CINCINNATI (AP) — AJ McCarron will be watching from the sideline this time — at least, that’s what the Bengals hope — when Von Miller and company go after the quarterback.
Denver, too, will have a different signal caller from the one who led it to a pivotal win over the Bengals last Dec. 28.
In most other ways, their rematch on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium feels familiar. The Bengals (1-1) and Broncos (2-0) are doing the same things on offense and defense.
They were so closely matched in December that the game went to overtime, with Denver pulling out a 20-17 win when McCarron — filling in for the injured Andy Dalton — fumbled a snap in overtime.
That victory clinched a playoff spot for Denver, which went on to win the Super Bowl.
It cost the Bengals a chance for a first-round bye, and they wound up hosting and losing to Pittsburgh at home — their fifth straight year with a first-round flameout.
The rematch could turn on the two biggest changes.
Dalton is back after recovering from a broken right thumb that sidelined him for the last four games. He leads the NFL with 732 yards after two games — a product partly of Cincinnati’s inability to run effectively — and has settled in after his breakout 2015 season.
“It’s just a different team when Andy’s out there,” Miller said. “He has full hold of the offense. He’s able to make all the throws. He’s able to run the ball. He’s been there six years and when Andy’s in there, it’s just a different team. They’ve got No. 14 back this year and their passing is looking explosive.”
There’s a new face on the other side, too. Brock Osweiler led the Broncos’ comeback in Denver last December and was later replaced by Peyton Manning, who retired after winning the Super Bowl.
Trevor Siemian has won his first two starts — both in Denver — and now gets his first start on the road. Siemian has completed 68 percent of his passes with one touchdown and three interceptions for a below-average passer rating of 74.4.
His biggest problems have come when the Broncos are close to the goal line and everything is magnified.
“I think we’re doing some good things and we’re really, really close,” Siemian said. “We’re knocking on the door to being a special group, finishing those drives. We’ve had a good bit of success, which is encouraging and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Some things to watch on Sunday:
AGGIES HEAD-TO-HEAD: Bengals right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi makes his third NFL start. He’ll be trying to block Miller, a former Texas A&M teammate who was the Super Bowl MVP and had three sacks last Sunday in a win over Indianapolis.
“I love him to death, and I feel like he’s kind of the little brother,” Miller said. “I taught him everything I know pass-rush wise. I coached him up.”
ON THE RUN: The Broncos have taken a lot of the pressure off their young quarterback by running the ball very well. C.J. Anderson leads the NFL with seven runs of at least 10 yards. The Broncos are averaging 141 yards and 4.7 yards per carry, among the best in the league. And they’re going against a defense that has allowed the most yards rushing in the league.
GOING NOWHERE: By contrast, Cincinnati has gotten next to nothing out of its run game. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have combined for a total of 95 yards in the first two games. Cincinnati ranks second-to-last in the league in rushing, with its longest run only 12 yards.
“It’s a point of emphasis,” Dalton said. “We’re not running the ball how we want to.”
FAST START: The Bengals opened that game in Denver last season with touchdown drives of 80 and 90 yards. McCarron went 9 of 12 for 84 yards with a touchdown and two scrambles for 22 yards during the drives, which lasted 15 and 13 plays. Nobody else did that against the NFL’s top-ranked defense all season. Dalton will be looking to get ahead at the outset again.
FINALLY HOME: The Bengals opened the season with consecutive road games for the fourth time in franchise history. They were only 6-3 at Paul Brown Stadium last season, losing a Monday night game against Houston and two games against the Steelers, including the 18-16 playoff meltdown.
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