(Courtesy Cincinnati Bengals)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game will air on CBS-TV. In the Bengals’ home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Spero Dedes (play-by-play) and Adam Archuleta (analyst).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
Setting the scene: The Cincinnati Bengals this week host the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. On the line for both the Bengals and Broncos is keeping pace with a group of contenders for the second of two AFC Wild Card spots. That group currently is led by two 6-5 teams — the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts. They are followed closely by four 5-6 teams, including the Miami Dolphins, the Tennessee Titans, the Bengals and the Broncos.
Against the Broncos, Cincinnati will look to rebound from a 35-20 home loss to the Cleveland Browns. They will have to do so without QB Andy Dalton, who suffered a thumb injury on his throwing hand early in the second half against the Browns and did not return. Jeff Driskel, Dalton’s backup, finished the game. Dalton was placed on the Reserve/Injured list on Monday.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said Dalton is expected to make a full recovery in time for the team’s 2019 offseason activities, but for the rest of the season, the offense is Driskel’s to direct.
Driskel filled in admirably for Dalton against the Browns, despite inheriting tough game conditions. The Bengals were down 35-7 when he took the field, and Cincinnati’s offense had entered the game without two other injured starters — WR A.J. Green (toe) and LOT Cordy Glenn (back). Driskel, who led the team to two second-half scores, completed 17 of 29 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown (84.7 passer rating). He also rushed three times for nine yards and another TD.
Driskel originally was a sixth-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2016 and was waived by the 49ers on final cuts that year. The Bengals acquired him on waivers the next day and he has been in Cincinnati since. He did not play as a rookie, and he spent the entire ’17 season on the Reserve/Injured list with a hand injury. Driskel has played in four games this season, including in Game 9 vs. New Orleans, when he scored on a 27-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter.
QB Tom Savage filled the open spot created by Dalton’s placement on RI, becoming the second QB on the Bengals’ roster who was acquired on waivers from San Francisco. The 49ers had waived Savage on Saturday, and upon being awarded to Cincinnati on Monday afternoon, he immediately became the No. 2 QB on the Bengals’ depth chart.
As for Driskel, he said he is ready for the challenge of taking over the offense moving forward.
“At the end of the day, it’s my job to be prepared if Andy goes down,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been here. For the past three years, I’ve been preparing and making sure that when it’s time to go in, I’m ready to give our team a chance to win.”
According to Driskel, that chance to win means a chance to make the playoffs.
“We definitely are not out of it,” he said. “We have five more games, and we have to come out and win those games. We’ve put ourselves behind a little bit, but we still have five more games. We think we’re going to win the rest of our games this season and give ourselves a chance at the end of the year.”
The Broncos have won two straight contests and three of their last five, including a 24-17 home victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. They are led by head coach Vance Joseph, a former Bengals assistant coach under Lewis. Joseph was Cincinnati’s defensive backs coach in 2014 and ’15. He served as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator in 2016 prior to joining the Broncos as head coach in ’17.
Regardless of the intrigue surrounding Cincinnati’s QB transition and the interest of a Lewis-Joseph matchup, Sunday’s Bengals-Broncos contest primarily is an opportunity for one of the two teams to move ahead of the other in the pursuit of a playoff spot. The Bengals have lost five of their last six games, but Lewis, like Driskel, looks forward to the facing the challenge of positioning the Bengals more prominently in the playoff picture.
The series: Denver leads leads the all-time series 21-10 overall and 8-7 as the visiting team. Sunday’s matchup will be the eighth meeting between the two teams in the last 10 seasons.
Cincinnati won the last meeting, a 20-17 victory at Sports Authority Field at Mile High last season. That win snapped a 10-game Bengals losing streak in Denver, where they had not won since 1975. The Broncos won the last meeting at Paul Brown Stadium, 29-17 in 2016.
Broncos represent several firsts: The Broncos have been involved in several “firsts” for the Bengals:
- The first road game of any kind in Bengals history was a preseason contest on Aug. 10, 1968 at Denver. The Broncos beat Cincinnati 15-13 at Bears Stadium, Denver’s minor league baseball park (later renamed Mile High Stadium). It was the second preseason game in Bengals history, following an opener at home against Kansas City.
- The first regular-season home game and first regular-season victory for the Bengals franchise was a 24-10 decision over Denver on Sept. 15, 1968 at Nippert Stadium.
- On Sept. 7, 2003, the Broncos were the opponent in Marvin Lewis’ first regular-season game as Bengals coach. Denver won, 30-10 at Paul Brown Stadium.
- The Bengals’ 2004 win over Denver marked the first visit of Monday Night Football to Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals-Broncos connections: Broncos head coach Vance Joseph was on the Bengals’ staff as defensive backs coach from 2014-15 … Broncos NT Domata Peko Sr. was a fourth-round draft pick (123rd overall) of the Bengals in 2006 and was with the team through the 2016 season … Bengals DE Kasim Edebali played for the Broncos in 2017 … Bengals DT Niles Scott was on the Broncos’ practice squad earlier this season … Broncos defensive line coach Bill Kollar played for the Bengals from 1974-76 … Broncos DE Derek Wolfe and CB Linden Stephens (practice squad) played at the University of Cincinnati … Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman and CB Bradley Roby both played at Ohio State University … Broncos TE Jake Butt (Reserve/Injured) is from Pickerington, Ohio (Pickerington North High School) … Bengals DT Josh Tupou (Reserve/Injured) played at the University of Colorado … Broncos OLB Deiontrez Mount (Reserve/Injured) played at the University of Louisville … Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney coached for the Broncos from 2002-08 … Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni coached at Bowling Green State University from 2001-06, and at the University of Kentucky in 2011 … Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon coached at the University of Louisville in 2006 … Broncos quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan coached at Ohio University in 2001.