The Broncos got on the scoreboard first as Aqib Talib made an interception on Andy Dalton when the quarterback's pass was too high for AJ Green, and the cornerback made the pick and ran it back to the endzone for a 33-yard touchdown.
Cincinnati responded immediately as Jeremy Hill found a crease in the defense and sprinted through the gap and managed to get behind a blocker to run all the way into the endzone for an 85-yard score.
The Bengals took the lead in the game when Mike Nugent drilled a 37-yard field goal through the posts. The home side were able to take control of the game as Reggie Nelson intercepted Peyton Manning to set up a score from Jermaine Gresham on the goalline from a one-yard Dalton pass.
Nugent put his side further ahead as Dalton spurned the chance to notch another touchdown, but the kicker showed his composure to put the 49-yarder between the posts. At the other end, Connor Barth missed his kick from the same distance as time expired.
However, Marvin Lewis's side hit back as Adam Jones ripped off a huge kick return to put his team in Denver territory, while Dalton put them back in control as he fired a 22-yard strike to Giovani Bernard for a touchdown.
The Broncos came roaring back into the match as Manning found his rhythm with a huge strike to Emmanuel Sanders down the sideline, and the 38-year-old then hit the receiver for a four-yard strike in the endzone.
The same combination worked again for John Fox's side as they took the lead when Manning fired a strike to the back of the endzone for Sanders, after Von Miller had made a crucial play to stop a Bengals drive by stripping Hill of the ball on the five-yard line.
Cincinnati wrestled back control of the game when Nugent fired over from 23 yards to give them a narrow two-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Manning had the chance to try to steal the match for his side, but he threw a pick-six to Dre Kirkpatrick to all but hand the Bengals the win.
There was time for one late drive for the Broncos to give themselves a glimmer of hope, but the quarterback was intercepted again by Kirkpatrick to end the match and put Lewis's men in the playoffs.
The defeat for the Broncos allowed the New England Patriots to lock up the number one seed in the AFC and leaves Fox's men battling to secure a first-round bye with the Bengals in their respective matches on the final day of the season.