Hobson's Choice: Nation waits on Bengals

Don't you think that the national media (for this upcoming season)is overlooking the Bengals? Afterall, when you look at how tough the Bengals (8 and 8) played the Steelers and the Patriots last year, they have to give the Bengals real consideration next season.

OVERLOOK: It's actually been pretty decent out there, except for some lame bad scouting jokes by Chris Berman on Draft Day. Hey,. St. Ozzie Newsome must have been giving his scouts mileage, too, sine the Ravens, not to mention the Bills, took their first two picks from the same school like the Bengals did. And the Cardinals must have got the U.S. Sen. George Allen discount with three straight picks from either Virginia or Virginia Tech.

The Bengals are giving off a whiff of being the NFL's surprise where-did-they-come-from team in the tradition of the '99 Rams, '01 Patriots, '02 Falcons, and '04 Chargers. They know the Bengals are here.

But, let's face it. After two seasons at 8-8 and going into the third year of a head coach, they are no longer national media darlings like they were in 2003. They have to make the story compelling like they did with the biggest turnaround in the league and the only way to do that now is to turn 8-8 into the playoffs.

Maybe no noise is good noise. If there is a lot of national screeching, that usually means you're real good or real bad. Silence means they're sitting on the fence, quietly waiting.

Still, there are eyes viewing Paul Brown Stadium from afar.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen got on the Bengals' bandwagon right after the season and has stayed on it right through the drafting of linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman. In the old days, Berman would have punched the Bengals senseless like some sort of Dan Wilkinson rag doll, but Mortensen wouldn't let him do it.

ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli has been a guy not given to the knee-jerk reactions and has theorized for a long time that the Bengals weren't cheap but spent a lot of bad money. He has written long and well about how Lewis has changed the perception and roster, and requested his PBS press pass long before everyone else for the game they knocked off the unbeaten Chiefs in '03.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline has felt for the last two years the Bengals have been on the verge and he gave their draft an A last month.

So there are people looking, but they also know they're looking at the toughest division in football. The Steelers and Ravens are clearly the class of the AFC North. You have to pay attention to them first if you're not in the market.

Yet, here's how you know the national media is noticing. ESPN draftnick Mel Kiper Jr. gave them an A-minus for their work last month, in part for, "thanks to his great physical attributes receiver Chris Henry is a good gamble in the third round despite some character questions. Fellow wideout Tab Perry was a sensible pick in the sixth."

In the old days, Kiper would have crushed the Bengals on the character issue instead of glossing it over, but he didn't even bring it up on Perry or linebacker Odell Thurman. Which means, now they're beginning to get treated like the rest of the league.

In order to get more of the constant attention, they'll have to play better than the rest of the league. 2-14 or 11-5 is a headline. 8-8 is a note.

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