SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 21-10. The Broncos have won three of their last four games at Paul Brown Stadium, including a 29-17 victory on Sept. 25, 2016. Denver won eight straight against the Bengals from 1983-98 and Cincinnati has never won more than two in a row against the Broncos.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Denver's offense might have a breakout day against the NFL's last-place defense in yards allowed. Cincinnati gives up an average of 439.6 yards, so Broncos quarterback Case Keenum has a chance for a big day and the Broncos' ground game can get big chunks of yards. Rookie running back Phillip Lindsay has gained 780 yards on the ground but without a ton of carries. Look for him and fellow rookie Royce Freeman to attack the Bengals' suspect defense. If the ground game can get going, that should open up things in Cincinnati's secondary. Rookie wideout Courtland Sutton is coming off one of his worst games but has an opportunity for a big game.
Cincinnati has solid running backs in Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard and will probably have wide receiver A.J. Green back from a toe injury that cost him three games. Denver can limit their effectiveness by getting pressure on quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is making his first NFL start for the injured Andy Dalton. If the Broncos can bottle up the running game that will give edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb plenty of opportunities to get to Driskel.
The absence of Dalton may lead to a more conservative strategy focusing on running the ball for Cincinnati. In the Baltimore loss, the Bengals had Mixon and Bernard on the field at the same time for five snaps but last week it was only two. Mixon also thrived in the two-minute offense by gaining 53 yards on a 75-yard scoring drive after the Bengals were down 28-0.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: LB Shaquil Barrett (hip), CB Tramaine Brock (ribs)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Brandon Marshall (knee)
--OUT: WR Josh Malone (hamstring), CB Tony McRae (concussion)
--DOUBTFUL: T Cordy Glenn (back)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Bengals OL vs. Broncos OLBs Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. Chubb is a Rookie of the Year candidate with nine sacks. He was responsible for at least one sack in five straight games before last week against Pittsburgh. Miller, who has 10.5 sacks and is always dangerous, goes up against a Bengals line that could be depleted if back injuries keep Ts Cordy Glenn and Jake Fisher from playing.
--Broncos running game vs. Bengals DL. Denver has a chance to control the clock and keep QB Case Keenum off the field. The Bengals allow 147.5 yards rushing per game and Denver's two rookie backs will bring different styles to attack the Bengals. Phillip Lindsay has emerged as the primary back, gaining 780 yards on the ground and 167 more receiving yards. Lindsay hasn't been overused and should be fresh while Royce Freeman, who was slowed by a high ankle sprain that cost him a couple of games, could find his rhythm against the porous Cincinnati defense.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals QB Jeff Driskel. He will be thrust into the spotlight this week, starting for Andy Dalton for the rest of the season. Driskel will join AJ McCarron as quarterbacks who replaced Dalton due to a thumb injury for the 2016 playoff game against Pittsburgh. Driskel appeared in mop-up duty during blowout losses to Kansas City and New Orleans. In his first real action after Dalton was injured, Driskel completed 17 of 29 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown and a TD run. He also nearly allowed an interception to get returned for a score.
FAST FACTS: BRONCOS QB CASE KEENUM threw 2 TD passes vs. 0 INTs for 99.9 rating last week. ... RB PHILLIP LINDSAY (rookie) had 14 carries for 110 yards (7.9 per carry) & TD in Week 12. Aims for his 3rd in row with 100+ scrimmage yards & TD. Has 508 scrimmage yards (101.6 per game) & 5 rush TDs in his past 5. Ranks 2nd among rookies with 780 rush yards & 967 scrimmage yards. Is averaging 5.78 yards per carry, 3rd-highest in NFL (min. 100 att.). ... WR EMMANUEL SANDERS had 7 catches for 86 yards & TD catch last week. Since 2014, is 1 of 6 in NFL with 350+ catches (370) & 13+ yards per catch avg. (13.4). ... TE MATT LaCOSSE had 1st-career TD catch last week. ... Rookie WR COURTLAND SUTTON leads NFL averaging 19.7 yards per catch (min. 20 catches). ... LB TODD DAVIS had 10 tackles last week. Is 1 of 3 in AFC (KIKO ALONSO & JESSIE BATES) with 80+ tackles (82) & 5+ PD (7). ... LB VON MILLER has 6.5 sacks in his past 6. Leads AFC with 10.5 sacks. ... CB CHRIS HARRIS JR. had 2 PD & INT in Week 12. ... LB SHAQUIL BARRETT had sack last week. ... BENGALS QB JEFF DRISKEL will make 1st-career start. Passed for 155 yards with TD & rushed for TD in Week 12. Has rush TD in 2 of his past 3. ... RB JOE MIXON had 155 scrimmage yards (89 rush, 66 rec.) last week. ... Since entering league in 2013, RB GIOVANI BERNARD is 1 of 2 active players (Le'VEON BELL) with 3,000+ rush yards (3,076) & 2,000+ rec. yards (2,200). ... WR TYLER BOYD had 7 catches for 85 yards & TD last week. A.J. Green (687 rec. yards, 6 TD catches) & Boyd (841, 6) are 1 of 3 pairs of teammates with 600+ rec. yards & 5+ TD catches in 2018. ... WR JOHN ROSS had TD catch last week. Aims for his 4th in row with TD catch & has TD in 4 of his past 5. ... DE CARLOS DUNLAP has 7 sacks in his past 4 vs. Den. ... Rookie S JESSIE BATES is 1 of 2 in NFL (KIKO ALONSO) with 85+ tackles (85) & 3+ INTs (3). ... S SHAWN WILLIAMS has 10+ tackles in 2 of his past 3. Is only NFL player with 70+ tackles (73) & 4+ INTs (4).
PREDICTION: The Broncos are primed for a letdown after consecutive upset wins over the Chargers and Steelers, but the Bengals are hardly at the top of their game with Dalton sidelined and Green ailing.
OUR PICK: Broncos, 26-20