The AFC's wildcard race will take center stage on Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals make the trip to face the Denver Broncos.
Both teams enter at 7-6, with Cincinnati still alive in the AFC North fight while Denver's hope of returning to the postseason is surely via the wildcard.
Find out which team will earn a vital win with our free NFL picks and predictions for Bengals vs. Broncos, with kickoff on December 19.
Bengals vs Broncos odds
Odds via the Covers Line, an average comprised of odds from multiple sportsbooks.
The Broncos opened as 1.5-point home favorites and action on Denver has seen the spread grow to Broncos -3. The total hit the board at 43.5 and has grown slightly to 44.
Bengals vs Broncos predictions
- Prediction: Bengals +3 (-110)
- Prediction: Under 44 (-110)
- Best bet: Joe Mixon Over 68.5 rushing yards (-115)
Predictions made on 12/16/2021 at 4:00 p.m. ET.
Click on each prediction to jump to the full analysis.
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Bengals vs Broncos game info
• Location: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
• Date: Sunday, December 19, 2021
• Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
• TV: CBS
Bengals at Broncos betting preview
Bengals: Vernon Hargreaves CB (Questionable), Riley Reiff T (Out), Logan Wilson LB (Out), Logan Wilson LB (Out), Auden Tate WR (Out).
Broncos: Melvin Gordon RB (Probable), Javonte Williams RB (Probable), Shelby Harris DE (Questionable), Kareem Jackson CB (Questionable), Dre'Mont Jones DT (Doubtful), Kenny Young LB (Doubtful), Malik Reed LB (Out), Graham Glasgow G (Out).
Find our latest NFL injury reports.
Betting trend to know
The Bengals are 4-2 ATS on the road this season. Find more NFL betting trends for Bengals vs. Broncos.
Bengals vs Broncos picks and predictions
Our predictions are compiled from the analysis of the spread and total and are indications of where we are leaning for this game.
Our best bet is the play that we like the most for this game, which we would actually put some of our bankroll behind.
The Denver Broncos, who began the year 3-0 before dropping four straight, remain confounding. Since the calendar turned to November, there has been a dominant win over the Cowboys in Dallas, then a loss at home to the Eagles in which they had their pride taken. Then, a big win over the Chargers coming off a bye... which was followed by another pathetic showing against the Chiefs in primetime.
Strong games on offense against L.A. and Detroit since the bye has pushed Denver up to 10th in weighted DVOA on offense but efficiency has never been an issue — an inability to finish drives has been. The Broncos' offense is 20th in scoring, 16th in points per drive, and 19th in red zone scoring, barely ahead of the Jags and Falcons.
Strong performances on offense have been predicated on the blossoming 1-2 punch of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams on the ground but they meet a tough test this week in the Bengals' 10th ranked run D by DVOA.
On the other side, what the Bengals lack in efficiency they make up for in production. Cincinnati is 20th in weighted DVOA and yards per drive but they do a superb job of finishing drives. The Bengals are 11th in points per drive, 12th in drive success rate, and eighth in red zone scoring rate. Despite the Broncos' place above Cincinnati in efficiency metrics, if there is an offense to trust in this spot, it's the Bengals'.
Denver is nearly entirely unpredictable and, in a given week, capable of delivering an absolute stinker. There's more stability from Cincinnati. On balance, the Bengals are the better team. Add in their success on the road — 4-2 away from home against the spread this year — and we'll happily take the underdog Bengals.
Prediction: Bengals +3 (-110)
As stated above, we expect the Broncos' offense to struggle on Sunday with their tailback duo of Gordon and Williams contained by a Bengals front anchored by Larry Ogunjobi and DJ Reader, the latter of whom remains maddeningly underrated as possibly the league's best run-stuffer outside of Vita Vea.
Some of Denver's flattest performances this year — seven against Baltimore, 14 against Cleveland, 13 against Philly — came with a dud on the ground. Averaging just 21.2 points per game this year, in a bad matchup, we expect the Broncos to go Under their team total of 23.5.
On the Bengals' side, while there's a lot of faith placed in their offense, the matchup plays a part too. While the efficiency hasn't always been there, the Bengals have had some staggeringly run-heavy games. Their run rate is above league average, handing it off on 43% of plays. Against a terrible Denver run defense, Mixon should be looking at another major workload after totaling 95 carries over the last four weeks.
Mixon will have success and so too will Cincinnati's offense, but the reliance on the running game will keep that clock ticking. That added element into a matchup between two of the NFL's four slowest offenses in neutral scripts only reaffirms the pick here.
Prediction: Under 44 (-110)
Mixon's outstanding season has slowed over the last two weeks, as he ground out 112 yards on 37 carries against the Chargers and 49ers. His flat performance against L.A.'s terrible run defense, while disappointing, isn't too discouraging as Cincinnati was trailing from the jump, while San Francisco's elite run defense predictably swallowed him up.
One of the league's best tailbacks this season, Mixon has an excellent spot to get back on track Sunday in Denver. The Broncos are a lowly 25th against the run, per DVOA, and just allowed a hyper-efficient 83 yards to a "Craig Reynolds" in their win over the Lions.
Mixon has been a great bet to get into the paint this year, with 12 rushing scores already, but Denver has allowed the second-fewest rushing touchdowns on the year. Instead, we'll take the Bengals' runner to top his rushing yards total.
Pick: Joe Mixon Over 68.5 rushing yards (-115)