Tough game to watch. Bengals get up big, Denver comes back, both teams sputter, but ESPN calls it good defense, and the Broncos end up winning on a fumble by Bengals second year QB AJ McCarron.
I won't bore you with the details of what John Gruden called "a potential AFC Championship Game," (Gag me with a knife) but I will tell you my main takeaway from this game: these two teams don't stand a chance against the Patriots if key guys (Edelman, Amendola, Hightower, McCourty, Chung) come back healthy and ready to play.
For Denver, they simply can't score enough. We saw this when the two teams squared off at Mile High back on November 29, but it took a muffed punt by undrafted rookie Chris Harper, as well as no Edelman, Amendola, or Gronkowski (for the final quarter and OT) to knock off the defending World Champions. When healthy, the best defensive team in the NFL, in my opinion, will be overwhelmed and limited in the damage they can do.
The Cincinnati Bengals are more of a mystery. After Andy Dalton went down with a broken thumb, AJ McCarron came in and did a surprisingly good job. Sure, they aren't scoring like they once were, but no team is going to be able to lose their star quarterback and continue on as if nothing happened. The Bengals have a good, not great, defense, and, if Andy Dalton can come back in time for the playoffs, could provide a somewhat challenging foe for the New England Patriots. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, the Red Rider BB Gun looks to be out for the rest of the season, or, at the very least, unavailable for the first round of the playoffs.
However, the Bengals are always going to be the Bengals and should vomit all over themselves when the games actually mean something.
With Pittsburgh's playoff hopes quickly deteriorating, no team in the AFC can keep up with the Patriots offensively. Defensively, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I like our chances against anyone. With the Pats stout front 7, coupled with the surprising play of Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, teams will have trouble scoring if this defense gains confidence and momentum.
Who is going to torch the Patriots in the AFC? AJ McCarron? Brock Osweiler? Ryan Fitzpatrick? Alex Smith? I had to google who the Texans are even starting at quarterback at this point.
Anything can happen any given Sunday, but you have to like the Patriots' chances to end up in Santa Clara, California in February.
By Pete Packowski