentage.
The Bengals, meanwhile, have yet to beat a playoff team in the Andy Dalton era, unless Washington, Cleveland, or Jacksonville make the playoffs this year (I’m going to go with no). They lost to 8 such teams last year and probably 1 or 2 this year (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Miami). Besides, I’m not even sure they’re as good as they were last year. Last year, they were 9-0 against non-playoff teams. This year, they lost to Cleveland and Miami (though Miami might end up being a playoff team).
Every year, one team goes from the playoffs to 5 wins or fewer. As the league’s worst playoff team last year, the Bengals were my preseason favorite to be that team. Now they stand at 3-4, after a 3-1 start, and they play possible playoff teams in 7 of their final 9 games, including here. This is the exact type of team Andy Dalton has trouble with. He completed 55.6% of his passes for an average of 6.5 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in those 8 games against playoff teams last year.
Against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Miami, he is a combined 62 of 108 for 560 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions this year. Jay Gruden’s scheme can mask his deficiencies well against average or worse teams, but scheme alone won’t do it against good defenses. The Broncos defense just made Drew Brees struggle, so I don’t think they’ll have much trouble with Dalton this week.
I mentioned where the Broncos stand in yards per play differential and rate of sustaining drives differential, the Bengals rank 12th and 25th in those two statistics respectively. Like the Broncos, they rank significantly better in yards per play differential. However, the yards per play differential method gives us a “real” line of -5.5, while the rate of sustaining drives method gives us a “real” line of -2.5. This line is right where it’s supposed to be, right in the middle at -4, if you don’t consider that the Broncos have all the momentum, which they do. I don’t have any trends for either side, but I don’t expect Dalton to beat his first playoff team this week. It’d be a bigger play if the public wasn’t pounding Denver.
Public lean: Denver (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Cincinnati covers)
Sharps lean: DEN 12 CIN 8
Final Update: No change.
Denver Broncos 27 Cincinnati Bengals 16
Pick against spread: Denver -4 (-110) 2 units