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Broncos vs Bengals: Denver must prove playoff legitimacy by beating Cincy

The Broncos have to prove the last two weeks weren’t a fluke by sending the message they are serious playoff contenders.

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Gasp — hope.

Those are just a few of the emotions engulfing the Denver Broncos the last two weeks. After two wins over two of the best teams in the AFC, the Broncos shoved themselves right into the playoff discussion. There is still a lot of work left to make that come to life, but the fact Denver is even in the discussion is a damn miracle; especially if you consider where this team was just three weeks ago.

Yet there is still this sense in Broncos Country and across the nation that it’s a mirage. It’s great the Broncos beat the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, but, they say, it was more luck and those two teams giving the games away than anything Denver did on the field. Some need to see more before they go all in.

As Adam Malnati and I said on the latest MHR Radio Podcast, Sunday at the Cincinnati Bengals is that chance. Prove to the rest of the AFC and NFL that the last two weeks weren’t a fluke. Send a message that the Broncos (5-6) are, in fact, legitimate playoff contenders by beating Cincinnati (5-6).

Offensive Rankings

Denver: Fifteenth in overall offense (366.1 yards), 10th in rushing (124.7), tied for 15th in passing (241.4) and 19th in points (22.9).

Cincinnati: Twenty-sixth in overall offense (333.2 yards), 28th in rushing (93.5), 17th in passing (239.6) and tied for 12th in points (25.1).

Defense Rankings

Denver: Twenty-fifth in overall defense (389.3 yards), 24th in rushing (123.1), 24th in passing (266.2) and 13th in points (22.9).

Cincinnati: Thirty-second in overall defense (439.6 yards), 31st in rushing (147.5), 31st in passing (292.2) and 32nd in points (31.5).

Here are our keys to the game.

Don’t eff this up

As I just noted, the Broncos are in the playoff discussion, so don’t morph back into the Broncos by losing to Jeff Freaking Driskel and the Bengals. Leave no doubt. Prove the last two wins weren’t a fluke and dominate. — Ian St. Clair

Orange Rush

Driskel did a decent job of getting the ball out quickly last week vs the Cleveland Browns, but with time to prepare the Broncos should be able to dial up plenty of looks designed to confuse a backup in his first NFL start. Get him confused and he’ll hold on to the ball for an extra moment. Force him to move around and he’ll start making mistakes. Both of those play right into Denver’s pass rushers’ hands. This is a prime opportunity for Von Miller and Bradley Chubb to eat greedy, so Joe Woods needs to let them pin their ears back and get in Driskel’s head early and often. — Taylor Kothe

Outcoach a pair of legends

Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson are two of the most beloved and respected coaches in the history of sports. If Vance Joseph and staff can’t outcoach them, we should just meekly accept it and realize greatness when we see it. (And in all seriousness) the Denver coaches seem to be figuring some issues out with each week and they’ll try to build on a gamelan against Pittsburgh that was one of the best of the Joseph tenure. The staff is fighting for jobs and hopefully it continues to show. — Kevin Gillikin

Keep Case Keenum clean

The Broncos offensive line seems to have found something that is working. Keeping Keenum clean is huge. When he stays clean he is less likely to turn the ball over, thus helping in the turnover battle. They also need to keep opening running lanes for Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. They will be able to control the flow of the game that way, which should lead to a win. If Denver wants to win, the offensive line has to keep doing what it has done the last two games. — Adam Malnati

Moar Lindsay

Any touch you take away from him is one too many. Any time he’s not on the field, is a play too many. He isn’t the “Lightening” to anybody’s “Thunder.” To say such things would absolutely be a slap in Lindsay’s face. He’s a COMPLETE running back, plain and simple. He just so happens to be blistering fast. He’s not only the lightening you see, but the thunder you feel and hear. He’s a great runner up the middle. He’s a great runner around the edges. He’s a great runner in open space, and he’s a great runner at the goal line. He may be short, but he’s stout, and after 13 weeks when typical rookies hit that “rookie wall,” he’s still going strong, which is yet another indicator that you can’t pigeonhole him into such absurd stereotypes. So use your true RB1 like a true every-down RB1 should be used and feed him the ball for 20-25 touches (runs and passes). Create mismatches for your most electric playmaker, and you’ll see the Broncos moonwalk into the playoffs. — Pete Baron

Maintain the “one game at a time” mentality

Keep the underdog chip on your shoulders. The Broncos play so much better when they are the forgotten team heading into games. Heck, even after the Steelers game, no one wanted to talk about what Denver did to win, they wanted to talk about everything the Steelers did to lose. Stay with that. Continue to play smart with the football. Basically, keep doing what the Broncos have been doing. Maintaining consistency is going to be key. If Denver keeps this level of playing, it will continue to be successful. — Casey Barrett

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What are your keys to victory for the Broncos?