After a tumultuous start to their 2012 season, the Broncos suddenly look like the team that everyone expected them to be, as Peyton Manning has played excellently in back-to-back wins. The Bengals can't say the same about their quarterback, as they've lost three straight games and Andy Dalton has struggled as of late.
However, with a Week 8 bye, the Bengals will have a chance to reset and attempt to look like the team that won three straight games early in the season. To do so, they'll have to beat a Broncos team that has dominated them historically, winning each of the last three matchups and 12 of the last 14.
Meet the Bengals
In his only career game against the Broncos, Dalton passed for 332 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a stark contrast to his last three games, in which he has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions. In his most recent game against the Steelers, he completed only 50 percent of his passes and tallied only 105 yards through the air, the fewest since his first career game in Week 1 of 2011. Where he has had found success, though, is throwing the ball to A.J. Green. The first receiver taken in the 2011 NFL Draft has caught a touchdown in six consecutive games and is tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions.
The Cincinnati defense ranks No. 25 in the league at stopping teams from scoring. They have been relatively strong against the pass, though, as they have allowed just nine touchdown passes, the tenth fewest in the league. Part of their strong pass defense has to do with the success of their pass rushers, Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins. The pair has combined for 13 sacks through seven games. Atkins, with seven sacks, is the only defensive tackle that ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks.
Meet the Broncos
After five touchdowns through his first three games, including a three-interception game against the Falcons, Manning has thrown for three touchdowns in each of his last four games. In those four games he has completed a combined 107-of-142 passes for 1,289 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception. The 127.9 passer rating over that time has launched his season rating to 109, which is the NFL's best mark after Week 8. He's also had help on the ground, as Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman combined for over 200 yards rushing in a Week 8 win over the New Orleans Saints.
On defense, the Broncos also rely on pass rushers to shut down opposing offenses. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have combined for 11 sacks for the Denver defense. Miller, the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, has 17.5 sacks in just 22 career games and has helped a secondary that features Champ Bailey, among others. In Week 8, Bailey became one of just 75 players to start 200 career games in the NFL.
Local Takes: Bengals
Aside from alleviating general pressure off of Dalton, there's another reason that the Bengals need to run the ball effectively--he goes by the name of Peyton Manning. Many teams and coaches have attempted to contain Manning (because you can't stop him) over the years to no avail. The handful of times that it has happened, it was when the opposing team was able to bring constant pressure, as well as keep Manning off of the field by owning the clock.
Local Takes: Broncos
KaptainKirk from Mile High Report talked about the memorable finish in the last meeting between the teams:
The Broncos last visit to Paul Brown Stadium was in the 2009 season opener. You might remember the spectacular finish. Gus Johnson gushed all over the airwaves as we witnessed what some called the " Immaculate Deflection." Trailing 7-6 with 28 seconds left to play in the game, Broncos Quarterback Kyle Orton's pass intended for Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall was tipped by Bengals Cornerback Leon Hall into the hands of Brandon Stokley, who raced 62 yards down the left sideline for the game-winning score.
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Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Cincy Jungle and Mile High Report, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
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Hate watching the 49ers sometimes -- well, hate 'em all of the time. But I end up saying, "yep, we had him" to more than one player.— Josh Kirkendall (@CincyJungle) October 30, 2012
Peyton Manning is playing like a man possessed. He's averaging around 300 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games and completing over 70 percent of his passes. That doesn't bode well for a Bengals team that has lost three straight.
The pick: 31-23, Broncos
The Broncos are favored by four points despite being the road team and the over/under is set at 47.5, according to OddsShark.
The Broncos will next travel to face the Carolina Panthers who enter Week 9 as one of only three teams with just one win. The Bengals, on the other hand, have another tough matchup when they host the New York Giants who enter Week 9 on a four-game winning streak.