Hobson's Choice: Prove it

Q: Is it just me or does it seem like the so-called "experts" aren't giving the Bengals the respect they deserve for this upcoming season? Most of the power rankings on various websites have us listed around 10 or below and then I read Peter King's rankings where he has us at 18th and the Detroit Lions at 10! Do you think it was because of the ending of last season? Because Denver had a similar ending yet is still listed in most top five rankings. I just can't wait for this season to start and we can silence all those pundits out there.
--Sonny K., Vancouver, B.C.

SONNY: You get what you deserve. They finished the season with all the momentum of John McCain and that's what everybody remembers until September. Until this team wins some big boy games, the big boys won't recognize them. Still, national TV likes them.

Yeah, the Lions pick is a bit curious, but Peter likes to live on the edge with his coffee and calls. It's hard for me to see a team with Carson Palmer ranked behind one with Jon Kitna, but to each their own.

Bengaldom is no doubt giving its club a few mulligans.

With Palmer healthier than last year behind a more stable offensive line and some moves in the secondary, there is a sense there won't be six games where the offense scores 17 points or less, or implosion games on defense that scorched them against San Diego, Indy and Pittsburgh.

But most of the pundits don't give mulligans. They see a team that has melted down the stretch the last two years and until they don't, the so-called experts won't rate them at the top and you can't blame them for middle-roading them.

Going 8-8 is a preseason death sentence. It's not bad enough to be a chic pick the next season and it's not good enough to be put in the playoff category.

And when it comes to a club like Denver, you always have to give them an edge over a cusp team. The Broncos have the second-best record in the NFL over the last decade, which makes their 9-7 a lot more enticing when trying to predict an NFL season. Doing Michael Vick's taxes has an easier degree of difficulty than forecasting that, so the pundits are always going to opt for known quantities and Denver is a lot more known.

It was kind of the same scenario before the 2005 season. People were frosted the Bengals weren't getting their due with Carson headed into his second season and the defense coming off an improved year. But the fact was they had gone 8-8 back-to-back and they needed to make the playoffs to get the pundits on their side.

And they had them on their side last season after '05.

Frankly, they still must have more than we think. They have seven games that start at 4 p.m. or later, which begets plenty of national audiences. So somebody up there must like them.

Three of those games come in the first month against the team that won the division (Baltimore), the team that went to the Super Bowl two years ago and a huge game you get to see (Seattle), and the team that has been to four of the last six AFC title games (New England). Since 2001 those teams have won 63 percent of their games and those are the teams they have to beat to push the pundits.

Wait a second. Peter King just checked in from the road and we're on the same wavelength:

"Over the last 10 years, anywhere from one to four teams each year comes out of nowhere to make the playoffs," King says. "This year my picks are the Rams and Lions, and that would be no more ridiculous than the Rams going from 4-12 to win the Super Bowl the next year (in 1999). Or the year after that when both the Giants and Ravens went from about .500 to the Super Bowl.

"I like the Bengals. They have a top five, six offense. But I don't know about their defense. When (Robert) Geathers is your sack leader and there isn't an impact player in the secondary or linebacker, I don't know what it's going to be. They could go 12-4, but you don't know and how do you know it's going to be different than 8-8?"

By the way, the good news about King's Monday Morning Quarterback column on SI.com is that it's so good it has become as influential and as ground-breaking in this business as the Sunday newspaper notes columns originated and perfected by Peter Gammons and Bob Ryan and their bosses Dave Smith and Vince Doria in the legendary Boston Globe sports section of the 1970s.

The bad news is that every editor in America now wants every reporter they've got to do King's breezy, funny, and newsy buffet, and it has given rise to a slew of bad imitators in the form of blogs. With it has come a certain loss of journalism in favor of entertainment when they can't pull it off like King and a few others. Reporters have only a certain number of hours in the day and now they have to be all things to all people all the time in the circling-the-drain-24-hour cycle. It's tough to be a song-and-dance man while also looking for news.


Q: Why don't the Bengals take a run at Kris Jenkins?
--Floyd F., Regina, Fla.

FLOYD: Cap count, the Panthers don't appear to be very aggressive in trying to trade him, and would you be willing to give up a second-rounder if they did?

Yes, Jenkins is a good player coming off a Pro Bowl season and he turns only 28 next month. But there are those that question that selection and some wonder if he's the same guy since injuries limited him to four games in 2004 and 2005. You'd have to make a major move to clear room for him with a base salary of $3.25 million and it's pretty clear they're not cutting John Thornton and his $3.75 million cap hit.

Thornton's not a Pro Bowler, but he's solid. A Pro's Pro. And, as Peter King just said, any team would like to have him in their rotation.

Meanwhile, Jenkins is a bit disgruntled, he's been known to be overweight at times and no one knows how good of shape he's in now, he had the courage to admit recently that he's an alcoholic, and he's got a cranky back.

Good player. Not so good fit.

And I'm not sure throwing another $3 million or so at this defensive line is a solution. In Thornton, Justin Smith, Robert Geathers, and Bryan Robinson, the Bengals have about $19 million in cap count for '07. Plus, Jenkins is more of a run stopper and what they really need at tackle is a penetrating pass rusher.

Sure, the Bengals have to get better stopping the run, but yielding 4.2 yards per rush isn't bad. What is are 6.5 sacks from their inside people. Three of Jenkins' 18 career sacks in six years came last season, so is he really the answer even with the overhead baggage?


Q: You can't compare Marvin Lewis to Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick. There's a huge difference in that Tony and Bill have playoff wins as well as the big one. SUPERBOWL(s)! That statement is ridiculous, saying if Marvin is on the hot seat then so should be Tony and Bill. Marvin might not be on the hot seat, but his seat should be a little warm. He has had many years to get the defense where he would like it, it's time to produce. If you remember he is a defensive genius, we'll see about that. So far he has been subpar in regards to the 'D'. This is an important year. Remember we are here to win championships not just compete. That attitude needs to be thrown away. We tried that approach and for 12 years it stunk. I'm ready to win, and I'm sure the players want to. Please correct your statement and issue a better response. I enjoy reading your articles but that one was different.
--Tom M., Cincinnati, OH

TOM: Thanks for reading and sorry you didn't like it, but I'm not sure what you want me to correct.

I agree with you. I say it right there. The seat is warm. Warmed by the microscope. I asked Marvin in the Q and A on Tuesday with Mark Curnutte of The Cincinnati Enquirer if this is a decisive year in his coaching career. He acknowledged it's big.

Yes, you're right. It is ridiculous to compare Lewis to those two guys and I didn't. And it is so ridiculous that I assumed nobody would even think I would compare them. So my bad, I guess.

I simply said that if Lewis is on the hot seat, then so are the two safest coaches in the league. The only similarity here is their names are in the same paragraph. That doesn't mean the same category.

The problem here is that everyone has a different definition of Hot Seat. Mine is if the owner is at wit's end and the coach is left to dangle like Tom Coughlin, Jack Del Rio or Joe Gibbs.

Considering that Brown's loyalty extended to Dave Shula's 19-52, Bruce Coslet's 21-39, and Dick LeBeau's 12-33, Marvin Lewis at 35-30 in the second year of a five-year deal is as safe as Belichick in New England and Dungy in Indy.

That's all it meant.

And I didn't say the guy's got a free pass:

"...that hot light is coming from the microscope."

You make a great point about the defense. It's as ironic as offensive guru Brian Billick carving out a .588 winning percentage in eight seasons of dominating defense and mediocre offense in Baltimore.

And, no, I'm not comparing Lewis to Billick because Billick has won the big one. But in order for Lewis to match him, the defensive guru is trying to do it with offense, and he needs just some, not all, just some, of that Ravens defensive magic to get it done.

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