CINCINNATI, Ohio -- The heat assaults the senses. The calendar insists it's September. But Sunday, it was smoking hot on the Paul Brown Stadium turf, in the 90s. The Broncos played in similar weather at Chicago in August. The difference was the starters didn't go a full game.
The weather could be a factor in this regard: the Broncos' depth will be tested on the offensive and defensive lines.
Las Vegas believes the Broncos will lose, casting them as a 3.5-point underdog. The Broncos have a real chance to win this game. They won six games on the road last year because of their ability to grind it out and keep it to a one-possession game late.
Here are the inactive players before nibbling on some final pregame bites: Austin Davis, Lorenzo Doss, Justin Simmons, the lone surprise but he's dealing with a broken bone in his left wrist and will be replaced by Shiloh Keo, Connor McGovern, Donald Stephenson, Virgil Green and DeMarcus Ware.
1) The Bengals aren't as good as they used to be
Quarterback Andy Dalton is better than most think. His habit of delivering bad games in big games colors his overall career. He is a strong player. But he doesn't run around like he once did. And the Bengals don't run at all this season. Dalton lost his No. 2 and No. 3 receivers this offseason. Tight end Tyler Eifert is inactive. If the Bengals can't run, they won't win. Why? Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett should play well in significant snaps. And Von Miller is the most talented player on the field, and he will make a difference if Dalton drops back more than 35 times.
2) Can the Broncos offensive line keep its momentum?
The Broncos rank fourth in rushing at 141 yards per game. It took half of last season to approach that type of consistency. But the line is not whole. Right tackle Donald Stephenson is out with a left calf strain, and he told Denver7 he could miss next week at Tampa Bay as well. Ty Sambrailo will start at right tackle, where he's never taken an NFL snap. His return from a hyper-extended right elbow leaves Michael Schofield at right guard. This is the Broncos' best alignment. Darrion Weems will be the backup guard. He struggled last week. If Sambrailo can be effective, the Broncos should run the ball well and keep Trevor Siemian upright against a menacing defense. The absence of linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who is serving the final game of a suspension, is significant.
3) Will special teams step up?
If the Broncos win this game, it will likely be low-scoring. It means field position -- looking at you rookie punter Riley Dixon -- and field goals carry added weight. Brandon McManus was one of the Broncos' MVPs last season. This sets up as this season's breakout game.