The Denver Broncos’ 31-23 win over the Cincinnati Bengals won’t fall in the category of dazzling, eye-catching wins. Not with the way the now 3-5 Bengals have been playing and for the fact that Denver seemed to take a while to get into gear. But the way the Broncos ended up winning has to be noted.
This wasn’t the Peyton Manning Show. To be sure, the veteran quarterback had a good game. But the Denver offensive line did a yeoman’s job in pass protection against a talented defensive front four. Denver’s own pass rush was outstanding, as Von Miller keyed a defense that recorded five sacks and six more QB hits. This win comes on top of last week’s victory over New Orleans, where the Broncos dominated on the ground. The Broncos of John Elway and Peyton Manning are suddenly looking like a very complete football team at the midway point of the season.
Denver is still at 5-3, and I suppose we have to acknowledge that San Diego, at 4-4, could catch them in the AFC West. But not only do the Broncos have a head-to-head win on the road over their division rival, but the schedules of both teams were weighted as such that it was the Chargers who needed to be out in front. Sunday’s road trip to Cincinnati was the kind of potential slip-up that Denver had to avoid and they not only did it, they showed continued overall improvement as a team. On this Election Morning, this is one race that’s decidedly not as close as current polling shows.
Here’s rundown on notable developments in the other seven divisions in NFL Week 9…
AFC EAST: Miami’s loss in Indianapolis was a blow to their playoff hopes and kept the Dolphins from moving into a tie with idle New England in the AFC East. Just as disappointing for Miami is that even with the Indy ground attack non-existent and Andrew Luck forced the air, the Dolphin pass rush only registered one sack.
AFC NORTH: We featured the Steelers last week and talked about how their running game is on the move. Pittsburgh could just as easily have been the lead this time around, as Isaac Redman ran for 147 yards in a clutch 24-20 road win over the New York Giants. Pittsburgh overcame a bad call that gave the Giants a long fumble return for a touchdown on what clearly should have been ruled an incomplete pass by Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh is at 5-3, while Baltimore barely survived Cleveland to get 6-2. The way both AFC North powers are playing right now, the Steelers have the feel of a first place team, even a game out.
AFC SOUTH: I’m going to dig into Houston a little more sometime in the next couple weeks, but I just don’t like the feel of this team right now. I picked them to win the AFC title at the start of the year and they’re 7-1, so I should be happy. But sluggish wins, like Sunday’s 21-9 victory over Buffalo are too frequent. I’m concerned that this is a team destined for a 13-3 season and #1 playoff seed, then a quick loss at the hands of a Denver, New England or Pittsburgh.
NFC EAST: We noted how this division was in the spotlight in the previews of Week 9, and they come up flat across the board. The Giants’ loss was mentioned above. Dallas lost on Sunday night in Atlanta because they couldn’t stop Michael Turner on the ground. Philadelphia got what they needed from LeSean McCoy last night in New Orleans, as they dominated the running game. But Michael Vick threw a 99-yard pick-six in the first quarter, a play that realistically ends playoff hopes for the 3-5 Eagles, and with it the Philadelphia tenures of Vick and Andy Reid are all over but the shouting. Washington lost an ugly penalty-ridden game at home to Carolina.
NFC NORTH: This was seen as perhaps the toughest division in football when the season began and after some early bumps, it might gain that status. Chicago blasted Tennessee 51-20 on the strength of defense and forcing five turnovers. Green Bay played a good overall game in beating Arizona and the bye week comes at the right time for the 6-3 Packers to get people healthy. Detroit might be playing their way back into contention, moving to 4-4 with a win over Jacksonville and at least giving themselves a chance against the better teams on their schedule coming up. Minnesota’s loss to Seattle drops them to 4-4, but the Vikes at least have a clear identity with Adrian Peterson running the ball and while they don’t like playoff-caliber, they don’t look on the verge of a meltdown either.
NFC SOUTH: Tampa Bay is either the best bad team or the worst good team in the league, depending our your perspective. Doug Martin had a huge day running the ball in Sunday’s win at Oakland and Josh Freeman looks like’s back to his 2010 form. But this team cannot rush the passer to save its life, as Carson Palmer nearly brought the Raiders back from a 28-10 deficit, closing to 35-32, before Tampa Bay tacked on a clinching touchdown. The Bucs are 4-4 and the standings tell us they have a shot at the NFC’s final wild-card spot. The offensive talent tells us they’ll be entertaining week-to-week. But the inability to get a pass rush in even the most obvious throwing situations tells us not to plan on seeing them play anytime beyond Week 17.
NFC WEST: San Francisco and St. Louis were both idle, and Arizona’s loss to Green Bay shows the Cards are still both struggling and wounded. As for Seattle—well, to borrow Dennis Green’s famous phrase, they are who we thought they were. Sunday’s 30-20 win over Minnesota came because they ran the ball, pressured the quarterback well on defense, played tough pass coverage and got efficient play from Russell Wilson. At home, the Seahawks continue to be a tough out. At 5-4, it’s about whether they can get enough road wins to make the playoffs.