AFC West Preview: Tampa vs. Denver and Cincinnati vs. San Diego
As the NFL regular season enters its final month, the playoff picture is a becoming a little clearer.
In the AFC West this week, the Denver Broncos (8-3) will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5). A Broncos win will give them the AFC West title while a Tampa Bay victory moves them closer to a NFC wild-card opportunity.
Cincinnati (6-5) will travel west and play the San Diego Chargers (4-7). They are on the hunt for another playoff visit.
Then we have the two remaining games without playoff implications.
In the battle of the 3-8 teams, the Cleveland Browns will play the Oakland Raiders. Watching the older rookie vs. the veteran quarterback could be a little interesting but that’s about it.
In game No. 4, the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) will play for pride against the Buffalo Bills (4-7). Another loss could come their way with the Bills at -6 with a 45 over/under.
Tampa vs. Denver
With a Sunday win, the Broncos could see a seven-game win streak–a first since 1998.
Quarterback Peyton Manning is back to form and in last week’s 17-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, he broke a tie with former Broncos quarterback John Elway (and current boss) with win No. 149 for a starting quarterback. His next milestone is to pass Brett Favre with his 186 wins.
Manning went 22 for 37 for 285 yards with two touchdowns and an one pick. His passing game should do well against Tampa Bay which has struggled in stopping the pass; they sit at the bottom of the NFL at 315.5 yards per game.
Tampa Bay is also cornerback-deficient with suspended Eric Wright and its Aqib Talib trade to the Patriots.
Manning is playing without one of his favorite targets, running back Willis McGahee, but fortunately Knowshon Moreno stepped up last week with his 20 carries for 85 yards. There was no rust here as he last started on Oct. 30, 2011 and will do so again this week.
But he will face a tougher defense this week as Tampa Bay will bring its league-best run defense (81.5 yards per game).
While he’s no Manning, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is having a good season and last week, he went 19 for 30 passes for 256 yards. His weapon of choice has been rookie running back Doug Martin, who got two touchdowns last Sunday.
Tampa Bay is a talented team but it’s hard to bet against Manning. Look for win No. 7 with Denver at -7 with a 50 over/under.
Cincinnati vs. San Diego
Fortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, quarterback Andy Dalton dodged the sophomore slump. They have won three in a row and are back in a playoff contention.
As for the San Diego Chargers, they have been unraveling all season and sit on a three-game skid.
In the Bengal’s last three games, Dalton had nine touchdown passes with zero picks. His wide receiver A.J. Green is playing well as he’s tied for the league lead with 10 receiving touchdowns and ranks No. 4 with his 1,022 yards.
The Bengal’s running game has stepped things up recently and against Oakland last week, the Bengals had 221 rushing yards.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis contributed a season-high 129 rushing yards and a touchdown with Cedric Peerman tacking on 61 more yards from his eight carries.
The Bengals defense has also had a good run in the team’s recent win streak. In their last two games against the Chiefs and the Raiders, they limited them to a combined 502 yards and have seven forced turnovers in the last three games.
Meanwhile the Chargers played well against the Baltimore Ravens last week but came up short in their 16-13 OT loss. Quarterback Philip Rivers had 228 passing yards and one touchdown but they couldn’t beat the Ravens defense; they were outgained in total offense 443-280.
The team has been hit by the injury bug, losing strong safety Atari Bigby for the season, along with top tackler Donald Butler (groin) for a few weeks and safety Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) is uncertain.
The Bengals will enter with a lot of momentum and should take the win at -1.5 with a 46 over/under.