Cincinnati Bengals (11-3) at Denver Broncos (10-4)
The Brock Osweiler era got off to a good start in Denver, but his play has regressed in recent weeks, to the point where the difference in their offense’s efficiency between Osweiler starting and when a hobbled, aged Peyton Manning was starting early in the year is no longer significant. In Manning’s 9 starts, they moved the chains at a 66.43% rate, as opposed to 67.86% in Osweiler’s 5 starts. The Broncos would probably like to give Manning another shot and see if maybe he has enough left in the tank for a playoff run after a month off, but it doesn’t sound like his foot is anywhere near healthy enough for him to play, so it’ll be Osweiler again for the Broncos this week.
Ultimately, it might not matter who is under center because neither one of them is that good, plus their issues on the offensive line and in the running game will persist regardless. The Broncos’ defense will have to keep carrying them, as they have thus far. Despite an offense that ranks 30th in rate of moving the chains, the Broncos rank 10th in rate of moving the chains differential, thanks to a defense that ranks 3rd in rate of moving the chains allowed.
The Bengals rank significantly higher overall, coming in 5th, but they’ve also had next to no injuries on the season up until the last few weeks. Now they’re missing quarterback Andy Dalton, tight end Tyler Eifert, and safety George Iloka, three key players who are all expected to be out again this week. The Bengals did win by 10 in San Francisco last week without that trio, but the 49ers are the worst team in the NFL and the Bengals only won the rate of moving the chains differential by 3.14%, as the 49ers did end up making it closer than the final score suggested.
It’s tough to really know how much worse the Bengals are without that trio, which makes this game tough to pick either way, especially since both teams should be equally focused with easy games on deck for both (Cincinnati hosts Baltimore week 17 and the Broncos host the Raiders). I’m going to take the 3.5 points for a no confidence pick because a field goal game is likely. Close to 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal and close to 1 in 4 are decided by a field goal or less.
Denver Broncos 16 Cincinnati Bengals 13
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5