The Denver Broncos are the defending Super Bowl champions and have started the 2016 NFL season with a 2-0 mark.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who were a media darling this offseason to finally break through their playoff slump and compete for a Super Bowl, are 1-1. These two AFC titans face off at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m. ET) with early-season playoff implications already in play.
The big headline for this game will be how Broncos' first-year quarterback Trevor Siemian handles his initial start on the road.
With wins at home against the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts, a real challenge lies ahead in Ohio for the young quarterback. How Siemian and a shuffled offensive line handle the crowd noise and defense of Cincinnati will be interesting to watch.
While the second-year quarterback hasn't put up impressive statistics, he also hasn't been the worst quarterback to start for a Super Bowl champion either. That could send the team in a different direction if he struggles on the road in this contest.
The Bengals finally get a home game after losing a hard-fought battle in Pittsburgh, 24-16, this past Sunday. They squeaked out a major AFC win in Week 1, on the road with a 23-22 victory over the New York Jets.
Even with a split record, Cincinnati is looking up at the Steelers (2-0) and the Baltimore Ravens (2-0) in the AFC North. Some home cooking and friendly confines could be just the remedy the Bengals need to get back on that winning track.
“We knew that the beginning of the schedule was going to be a big challenge. We came into this game (Pittsburgh) with an opportunity to steal one on the road. We slugged it out the whole game. We'll continue to grow each week,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said about the tough schedule the Bengals face in the first three weeks.
This contest pits one of the best defenses in the NFL against one of the top offenses.
Denver is allowing its opponents an average of 293 yards per game. The Broncos tied for the NFL lead with Seattle for the fewest yards per play at 4.4. Denver boasts outside linebacker and Week 2 AFC Defensive Player of the Week Von Miller, who leads the NFL in sacks with four.
“That's Von Miller, the most unblockable dude in the game. 99 on Madden, 99 swim move, 99 spin move, 99 across the board for that kid,” running back C.J. Anderson said of his defensive teammate.
Miller's strip-sack of quarterback Andrew Luck of the Colts sealed the game for the Broncos.
When Cincinnati has the football, there are two key matchups for which to watch. First, Miller against offensive tackles Whitworth and Cedric Ogbuehi. The Bengals' offensive line has given up eight sacks this season, which is the most in the league.
Ogbuehi is in his first season as a starter and while he has size and foot quickness, he struggled in both the pass and run blocking phases versus the Jets and Steelers.
If the Bengals need to use a tight end or running back to help block Miller in the passing game, this should free up a linebacker or another defensive lineman to rush quarterback Andy Dalton. However, the loss of outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware with a broken arm favors Cincinnati's offensive line.
The Bengals' offense, especially the passing attack, is hitting on all cylinders early in the 2016 campaign. Cincinnati is averaging 396.5 yards a game with an average play of 6.1 yards.
Dalton leads the league with 732 passing yards. The Bengals' offense has relied on the deep ball in leading the NFL with 13 passes of 20-plus yards.
The other matchup to watch is Broncos cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris against wide receiver A.J. Green. Green tore up the Jets' secondary for 180 yards but was held in check by an average secondary in Pittsburgh.
Denver's back half is as good as there is in the NFL. Both Talib and Harris have an interception on the season and the former returned his grab for a pick-six. Green has the size advantage over Harris, so look for Green to line up over the smaller player as much as possible in the game. The Broncos did give up a touchdown to Green in their game last season, but held the five-time Pro Bowler to 58 receiving yards.
On the flip side, the Broncos rushing attack is one of the best in the NFL and Anderson ranks sixth in the NFL with 83 yards rushing a game. The Bengals' run defense is statistically the worst in the NFL as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's unit has allowed 138 yards rushing per game at 4.2 yards an attempt.
But give this defense some credit: It has not allowed a rushing touchdown in 2016.
The Broncos' offensive line will be without starting right tackle Donald Stephenson due to a calf injury. His departure from the lineup means either Ty Sambrailo or Michael Schofield will man the right tackle position.
The Bengals' defensive line, especially left defensive end Carlos Dunlap, needs to apply pressure from the edge on the young signal-caller for the Broncos.