Denver has started the season right where they left off.
Some were skeptical of the defending Super Bowl champions coming into this season, especially given the significant personnel losses the team endured over the offseason. But the Broncos are off to an impressive 2-0 start.
Denver eked out a close win in the Super Bowl rematch against the Carolina Panthers to start the season and easily disposed of the Indianapolis Colts, a team that is struggling to protect Andrew Luck.
This week, the Broncos face one of their biggest tests of the season – on the road against one of the top teams in the AFC, Cincinnati.
The big offseason storyline for Denver was at quarterback after losing both Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. The team had an open competition at camp, and, despite drafting Paxton Lynch, went with second-year man Trevor Siemian from Northwestern. Siemien has made a few mistakes so far, throwing three interceptions in his first two games, but has been extremely accurate as well, completing 67.8 percent of his passes.
While the Denver offense has lingering doubts, the Broncos are back again with one of the best defenses in the NFL – even without important starters in defensive tackle Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan. It all starts with their front seven, lead by All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller. Miller is off to a fast start in 2016, tallying four sacks and a forced fumble already.
Miller is undoubtedly the star in Denver, but there are productive players in the defense everywhere you look. Brandon Marshall is one of the league’s best all-around linebackers and Derek Wolfe is becoming a star as a premier interior rusher. Wolfe, who has amassed 9.5 sacks in his last 12 games, recently received praise from Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
“He’s a really good player,” Phillips told BSN Denver. “Derek has really come along. He came along last year at the end of the year. I said he was our best inside player, and he was. He’s become a really good pass rusher, too. We’re glad to have him and glad we signed him.”
Meanwhile the Cincinnati Bengals, who have struggled to make the jump from good regular season team to great playoff team, have begun the season 1-1 after splitting two tight games. A week one win over the New York Jets on a late game-winning field goal was followed up by a loss to division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They will look to avoid going below .500 this weekend against Denver.
Last season, Cincinnati had the league’s most efficient offense, registering first in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Above Replacement metric, a stat which measures the efficiency of an offense in terms of how and when yards and points are gained.
Quarterback Andy Dalton has made big strides over the last several years and his partnership with All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green only seems to be getting better. Dalton and Green have started the season red hot, combining for 14 receptions, 218 yards, and a touchdown. One of the worries for the Bengals remains their depth in pass catching, as the team has few quality options beyond Green, especially with tight end Tyler Eifert still injured.
While the Bengals passing game is among the best in the league, the team has struggled out of the gate running the ball in much the same way they did in 2015. What should be an excellent compliment of strength and speed, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, have never put it all together as many thought they would following their 2014 campaign.
Hill has struggled to find holes, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry and only 2.0 yards after contact since last season. Bernard has taken many of Hill’s touches, especially in the passing game, but the success of Hill is essential if the Bengals hope to have a balanced attack.
Sunday's Denver-Cincinnati game at Paul Brown Stadium will be won and lost in the trenches: Cincinnati’s deep and talented offensive line against Denver’s front seven. The Bengals’ offensive unit has been consistently excellent for years now, but they face a massive test in Denver. The player to key in on is Bengals center Russell Bodine, who will be matched up with Sylvester Williams. Bodine was the weak link in the line last season according to Pro Football Focus, conceding 30 total quarterback pressures, more than three of his fellow lineman combined.
This should be a fascinating game and an early test for both teams. Look for the Bengals to come out of the blocks fast and hold on for an important early season victory.