Bengals 12th in salary

Welcome to the changing world of NFL economics.

With daily moves crunching numbers around the league, the Bengals go into the season's final game with less room under the salary cap than some post-season teams.

According to figures culled from a variety of sources, the Bengals have less room to spend under the cap than three teams who are headed to the playoffs.

And if playoff teams were decided by 2000 salaries, the Bengals would be going. Their average salary of $1.19 million is 12th in the NFL, where the high is $1.47 million, the low is $862,200, and the average is just over $1 million.

The Bengals also spent more than the average team in 2000 when it came to salaries and bonuses. Cincinnati paid out $68.1 million, more than 14 other teams. NFL teams' spending ranged from $92.57 million to $55.1 million, and averaged $67.9 million.

The Bengals' total of actual money spent was $5.3 million over the salary cap this season, with pro-rated signing bonuses allowing up-front money to be counted in future years.

But that's a trend. The Bengals paid out $11.2 million over the cap in 1998 and $2.7 million last year, putting them $19.2 million "cash over cap," for the past three seasons.

MATCHUPS: The Bengals are 60 minutes from Christmas. So close, they don't have to take the team charter back to Cincinnati. The Eagles are 60 minutes from a home playoff game if they win.

So how will the young, out-of-it Bengals fare against a juiced Philly crowd? A crowd that Bengals coach Dick LeBeau once saw boo Ronald McDonald when he was an Eagles assistant coach 20 years ago.

It's a nice test for LeBeau's philosophy of train ing his team to play like they are preparing for next year's playoffs.

Bengals RG Mike Goff tries to stop Eagles DT Corey Simon's march to Defensive Rookie of the Year. Bengals left tackle John Jackson has his hands full on the other side against the 15 sacks of Eagles DE Hugh Douglas.

Bengals RB Corey Dillon gets a preview of a Pro Bowl matchup against Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter. Bengals LOLB Steve Foley must match athleticism with Eagles QB Donovan McNabb. So does Bengals PR Peter Warrick vs. Eagles PR/KR Brian Mitchell.

GOFF VS. SIMON: The Bengals felt Goff played well last week against Jacksonville's Gary Walker, a player the Cincinnati offensive line gave a Pro Bowl vote.

The 6-2, 290-pound Simon has racked up 9.5 sacks, which is second only to the incomparable Warren Sapp among NFC tackles. Simon is extremely quick and forms a relentless tandem with Douglas that has helped Philly to the fifth most sacks in the league with 48.

Here's the thing. Simon and Douglas are consistent. Each hasn't had more than 2.5 sacks in a game, and one of them has at least half a sack in all but one game.

JACKSON VS. DOUGLAS: Nice I-75 matchup here with Woodward High's Jackson vs. Central State's Douglas. The 280-pound Douglas is still a bit undersized, but he put on about 10-15 pounds during the offseason and is having the finest of his six seasons.

Douglas is already past his career high of 12.5 sacks and is a major reason the Eagles are in the NFL's top seven in four key pass defense categories: passing yards (7), opponent's passer's rating (5), third down efficiency (4) and touchdown percentage in the red zone (5). **

DILLON VS. TROTTER:** Dillon needs 145 yards to become the 10th player in NFL history to rush for 5,000 yards in his first four seasons. Good luck.

The Eagles hold people to 115 yards per game and haven't given up 140 to a running back all year. They have been nicked for three 100-yard games in the past five games, but the 261-pound Trotter is a huge obstacle. He's got double-digit tackles in 11 games. **

FOLEY VS. MCNABB:** If the Eagles beat the Bengals, it's because McNabb hurts them running and Foley has to do what he's done during the Bengals' last two wins in containing mobile Jake Plummer of Arizona and Mark Brunell of Jacksonville:

Keep the QB in the pocket and don't let him get outside.

Of course, McNabb is a running back compared to those other two guys and he's had to be since the Eagles lost running back Duce Staley in the sixth game with a foot injury.

McNabb leads the Eagles in rushing with 609 yards on an NFL-best 7.6 yards per carry and is accounting for 75 percent of the Eagles' yards.

In the last month, the Bengas have seen a spate of mobile QBs in Plummer, Brunell, Steve McNair and Kordell Stewart. Stewart hurt them running with two big third-down conversions and McNair did damage rolling out with a run-pass option. **

WARRICK VS. MITCHELL:** With last week's 82-yard punt return against the Jags, Warrick became the first Bengal ever to score a touchdown receiving, rushing and returning in the same season and joins Stanford Jennings as the only Bengal to do it in his career.

Then there's the 32-year-old Mitchell, the NFL's all-time leader in kick and punt returns. He's got Warrick beat by one this year in scoring a TD rushing, receiving, and returning a kick and a punt. He also scored four different ways for Washington in 1997 and is one of just two men (Gale Sayers) to do that twice in a career since 1960.

**

NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this weekend, including 22. That's the number of points the Bengals need to avoid becoming the 10th team to score fewer than 200 points since the 16-game schedule began in 1978. The Browns are done and ninth with 161, the same number of points the pre-McNabb Eagles scored in 1998. . .more

30.3 _ Bengals' average points when Dillon gets at least 125 yards.

13-5 _ Bengals record when Dillon carries at least 22 times.

11/25/76 _ Donovan McNabb's date of birth.

9/11/88 _ Bengals last win in Philadelphia.

12/2/90 _ Bengals' last win over a winning team on the road.

18 _ Interceptions by the Eagles this season.

20 _ Bengals interceptions in last two seasons.

24.5 _ Sacks by Eagles DE Hugh Douglas and DT Corey Simon.

24 _ Bengals' sacks this season.

7.6 _ McNabb's NFL-best per rush average.

4.7 _ Dillon's second-best per rush average among AFC's top four rushers, behind only Denver's Mike Anderson (5.2).

SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS: A few weeks ago, Bengals rookie long snapper Brad St. Louis called a buddy working in Hollywood looking for ideas on a unique wedding proposal. St. Louis wanted to pop the question to high school sweetheart Michelle Smith, but was looking for something non-traditional.

It turns out that St. Louis' friend got a call the next day about a TV show being shot in Amsterdam on off-beat proposals and he got the two together.. . .more

This past Tuesday, the players' off day, they shot the spot at Paul Brown Stadium. But it was under the guise of a "Bengals Weekly," special and Michelle thought she was being interviewed about a story on St. Louis documenting a typical week in the life of an NFL rookie.

While she stood in the end zone, St. Louis' face suddenly came on the big stadium screen talking about how he had two dreams in his life.

One was to play in the NFL. The other was to marry her. Then he walked out of the tunnel on to the field in a tux with the ring.

They fly to Amsterdam in February for the show and if it's deemed the best proposal, they'll be married there.

**

BENGALS' FRIDAY INACTIVES:** FB Clif Groce, MLB Adrian Ross, C Craig Heimburger, CB Robert Bean.

DT John Copeland is expected to play with a strained calf. If he can't start, Tom Barndt gets the nod.

**

WEATHER CALL:** Cloudy. Possible snow flurries that won't stick. High of 35 degrees.

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