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Bengals: 5 Must-Win Games After the Bye

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Dec 22, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) runs the ball away from Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (98) during the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

5. Week 16: at Denver Broncos

Monday 12/28 at 8:30PM EST

The Bengals will play two games on Monday Night Football this season, the second of which is a rematch with the Denver Broncos. This prime time game will also take place just a week after the Bengals face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football in Week 15.

Cincinnati earned a victory over Denver in Week 16 of the 2014 season in a win that clinched a Bengals’ playoff berth. But unlike this game, last year’s match took place in Cincinnati. Playing on the road, in Denverin prime time is always scary, even if Peyton Manning is a shadow of his former self. The Broncos are a better team at home, and while the Bengals are still good on the road, they’re not as good as they are when they play in Cincinnati. The Broncos are the Bengals’ biggest threat to earning a first-round bye, given that the Patriots are almost a lock to sit out the first week of playoff action.

And while Manning isn’t who he used to be, the Broncos defense is easily the NFL’s best defense. Andy Dalton had a rough time against the Broncos in last season’s matchup, but that was before the Broncos’ defense was playing like one of the best units in history. The key to victory in this matchup is going to be the Bengals’ ability to run the ball. Jeremy Hill rattled off an 85-yard touchdown run in last season’s contest that was one of the difference-making plays of Cincinnati’s entire season; he’s going to have to come up huge in this game as well.

Whoever wins this game will likely be the team that earns a first-round bye in the playoffs alongside New England, while the loser of this game will likely face the AFC’s sixth seed, which could end up being a team like the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders or San Diego Chargers. This game, along with Cincinnati’s upcoming matchup against the Steelers, could easily be one of the Bengals’ two most important games in the entire 2015 season. Let’s hope that the Bengals can come out on top.

Next: 10 Bengals Who Should Make the Pro Bowl

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