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5 keys to Broncos defeating the Bengals in AFC wild-card showdown

Winner will be in prime position for late-season playoff push. Loser will be in serious trouble. Pressuring Burrow is paramount for Broncos.
Credit: AP
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) celebrates a touchdown pass to Ja'Marr Chase with Joe Mixon during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — This is a game for playoff position.

The winner of the Broncos-Bengals battle of 7-6 teams will not have an AFC wild-card playoff clinched. Nor will the game’s loser be eliminated from the playoff race.

It’s just that with three games remaining after this one Sunday, the winner will be in position to capture a playoff spot while the loser will be left with a win-out-or-else scenario.

It won’t be easy for the Broncos. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is prolific. When he throws, he throws it downfield. His 8.4 yards per attempt is second in the league to Kyler Murray’s 8.7. But Burrow also leads the league with 14 interceptions and 41 sacks.

The Bengals also have the NFL’s second-leading rusher in Joe Mixon, who has already rushed for 1,036 yards through just 13 games.

On defense the Bengals are average – 16th in yards allowed; 17th in points allowed.

Here are five keys to the Broncos beating the Bengals on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High and moving into prime position for an AFC wild-card berth:

1. Don’t test

Most of the Broncos players are vaccinated. Which means per the league’s new virus policy, they no longer have to take the COVID-19 test unless they are sick. League to omicron variant: Play Ball!

2. Pressure Burrow

Have we mentioned he’s taken a league-most 41 sacks? He can’t complete the intermediate-to-deep passes if he doesn’t have time. Which leads to our No. 3 key.

3. Bradley Chubb sack

He’s had sackless droughts before. But there has never been more pressure on Chubb to drop the quarterback. Which is not totally fair. Chubb had two surgeries, one on each ankle, in the past seven months. There’s not much strength or conditioning that can be built in the legs while your ankles are immobilized. Still, Chubb is healthy enough to play and he has been able to contribute in other ways. But even he said Monday it’s time for him to start making the big play.

4. Red Zone

In the past three weeks, the Broncos have scored touchdowns on 9 of their 11 trips to the red zone. Red-zone success must continue. For the season, Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has 15 touchdowns and only 1 interception from the red zone.

5. Big day from Jeudy or Sutton

Broncos receivers have been too quiet. Jeudy, a first-round, second-year player who has been rebounding from a high-ankle sprain, is looking for his first game of at least 80 yards. Sutton, a second-round, fourth-year player, is in a six-game slump where he’s had no more than 2 catches or 40 yards. Broncos will need the big play against a Bengals team that produces its fair share.

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