Win and you’re in?
Well, it’s not that simple for the Denver Broncos with four games to go in the 2021 regular season. But, their matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend is crucial when it comes to the AFC playoff picture.
According to 538 — the analytics website that delves into sports as well as politics — the Broncos – Bengals game this Sunday is the most-important of the weekend in the AFC when it comes to possible playoff positioning.
Only the Indianapolis Colts (7-6) can improve their playoff odds more this weekend by winning over the New England Patriots. The Colts currently have a 67 percent chance of getting in, but that improves to 87 percent with a win.
For Denver, a win this weekend not only keeps their slim playoff chances alive, but it boosts them by 10 percent. Currently, the Broncos have only a 21 percent chance of making the playoffs, but a loss drops their odds to a terrible 6 percent.
Our Zach Segars gives a quick breakdown of a few of the other AFC games here:
Most consequential Week 15 games for Broncos playoff odds (21% baseline) per 538:
1. DEN vs. CIN (+10% w/ a win, -16% w/ a loss)
2. NE over IND (+2% w/ W, -3% w/ L)
3. KC over LAC (+1% w/ W, -2% w/ L)
4. CAR over BUF (+2% w/ W, -1% w/ L)
5. NYJ over MIA (+ 1% w/ W, -1% w/ L)
— Zach Segars (@Zach_Segars) December 14, 2021
Of course, the Broncos would have benefitted from winning a few more games along the way, but at this moment they are still in the hunt, and that matters.
“It’s definitely [feeling] good,” Fangio remarked when asked how it felt to be in the playoff race in December. “There’s no denying that. I think it’s good for obviously us—the team and players. I think it’s good for our fans. I think it’s good for you guys to cover something with a little more pop to it. We’ve got to be one game at a time. We said after the Kansas City game we’ve got five games left, and that was going to determine what happened. We passed the first test, and we’ve got to go after the second one.”
This Sunday, the Broncos will look to keep up the momentum after blowing out the Detroit Lions 38-10 last weekend. In that game, the defense was on fire while Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams combined for 184 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. It was so dominant a rushing attack, it makes one wonder why Pat Shurmur didn’t go run-first all year long.
The Bengals (7-6) are a much better team than the Lions, though. Cincinnati is bolstered by their young, blossoming stars Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, among others. The Burrow-to-Chase connection has been explosive this year, with the two hooking up for 10 touchdowns and 1,035 yards. No doubt about it, Chase will be a tough cover for Ronald Darby or Patrick Surtain, and it’s likely the Broncos will keep a safety high over his side.
And Mixon is downright dominant on the ground, with 12 TDs and 3 100-yard rushing games this year.
It must be noted, though, that Mixon was held to 54 and 58 yards on the ground respectively the last two weeks, and the Bengals have lost their last two games as well. In both games, the Bengals lost the turnover battle, and throwing interceptions is a key weakness of Burrow’s game.
Defensively, the Bengals are so-so overall, but they are talented at stopping the run. Cincy has allowed a third-best 108.9 yards per game on the ground, so it will be strength versus strength this week as Gordon and Williams look to run wild again.
Denver is 4-1 when they rush for 147-plus yards this year, and they’ve hit that number in three straight games. So, expect the Broncos to go to the ground again, even if the Bengals are much better than the Lions at stopping the rushing attack.
The Broncos host the Bengals this Sunday with kickoff scheduled for 2:05 p.m. MT.
Current AFC Playoff Standings
- Patriots (9-4)
- Titans (9-4)
- Chiefs (9-4)
- Ravens (8-5)
- Chargers (8-5)
- Colts (7-6)
- Bills (7-6)
- Browns (7-6)
- Bengals (7-6)
- Broncos (7-6)