Two of the AFC’s top contenders meet in an early-season encounter that could have playoff implications down the line.
Defending Super Bowl Champions Denver bring their dominant defence to Paul Brown Stadium to face what has so far been a one-dimensional offence for the Bengals.
Cincinnati have gained just 51.5 yards on the ground per game through the first two weeks of the season, while averaging 2.8 yards per attempt, which ranks 31st and 30th in the NFL respectively.
Running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, however, will be needed to attack the soft spot of the Broncos’ defence as the unit is allowing 4.5 yards per carry.
“I think for us, not everybody has been on the same page,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said of the running game.
“We’ve had a couple of missed assignments that could have helped us have a couple bigger runs. I think for us it’s just making sure our guys are doing what we’re supposed to do and that will definitely help us with the run game.”
If Cincinnati can’t get traction running the ball, the alternative will be throwing into the teeth of a secondary which hasn’t allowed an opposing quarterback to post a passer rating of 100-plus since Week 12 of 2014 – a span of 28 games, including playoffs.
Dalton, while throwing for the most yards in the league through two games, has also been sacked as much as anyone with eight.
Facing pressure hasn’t been a concern for the signal caller the past two years, when he was brought down 20 and 21 times in 2015 and 2014, respectively.
However, Cincinnati’s offensive line has been shaky so far and things get no easier with sack-master Von Miller coming to town.
Miller leads the NFL with four sacks – three of which came in Week 2 against Indianapolis – and will get the chance to take advantage of the Bengals’ struggles.
“That’s Von Miller, the most unblockable dude in the game,” Denver running back C.J. Anderson said of his team-mate. “99 on Madden, 99 swim move, 99 spin move, 99 across the board for that kid.”
The likely match-up for Miller, Cincinnati offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, said of his former team-mate at Texas A&M: “You block him once and he is going to counter and then counter again. You are trying to get your hands off him and he’s relentless.”
Another match-up that could decide the game is between Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Broncos cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Although Green did grab a touchdown against Denver last season in a 20-17 overtime win for the Broncis, he was held to 57 receiving yards on nine targets.
While this marks the first and only meeting between the two sides in the regular season, it has the potential to decide both home-field advantage in the playoffs, as well as seeding.
NY VS WASHINGTON
Individual match-ups don’t get much tastier than Odell Beckham (below) versus Washington’s Josh Norman.
They’re two players at the top of their respective positions and have prior history, clashing last December in a meeting that quickly got out of hand with penalties and violent hits.
Much has been made about Norman not shadowing the best opposing wide receiver this season, but expect the two to line up against one another Sunday.
GREEN BAY VS DETROIT
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offence still look sluggish.
The return of a healthy Jordy Nelson hasn’t solved everything like expected and Rodgers is in an uncharacteristic drought, registering a passer rating below 100 in 14 straight games, including the playoffs.
A return to Lambeau Field might be the elixir as Green Bay usually bring their best in front of their home fans, but it may be time to stop waiting on elite production from the Packers’ attack.
CAROLINA v MINNESOTA
It would have been weird to say before the start of the season, but the Vikings offence is now relying on Sam Bradford and Stefon Diggs, not Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson.
Even when Peterson was healthy, Minnesota failed to establish a running game and now that burden falls on Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata.
As strong as the Panthers’ front seven is though, the Vikings would be better served attacking in the air with the emerging Bradford- Diggs connection.
PHILADELPHIA VS PITTSBURGH
Carson Wentz gets his first real test against a contending team as he faces high-powered Pittsburgh.
The Steelers’ offence is one of the best in the league and could force Wentz to be more aggressive and keep up in a shootout.
Philadelphia’s defence, however, has been formidable, allowing the fourth-fewest yards in the league and just 12.0 points per game. We’ll see if they’re for real against Ben Roethlisberger and Co.
DALLAS VS CHICAGO
Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have the opportunity to take advantage of an injury-riddled Bears squad in primetime.
Jay Cutler will be out with a sprained thumb and in his place, journeyman Brian Hoyer is expected to start.
Chicago’s defence, meanwhile, will likely be without Lamarr Houston, Danny Trevathan and Eddie Goldman.
That gives Elliott and Prescott a chance to feast.
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