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Bengals provide big test for Broncos on Sunday

Denver’s defense faces a potentially high-powered QB-WR duo while the offense needs to keep its streak of red zone efficiency to beat the Bengals.

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Kansas City Chiefs vs the Denver Broncos Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

The Broncos-Bengals game is gearing up to be a far more important - and likely more entertaining - game than most fans thought it would be back in August.

With both teams at 7-6, Denver is just behind Cincinnati in the AFC playoff standings, and the winner on Sunday gets a nice boost among the multitude of 7-6 teams in the hunt for the last playoff spots.

In fact, George Chahrouri of Pro Football Focus pointed out on Broncos Country Tonight this week that the Broncos - with a home field advantage that gives them a 2.5 point edge in the odds - increase their playoff chances to 36% if they beat the Bengals. But they drop down to just a 7% chance if they lose.

“Broncos do have a chance,” Chahrouri said, adding that the Broncos are underdogs, definitely for the Raiders and Chargers games and possibly the Chiefs unless KC rests some of their stars. “They need to get this one, and I think this will be a challenging game.”

Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow is playing well, consistently performing in the top tier among QB measurements each week, and he has a host of big, strong wide receivers to grab his passes downfield.

In fact, perhaps the most anticipated matchup of this game, as well as across the NFL, will be a pair of star rookies going head to head - cornerback Pat Surtain II versus wideout Ja’Marr Chase.

“I think this is a more fun game than the market is giving it credit for,” Chahrouri added. “Bengals offense is good and Broncos offense is capable of scoring points against a defense that isn’t anything to write home about.”

We may want to ask the Niners if the Bengals defense is really “nothing to write home about” given their five sacks, six QB hits and six total tackles for loss last week against Jimmy Garoppolo. Given Teddy Bridgewater’s penchant for holding onto the ball a little too long in the pocket, the edge could go to the Bengals’ defense there.

But NextGen stats pointed out an interesting fact about the Broncos’ quarterback last week against the Lions:

Bridgewater was 17 of 22 for 174 yards and 2 TDs when facing a pass rush of 4 or fewer defenders. He picked apart the defense when not facing any pressure, going 16 of 20 for 154 yards and a TD.

Yes, it was against the Lions, but there’s still positive information to take away here.

And a few more interesting and mostly positive stats for the offense:

The Broncos’ offense, while not good on third-down conversions (39%), is actually top three in the NFL for fourth-down conversions (64%).

In red zone efficiency the last three games, the Broncos are fourth in the league, with nearly 82 percent success rate for touchdowns, scoring six in 9 of 11 trips to the red zone the last three games.

In the wins against the Lions and Chargers, the Broncos have been perfect in the red zone, scoring touchdowns four out of four times in each game.

Nick Kosmider of The Athletic pointed out a bunch of these numbers and how they can make a case for or against the Broncos having a good shot at the win on Sunday. Two of the more interesting ones involve the defense.

The Broncos’ defense has allowed an average of 17.54 points per game, second-best in the NFL. But their remaining opponents are all in the top 10 for scoring offenses, including the Bengals at No. 7 (27.2 average ppg).

So the Denver D has its work cut out, especially since it also happens to rank near the bottom (22nd) for yards per carry allowed in the run game (4.44). Cincy’s best running back Joe Mixon averages 4.2 yards per carry, and the Bengals’ running game has struggled to be effective, so that could work in Denver’s favor.

When it comes to the Bengals’ strength - the passing game - Chase is in the top five for yards per catch at 17.3. Fortunately, Denver still ranks in the top 10 at overall passing yards allowed.

So on paper, Chahrouri’s assessment of this matchup is spot on - it’s going to be a challenging game for the Broncos but should be a fun one to watch.

And the Mile High crowd better show up and help the Broncos with the slight home field advantage they’ve got.

“Ultimately, our fans at the core love the Broncos, and if the Broncos are doing good [then] they’re doing good,” Vic Fangio said Thursday when asked if he thought the Broncos had done enough this season to earn back their support. “They’re cheering, being loud, and supportive. I think they’re there. I guess the question you’re asking is if it gets a little shaky are they going to still be there during the game, and I feel like they will in this game.”

The reporter followed up with why the coach believed that.

“I just do. I think they’ve come to like our team a little bit [and] liked what it’s about,” he said. “We play hard, and I think they respect that. We’ve got likable guys on our team.”

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