INDIANAPOLIS — Boomer Esiason, who has called more Super Bowls than Joe Montana won, surfaced here Thursday saying he thinks the Bengals have a shot to win the AFC North next season.
"Absolutely, because of two things," said Esiason, who is the analyst on Westwood One's national radio call. "Baltimore is old on defense and Pittsburgh isn't blowing up their whole team but they're going to lose a lot of players. I think the Bengals have a chance now. If they do it right. They've got to get some good players in there and with a couple of good draft picks this could be a team that is a formidable foe for both Pittsburgh and Baltimore."
In fact, Esiason says if the Browns draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III then the division could be flipped the next couple of years with Cincinnati and Cleveland at the top like when he and Bernie Kosar were quarterbacking the clubs in the mid to late '80s.
"Great time to be a Bengals fan," Esiason said as he headed into a taping in a room opposite the Madonna press conference. "What is there not to like about these young players? A.J. Green is a freak, man. What a great player he is. They had a great year, now they have to follow it up with a good offseason, a good training camp, use the draft picks for Carson Palmer the right way."
Esiason thinks this offseason is already off on the right foot with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden sticking. Esiason had the same system in Cincinnati for the first seven seasons of his career and thinks it's a boon for quarterback Andy Dalton.
"I like the fact they kept their coaches, which is important," he said. "All of a sudden Jay Gruden is the hot guy. I'm glad Andy is going to be able to keep him for another year at least. Maybe if he continues to have that success there, Jay Gruden will get a look somewhere else."
Esiason says if it wasn't for the cloudy status of No. 2 wide receiver Jerome Simpson, heading into free agency on a drug possession charge, the Bengals would have a full complement of playmakers. As it is, he says they have enough to build around.
"I think you have an active defense, but they can be a better defense; they can add a couple of guys here and there," Esiason said. "If it wasn't for this Jerome Simpson issue, you're fine from a playmaker standpoint. You need another running back or two and you'd always love to have an extra solid offensive lineman.
"But when you think you have the quarterback, the tight end, and the one wide receiver ready to go, now it's adding things piecemeal. It's not missing the biggest thing you need like the quarterback. Now you've got a good opportunity to start adding some pretty good players."
Esiason, a big Dalton guy, asked "How's Andy?" Told that the unflappable but ultra-competitive Dalton showed his first hint of frustration when he was allowed to throw just nine times in the second half of the bombs-away Pro Bowl, Esiason smiled.
"Good. But that's OK. They won," he said.
Esiason has never been a big Chad Ochocinco guy and he still isn't, but he held out hope for the six-time Pro Bowler that is now used like a sixth receiver when his Patriots play the Giants.
"Who knows? (Patriots coach Bill) Belichick has a way of kind of weaving guys in and all of a sudden he comes out of nowhere and makes plays. Maybe that's the plan for Ochocinco. If he's active," he said.
While many believe tight end Rob Gronkowsi's injured ankle means the Pats need Ocho on the outside, Esiason isn't too sure. He thinks the injury could lead to his deactivation.
"They only have two tight ends on the roster,'' he said. "How about the running game? The tight end in short yardage, goal line? That may come up at some point … they might have to have an extra offensive lineman."
Esiason can only shrug as he sums up The Ocho's season.
"He hasn't done it The Patriot Way as I understand it," he said. "You have to know your offense, you have to know where to be and if the quarterback doesn't trust you, you ain't finding your way on the field. That's why.
"And he's towards the end of his career. He's not the same player he was five, six, seven years ago when he was the most acrobatic and one of the great, high-flying wide receivers in the league. He basically tailed off."
ROOMIES: What are the odds?
Heading into his 29th season as the Bengals running backs coach, Jim Anderson is the NFL coach with the longest continuous service with one team.
His roommate and fellow co-captain at Cal Western in the early '70s, Patriots offensive line coach and assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia, is ending his 30th season in the NFL and 21st straight with New England.
Scarnecchia smiled at the mere mention of Anderson's name Thursday.
"He's very gray," he jabbed, and then very seriously, "Jim Anderson is a friend for life."
"We've known each other since we were 18," Anderson reminisced. "Great man, great coach."
They are both survivors. Belichick is Scarnecchia's fifth head coach with the Pats. Marvin Lewis is Anderson's fifth with the Bengals.
"You ever hear the expression, 'Don't be afraid to move the cheese?' " Anderson asked. "That means you have to be able to adjust. We both became grad assistants at Cal Western and they let us actually coach. We weren't gopher coaches. Go for this, go for that. We got in there right away and that helped us."
Scarnecchia is back in the Super Bowl four years after winning the Super Bowl with a line that has three new starters. Anderson heads into a draft the Bengals are supposedly looking for a new bell cow running back with an all-time top five rushing list in which Anderson has coached every yard.
"He's a great coach. Great attention to detail. Always has been," Scarnecchia said. "He's a great evaluator of talent. We'll be at the combine and I'll ask him about the top prospects and he won't tell me. He hides his notes. That's because he's a great coach."
Anderson and Scarnecchia always look forward to the combine, which takes place here in just two weeks. That's because they have no time to talk during the season.
"Our wives are the best of friends," Scarnecchia said. "Last year we were at a reunion out at Cal Western and had a great time. But during the season, it's too busy. No time. He knows that, I know that."
But Anderson has time Sunday to root for his roomie.
"Of course," he said.
What are the odds?