Updated: 2 p.m.
Phil Simms, the sugar-free No. 1 analyst on CBS-TV's No. 1 crew, arrived at Paul Brown Stadium Friday morning for practice and promptly declared Sunday's 4:15 p.m. Bengals-Steelers game "a knockdown dragout."
Simms, who never minces words, said he believes the Bengals are competing in the toughness category with the Steelers and Ravens in the AFC North. "Toughness'' is the first thing he listed when breaking down a team he studied in the preseason and the first two games.
"I can see it. I can see the attitude, the environment, the culture, whatever you want to say, it's changed, Simms said. "In the first two games I looked at them and went, 'Wow.' The defense (is) aggressive, hard-hitting. Running the football hard. Cedric Benson looks like the guy everyone expected him to be when he came out of the draft. And Carson Palmer and the receivers. For how long all everybody talked about was their passing game, Carson Palmer. Now the order has absolutely changed. I think it's good. I'm impressed."
Simms, calling the game with Jim Nantz, play-by-play man like no other, says the Steelers coming in and having their way with the Bengals is the wrong perception.
"The Bengals are going to try and get in that mix with the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens being that type of team," Simms said. "You know what? That's what you've got to be. You've got to win your division. You have to learn to compete with them and that's what they're doing."
Simms was a leader of a team with a great defense back in the '80s when he quarterbacked the Giants to a win in Super Bowl XXI and knows exactly what it means for an offense to be backed up as well as the Bengals defense has played.
"It's a really good sign. It would be a great sign for the team if it stays that way and the offense has less pressure and - I hate the term because it's overused - but they can manage the game more and be a little more selective how they call plays and chances they take. What they do to even help their defense instead of 'We have to pressure and score.'
"I've been thinking the same thing for the last three or four years. This might be the Bengals year. I kind of say that to people and I didn't say it this year because I fall in that trap. I say it all the time. But we'll see."
FANENE OUT: Defensive lineman Jon Fanene, who missed Thursday's practice with an illness, wasn't on the field in the first hour of Friday morning's damp, chilly practice on the PBS field. Everybody else was dressed.
After practice Lewis said his team is as healthy as he can remember, although there have been extra precautions with Fanene and defensive end Michael Johnson both coming down with the flu. He thinks they'll be OK Saturday, but everyone is aware of the Swine Flu crisis.
"You're getting guys out of the building and evaluated as opposed to staying in the building and then evaluating them," Lewis said. "You don't want the whole group to come down with it. Obviously that would be catastrophic."
Cornerback David Jones (foot) was limited and declared out. Johnson and Fanene are questionable while wide receiver Chris Henry (quad), running back Cedric Benson (ankle) and cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ankle) had a full practice Friday.
WEATHER CHECK: There is no rain in Sunday's forecast when the Bengals play the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in a 4:15 p.m. game under partly sunny skies. The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio says winds could gust up near 20 miles per hour, but for most of the game winds are expected to be about 14 miles per hour out of the south and west. Temperature at kickoff is going to be 76 degrees and normal humidity with dewpoints in the mid 50s.