Having already won the AFC West, the Denver Broncos can clinch a first-round bye when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night in a matchup featuring enormous playoffs implications for both teams. The Bengals are clinging to a half-game lead atop the AFC North and can nail down a fourth consecutive postseason slot with a victory and also have a chance at securing a bye. Denver has dominated the series, winning 13 of the past 15 meetings.
The Broncos are tied with New England for the best record, but the Patriots own the tiebreaker. The situation is more complicated for Cincinnati, which could find itself out of the playoff picture with losses to the Broncos and next week at division rival Pittsburgh. “We’re still in control of everything,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We know these next two games are going to be big. The way our division is going, everyone keeps winning. We know what we’re facing.”
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY: Oddsmakers opened the Broncos as 3.5-point road faves but that has settled at -3. The total opened at 47.5.
INJURY REPORT: Broncos – QB Peyton Manning (Questionable, thigh), WR Emmanuel Sanders (Questionable, flu), TE Jacob Tamme (Probable, ribs), RB Juwan Thompson (Questionable, hip), RB Ronnie Hillman (Questionable, foot), LB Brandon Marshall (Out, foot). Bengals – TE Jermaine Gresham (Questionable, toe), CB Terence Newman (Questionable, undisclosed).
WEATHER: Temperatures in the low-40s with wind blowing toward the NW endzone at around 5 mph.
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Broncos (-8.25) + Bengals (-1.25) + home field (-3.0) = Broncos -4
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “Denver remains number two and can clinch a first round playoff bye with a win at Cincinnati on Monday night. 7-3 ATS L10 games on the road. The Bengals have posted three shutouts since 2006, all at Cleveland. Host Denver Monday. 6-0 ATS L6 at home against teams with a winning road record.” Covers Expert Matt Fargo.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (11-3 SU, 7-7 ATS, 8-6 O/U): Peyton Manning is second in the league with 37 scoring passes and again has thrown for more than 4,000 yards, but his numbers have been rather ordinary during the current four-game winning streak. After tossing four TD passes in a win over Miami, Manning has three touchdowns and two interceptions while averaging 195 passing yards over the past three as Denver continues to ride the legs of C.J. Anderson, who has rushed for 478 yards in the last four. Tight end Julius Thomas (12 touchdown receptions) returned to the lineup last week after a three-game absence and Demaryius Thomas is Manning’s top weapon with eight 100-yard games in his last 11.
ABOUT THE BENGALS (9-4-1 SU,, 7-6-1 ATS, 5-9 O/U): Even though Manning’s numbers have been down over the past month, Cincinnati’s best chance to take down Denver is to keep the ball out of his hands and that could spell a heavy dose of bruising running back Jeremy Hill. The 240-pound rookie was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last week’s 30-0 drubbing at Cleveland, but he will be facing a defense that ranks second in the league against the run, averaging of 71.6 yards allowed. Dalton has 15 TD passes versus 14 interceptions and will need a big outing from wideout A.J. Green, who has three 100-yard games in his last five.
* Road team is 4-0 ATS in their last four meetings.
* Broncos are 1-4-1 ATS in their last six Monday games.
* Under is 4-1 in Broncos last five games overall.
* Over is 4-1 in Bengals last five home games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: According to Covers Consensus, 68 percent of bettors are backing the visiting Broncos.