Lookee here – we got a matchup between two division leaders going through quarterback turmoil. And did we mention that a Cincy win clinches a first-round bye, while a Denver win leap frogs them, at least temporarily, over the Bengals for a first-round bye? Pass the popcorn!
Earlier this year, when the Bengals were 8-0, a friend born and raised in the Cincinnati area posted on Facebook “The Bengals are 9-0. I’m nervous that something really bad is about to happen.” Yeah, ‘bout that: The Bengals promptly lost three of their next five games and QB Andy Dalton broke his thumb, relegating him to the sidelines for the remainder of the regular season. Way to jinx your team, buddy.
Dalton broke his thumb two weeks ago while tackling Pittsburgh DE Stephon Tuitt, who’d just made an interception, opening the door for sophomore backup QB A.J. MacCarron. The former two-time NCAA champion did OK against the Steelers, completing 22 of 32 for 280 yards and 2 TDs, but he also threw a pick-six and another interception that led to a TD three plays later. Two TDs make a big difference in a 33-20 loss.
McCarron followed it up the next week with a 24-14 win in his first career start, against the 49ers. McCarron was 15-of-21 for 192 yards and a TD, and just as importantly, no interceptions. McCarron’s play, along with a big performance by the defense, helped the Bengals overcome a complete breakdown of the running game, as Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 67 yards on 33 carries. That ain’t gonna get it done in Denver, especially if the weather sucks.
The Denver Broncos, meanwhile, are going through their own QB drama: Future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning led the team to a 7-0 start before Father Time and the law of averages caught up with him, he tore his plantar fascia, and the team lost two straight, forcing all parties involved to acknowledge that Manning was not healthy enough to continue leading the team. Brock Osweiler took the reins (Broncos… reins… get it?) and the team won 3 straight, leading to speculation that maybe he should lead the team into the playoffs, regardless of Manning’s health status. Following Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, Manning was asked about a rumor that he’d told the team he would not serve as Osweiler’s backup.
“Number one it’s bull—-. And number two it’s insulting,” said Manning. Sounds like spirits are mile high in Denver.
For a while last Sunday, it looked like the Broncos were going to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, the unofficial “Team That No One Wants to Meet in the Playoffs.” The Broncos were ahead 27-13 halfway through the third quarter before the defense collapsed and the offense stalled, with a fourth-quarter interception leading to a go-ahead TD and a 34-27 Steeler victory.
In addition to division leaders and backup QBs, this game also features two of the stingiest defenses in the NFL. The Bengals have given up the fewest points, the Broncos the fewest yards (incredibly, they’ve given up the fewest rushing yards and passing yards), and they’re tied for 7th with 25 turnovers. Defensive units that tough could wreak havoc on young QBs – with 200 career pass attempts in 19 games played over 4 seasons as a backup, Osweiler is a seasoned veteran compared to McCarron, who’s thrown a total of 26 passes in 4 games over 2 seasons. Let’s just hope Brent Musburger is invited to call the game so we can once again listen to him lose his mind over McCarron’s girlfriend.