The Cincinnati Bengals have had an extra week to prepare for Sunday's game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, but still it may not be enough.
Although its his first game as a Bronco against Cincinnati, Manning built a perfect 7-0 record versus the Bengals during his illustrious tenure with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Bengals will not only try to end their struggles against Manning, but head coach Marvin Lewis' club also lost three in a row before heading into the bye last week. The three-game slide marks the longest losing streak for Cincinnati since it dropped 10 straight during a disastrous 4-12 campaign in 2010.
Cincinnati surrendered a total of 58 points over the last two weeks and was handed a 24-17 setback when it last played on Oct. 21 against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lewis has called upon all his players to perform better, but singled out second-year quarterback Andy Dalton in particular. Dalton is tied for second in the NFL with 10 interceptions this season and six of those picks happened over his last three games.
"Let's clean it up," Lewis told his team's website about Dalton's play. "We're looking for Andy to take the next step of being the leader of this football team. A very confident, vocal if he needs to be ... grab this football team by the back of its neck and let's go, let's move forward."
On the other side of the ball, Lewis pointed to middle linebacker Rey Maualuga as the guy who needs to step up and lead the struggling team on defense. All told, Cincinnati's D surrendered 431 yards of total offense to the Steelers in Week 7.
On Sunday, Maualuga and the defense will tangle with a Denver club that has the third-ranked offense in the NFL and the fourth-best passing attack.
Denver enters Sunday's game having won three of their last four contests and is currently one game ahead of San Diego and Oakland for first place in the AFC West.
In addition to Manning's perfect record against the Bengals, the Broncos also have dominated Cincinnati in the recent series. Denver has won three straight, four of five and 12 of the last 14 meetings against the Bengals.
Denver won the last time it played at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium on Sept. 12, 2009, earning a 12-7 triumph on Kyle Orton's 87-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley with 11 seconds left.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Manning has torched Cincinnati for 17 TD passes over his seven games against the club and the Bengals have managed to pick him off just three times. He has a career passer rating of 107.0 against Cincinnati.
Thanks to his stellar play over the last several weeks, an NFL record will be within Manning's reach this Sunday. By tossing for 305 yards and three TD passes last week against the Saints, Manning became the second QB in NFL history to throw for at least 300 yards and three TDs in four straight games.
On Sunday, Manning can tie the record set by Hall of Famer Steve Young, who posted five straight games of 300 yards and three TDs for San Francisco during the 1998 season.
"Peyton is a great quarterback; he's going to the Hall of Fame," Bengals safety Reggie Nelson told his team's website. "Peyton speaks for himself."
Manning injured the thumb on his throwing hand in the win over New Orleans, but he doesn't expect the bruise to affect his play this week.
"It's OK," said Manning of his thumb. "It's sore, but just more of an irritant than anything."
Cincinnati is in the middle of the pack in terms of passing defense this season, as the club is ranked 16th with 233.1 yards allowed through the air per week.
"Their defense is very physical," said Manning. "They play in a physical division. The teams that they play are good running teams, physical defense and Cincinnati matches that mold. I think their record is misleading."
The Bengals hope rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick can make things more difficult for Manning and the Denver offense this Sunday. Kirkpatrick, a University of Alabama product, was selected with the 17th overall pick in this year's draft but has yet to make his NFL debut due to a knee injury suffered back in July.
Kirkpatrick is expected to finally see action this weekend for Cincy and may even replace Terence Newman in the starting lineup against the Broncos.
Bengals star wide receiver A.J. Green has heaped praise on Kirkpatrick after facing the rookie in practice recently.
"He's long, he's physical, and he can run," Green said. "I can't wait to get him back out there."
Even if Kirkpatrick can step in and make an immediate impact, the Bengals know solid pass coverage is only one of the thing needed to slow down Manning. Since Manning likes to get rid of the ball quick, Cincy's secondary needs to limit his options so the pass rushers have a chance to disrupt the strong- armed QB.
"We have to come out and cover those guys and make him hold that ball so our D-line can get in there and get after him," added Nelson.
With 23 sacks, getting after the quarterback is something the Bengals have been able to do this year. Only Green Bay and Arizona boast more sacks than Cincy this season, but Denver's offensive line has only surrendered 10 sacks through seven games.
Manning's favorite target since joining Denver clearly has been Demaryius Thomas, who leads Broncos receivers in receptions (39), yards (679) and yards per catch (17.4).
Thomas' four TD catches also place him second on the team behind Eric Decker, who has pulled in five scores. Decker has scored in four straight games and this week he can become the fifth player in franchise history with a receiving score in five consecutive contests.
While the Bengals have their work cut out for them in slowing down Denver's formidable aerial attack, Cincy can't afford to forget about Broncos running back Willis McGahee either. McGahee posted a season-high 122 yards rushing against the Saints last week and is 10th in the NFL with 554 yards on the ground this season.
Cincy also needs a 60-minute effort against the Broncos, who are leading the NFL with a plus-76 scoring differential in the fourth quarter this season. The Bengals have been outscored 28-10 by the opposition over their last two fourth quarters.
Manning has had nothing but success when facing Cincinnati during his career and that trend should continue Sunday as the Broncos aim to even their road record at 2-2. Cincinnati, which 1-2 at home this season, will try to avoid losing its third consecutive home game, but with Manning on a roll that will be a difficult task.
Expect Cincy to come out strong before Manning starts finding his open receivers en route to another triumphant performance against the Bengals.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 27, Bengals 21