Denver Broncos vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Under the Radar Rivalry

A quiet rivalry has been brewing between the Queen City and Mile High.

Ask anyone about the current state of rivalries in the NFL and you'll probably get an annoying dissertation about just how swell it is that the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens are still going at it.

Oh boy, how great and nostalgic is it that, for 60 minutes twice a year, we can turn back the clock to 1974, when it was legal to put a choke-hold on wide receivers and concussions were good for you.  

Thanks, but no thanks. If I wanted to watch a 9-6 barnburner I'll switch over to Cardinals-Pirates on the MLB Network and then promptly take a nap. Furthermore, it's hard to get excited when you have a similar rooting interest for those two teams as you would for Alien vs. Predator (see Super Bowl XLIX).

Instead, feast your eyes upon some real rivalries like the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, or Eric Decker and flat ground.

In fact, there's another non-divisional rivalry in which five of the last six meetings have been one-score games.

I'm of course referring to the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals, two AFC powerhouses that have been in the playoffs every year since 2011. There's really no reason that this shouldn't be the late game, except NBC and ESPN have to fulfill their infuriating NFC East quota for another season.

Anyways, let's take a walk down memory lane and revisit the last ten years of Broncos-Bengals.

Dec. 24, 2006: Rookie quarterback Jay Cutler makes his fourth start for the Broncos on Christmas Eve. He and Carson Palmer trade touchdown passes until T.J. Houshmandzadeh draws the Bengals within an extra point of tying the game late in the fourth quarter. The snap goes through the holder's hands and Denver receives an early Christmas miracle at home, 24-23.

Sep. 13, 2009: Josh McDaniels' first game as head coach of the Broncos. Cedric Benson gives Cincy the lead with a minute to go. Kyle Orton, also in his first game with the Broncos, fires a desperation shot for Brandon Marshall. A Bengal deflects the pass into the waiting arms of Brandon Stokley, who races 87 yards to give the Broncos an impossible 12-7 victory to begin the season in Cincy. Gus Johnson suffers a mild heart attack in the process of calling the play. 18, 2011: Kyle Orton, in his final season as a Bronco, throws two touchdown passes to Eric Decker while Andy Dalton and A.J. Green connect for a touchdown in their second game as pros. Another rookie, Von Miller, records his first NFL sack and the home defense holds on as Denver succeeds by a score of 24-22.

Nov. 4, 2012: Trindon Holliday runs back a kickoff for a touchdown and Peyton Manning finds an early rhythm before being twice victimized by Terence Newman, who sets up the Bengals to take an early lead in the fourth quarter. Manning comes storming back and quickly thrown two touchdowns, one to Decker and another to Joel Dreessen as the Broncos escape Cincinnati with a 31-23 win.

Dec. 22, 2014: The Bengals strike back in front of their home crowd on a rainy Monday night. A freakish pick-six by Aqib Talib opens the scoring but the Bengals answer quickly with an 85-yard touchdown run from rookie Jeremy Hill. Manning throws 44 times and is picked off on four occasions, including two on his last two drives. The Bengals pull away with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Giovani Bernard and win in impressive fashion, 37-28.

Dec. 28, 2015: Denver exacts some Monday night revenge at home. A.J. McCarron and the Bengals dominate the first half, jumping out to a 14-0 lead, but Brock Osweiler  and C.J. Anderson bring the Broncos back to tie it up in the fourth quarter. With a chance to win in regulation, Brandon McManus shanks a field goal badly, but returns in overtime to give Denver the lead. Needing a score, A.J. McCarron fumbles a shotgun snap and DeMarcus Ware secures both the football and a thrilling 20-17 win.

Obviously, all but one of these games have been in Denver's favor, but these two teams will just about always guarantee a close contest. It's a shame the Bengals haven't been able to claw their way out of the Wild Card Round and meet the Broncos, who have earned a first-round bye in each of the last four years.

There's really no discernible reason why this Sunday's game shouldn't be as close as the rest of these past meetings. The Broncos play a brand of football that almost always leaves them in a heart-racing situation at the end of games, but are almost always good for a stop when they need one late. This week, there's a number of challenges the Bengals present that the Indianapolis Colts just couldn't.

First of all, the Broncos are on the road. Not only is it an iffy proposition to survive your quarterback's first away start, it's harder to get a pass rush on the road than it is at home because the opposing offense doesn't have to use a silent count.

Also, while Indy was razor thin at the cornerback position, Cincinnati might have one of the deepest corner groups in the league. Trevor Siemian will have to be sharp and avoid the same fate that Peyton Manning incurred the last time Denver played in Cincy.

Finally, the Bengals are a complete team supporting a good quarterback rather than a good-to-great quarterback supporting a bad team. It's not a mistake that the they're in the playoffs every year; Marvin Lewis has constructed an incredibly deep roster with very few flaws.

Those are just three reasons this Sunday's outing should be as challenging as the typical match-up has been for both historically. Throw in the fact that this early-season tilt could have big time playoff ramifications in the future and you've got yourself a marquee game.

It's not a rivalry that's been as highly touted as others, but in terms of pure quality, Broncos-Bengals is as good as it gets.

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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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