Free NFL Picks: Bet Bengals +3 vs. Visiting Broncos for MNF

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 8:48 PM UTC

Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 8:48 PM UTC

There have been some lousy Monday Night Football matchups this season, but that all changes with the season finale this Monday when Denver visits Cincinnati in a matchup of division leaders. The Broncos are 3-point favorites on Bookmaker NFL odds.

Bye on Broncos' Minds
Denver (11-3) no doubt will be watching intently the Patriots at Jets game on Sunday afternoon. If New York can pull the upset, and the Jets nearly won in Foxboro in Week 7, then the Broncos would have a path to the top seed in the AFC by winning out. Denver will clinch at worst the No. 2 seed with a win Monday. It closes with what should be a sure win Week 17 vs. Oakland. The Patriots (also 11-3 but hold head-to-head tiebreaker vs. Denver) finish at home vs. a good Buffalo team. You know Denver doesn't want to have to go to Foxboro for an AFC title game.

The Broncos clinched their fourth straight AFC West title last week with a 22-10 win in San Diego that crushed the Chargers' playoff hopes. C.J. Anderson, not Peyton Manning, appears to have become the focal point of the Denver offense. He had 29 carries for 85  yards vs. San Diego, his third game in the past four with at least 27 carries. Manning has attempted just 20 passes in each of the past two games, completing 14. He was ill before the Chargers game, to be fair. Manning hasn't thrown for more than 257 yards since Denver's last loss, coming Nov. 16 in St. Louis.

The Denver defense got a double whammy of bad news at linebacker. Danny Trevathan, the team's leading tackler in 2013, got hurt again and he was put on season-ending injured reserve. Brandon Marshall, the Broncos' leading tackler this season, suffered a sprain in his right foot during the second quarter against the Chargers. Marshall said he would be out a week or two. Earlier this season, the Broncos lost starting middle linebacker Nate Irving to a season-ending knee injury. That means there will be a trio of rookies -- Lamin Barrow, Todd Davis and Corey  Nelson -- getting playing time at linebacker this week.

The Denver defense is improved this year under coordinator Jack Del Rio after a few big offseason additions such as DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib. The Broncos are No. 4 in total defense (19th last year) and T6 in sacks (38). Last year the Broncos held just three opponents to 17 or fewer points. This year: seven, including the past three.

The Broncos are 7-7 against the NFL betting spread this season and 8-6 'over/under.'


Bengals Control AFC North Destiny
The simplest thing for Cincinnati (9-4-1) to do is win out, and it would take the AFC North for the second year in a row. The Bengals finish at Pittsburgh next week. Cincy clinches at worst a wild-card spot with a win here. It also could take the field knowing it doesn't have to win as the team clinches a playoff spot with losses Sunday by Kansas City (at Pittsburgh), San Diego (at San Francisco) and Buffalo (at Oakland). The Chiefs and Chargers are underdogs at sportsbooks.

Cincinnati ruined Johnny Manziel's debut last week with a 30-0 domination of the Browns in Cleveland. It was probably the  most dominant defensive effort by any team all year as the Browns had 107 total yards, five first downs and two giveaways. Andy Dalton didn't have a good game vs. the Browns, going just 14 of 24 for 117 yards with a pick. But rookie running back Jeremy Hill continued his late surge with 25 carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns. If there was ever any doubt that Hill  has stolen the job from former starter Gio Bernard, there isn't now. The Broncos rank second in the NFL in rushing defense and have allowed over 100 yards rushing only once since Week 3. Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham missed the Cleveland game with a toe injury, but Marvin Lewis expects him Monday. Gresham has 50 catches for 378 yards and three scores.

Some bad news for Bengals backers this week: Including the playoffs, the team is 2-9 in prime-time games since 2011, the year Dalton became the starting quarterback. Cincinnati is 7-6-1 against the spread this season and 5-9 'over/under' on NFL odds.


Last Meeting
For your NFL picks keep in mind that Denver has won four straight against the Bengals. The last was in 2012 in Cincinnati when the Broncos prevailed 31-23. Manning, who has never lost to Cincinnati in his career, threw for 291 yards and three TDs but did have two interceptions. Cincinnati did lead 20-17 early in the fourth before Manning led two touchdown drives. In eight career games vs. Cincinnati, Manning has completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,118 yards, 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His passer rating against the Bengals is 106.8.

NFL Free Picks: Bengals +3 (perhaps buy up to 3.5) and 'under' 47.5 points at 5Dimes. Denver has covered one of its past six Monday games. Cincinnati has covered six straight at home vs. teams with a winning road record. The 'under' is 5-1 in Cincinnati's past six overall.

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