The Blog Of Football Guesses is a weekly homage to a former Clear Channel iHeartMedia Director of Digital who once informed me, in all seriousness, that "football picks drive web traffic, especially if you toss in a picture of a cheerleader." This man's legacy will be Steve Jobs-esque 'round these parts.
If you include the playoffs, this week's game against the Green Bay Packers will be Andy Dalton's 100th NFL start. He's started in nearly every type of circumstance, from being a young guy getting his feet wet in the pros to a guy looking for career-defining postseason success. He's started games while on hot streaks, and he's had to make starts trying to bounce back from awful performances. He's played in games the Bengals were expected to win easily, games that no one expected them to win, and games they had to win in order to extend their season.
He's never started a game that puts him where he is this week.
He'll be the first-ever Bengals quarterback to take a snap with an offensive coordinator that wasn't the offensive coordinator the last time he played, but he'll also be trying to improve upon two miserable performances in his team's first two games, all the while trying to keep the season afloat as public pressure mounts and as speculation simmers that with another dud on Sunday, Dalton could soon be assuming his backup's clipboard duties.
Andy has dealt with each of these things individually. He's had to come back and play well after playing shitty. He's had to play in game that carried more significance than others. He's had to deal with skepticism about whether he should continue on as starter. And he's had to do his thing as many wonder why the guy behind him doesn't get a chance to do his.
He's never had to do all of those things concurrently.
You do not have to go far to find people who want the Bengals to turn to AJ McCarron. Not just the people who've badgered the rest of us about how good they think AJ is, mainly because they only watch SEC football, or because they just hate Andy Dalton, but because Dalton was so bad in weeks one and two and the season is in such danger of ending before we get to October, that running out a guy playing as poorly as Dalton has so far this season in a game that carries so much significance - and will be so hard to win - is a little too dangerous.
Those people aren't necessarily wrong.
You will hear from people who not only shudder at the idea of playing a guy whose NFL experience is limited to 150 regular season and playoff pass attempts, but who defer to Andy Dalton's track record of almost always bouncing back after playing poorly, allowing Andy to cash in on six years of built-up equity.
Those people aren't wrong either.
The problem isn't necessarily that Andy Dalton is playing poorly - although it is a big problem - it's that for the first time he's playing poorly (which might be an understatement) against the backdrop of a critical season spiraling out of control. His past clunkers either came when he was still getting established as a starter, or when the season was going otherwise swimmingly, or or when he was playing on a team good enough to overcome, and win in spite of, his ineptitude.
Now, he's being asked to play better, save the season, justify the (justifiable) scapegoating of his old offensive coordinator, and maybe, just maybe, save his job.
Marvin Lewis' comments on Wednesday added some intrigue to all of this, when he essentially put players on notice in the wake of the coordinator change. Marvin has never changed quarterbacks when it mattered in a game, and he's never made a change at the position from one game to the next when injury wasn't a factor, but if what we saw continues and if he's being honest about there "being different guys sitting there" can Marvin legitimately keep Andy installed as the starter if his play in week three looks the way it did in weeks one and two?
And as much as the Bengals value stability at QB, and as much as Marvin Lewis might be loathe to making a change that would have reverberations throughout the organization - and maybe, the league - for a while, the Bengals have already stepped out of their own comfort zone and made an in-season coordinator change in a desperate attempt to steer the season back on course.
With that precedent set, you can't help but wonder what Monday will be like if Dalton's play in a dud on Sunday.
You can't help but wonder if Marvin is as close as he's ever been to at least considering a change in-game if Andy's struggles continue.
And you can't help but wonder what we'll see from Andy Dalton in a game unlike any other he's had to play.
BENGALS v. PACKERS
I'm making the trek to Wisconsin this weekend, crossing Lambeau Field off of my bucket list, hellbent on my quest to see the Bengals first touchdown of the season in person.
There's some things to like, mainly that the Green Bay defense seems forgiving, and that the Bengals do head to Lambeau playing pretty well defensively.
But the problem isn't that the Bengals are 0-2 heading to Lambeau Field, it's that their ceiling for playing well right now isn't that high. If the Bengals team we watched against Baltimore and Houston actually plays well, is that enough to beat Aaron Rodgers in his home park?
And if the injuries to Green Bay's offense take their toll, and if they way the Bengals are playing on defense holds (Geno Atkins was a terror against the Texans, by the way, are they really holding Rodgers to below, say 24 points?
And if the Bengals give up 24 points, can an offense that's averaging 4.5 points per game get to 25?
Not the offense that I've seen, and while I was as frothing at the mouth as much as anyone at the way Ken Zampese ran the offense, and while I'm excited to see if Bill Lazor can extract more than three field goals from his supposedly-high-octane unit, I'm a little too convinced that the way they use the running backs - which is like junior high - is a result of the head coach's orders, and the team's willingness to allow opposing defenses to dictate where the ball goes is a byproduct of the tone set from the top. I think Ken Zampese was a problem, just not the only problem.
And I don't think the Bengals can fix all of their offensive problems in one week.
There have been a few times in my life when the Bengals have shocked me, not only by winning, but by playing really well - at times, drastically outplaying their opponent - and finding victory in a game they seemingly had a little chance to compete in.
The Giants game in 2012. The Corey Dillon game against Denver in 2000. My first-ever trip to Pittsburgh to see Jeff Blake throw bombs against the eventual AFC Champions in 1995.
And the Bengals last trip to Lambeau Field in 2009.
I'll guess the Bengals score a touchdown. Two even. I'll guess they look more like a coherent, urgent NFL team than what we watched from them in games one and two.
I will not guess that they win.
Packers 28 Bengals 20 (Cincinnati +9)
BENGALS LINKS OF THE WEEK
THERE ARE OTHER GAMES
Yesterday, I blogged about how shit-tastic the NFL is this season, lamenting that we might have to settle in and come to grips with the fact that the crap the league is feeding us this year is the crap we'll be fed for a while. Also, I picked the Rams to cover.
Alas, not only did LA and San Francisco combine for a very entertaining Thursday night tilt, but San Fran kept it close enough to cover.
Pushing my record to 17-15, blowing the two-teamer I had with South Florida over Temple, and confirming my ability to master perfect timing.
Baltimore (-4) over Jacksonville, in London. I'll never be able to un-see this....
Buffalo (+3) over Denver. I know, you watched the Broncos dance all over the Cowboys last week. You're buying Trevor Siemian stock, aren't you? I'm taking the home favorite just when everyone will be a little too tightly packed on the Broncos bandwagon.
Pittsburgh (-7.5) over Chicago. The scary thought of the week involves watching the Steelers not playing well yet, and then realizing that they're still 2-0.
Philadelphia (-6) over the Giants. New York's offensive line is brutal. Phlly's defensive front isn't.
Detroit (+3) over Atlanta. Doesn't the Lions' season almost seem pre-determined? Fast start, some early national run as a sneaky NFC contender, talk of a changing of the guard in their division, then five losses in their final six games.
Indianapolis (+1.5) over Cleveland. Could you watch this without a remote control, no phone, and no in-person human contact?
Tampa Bay (no line) over Minnesota. I never thought Sam Bradford would make us hold our breaths over his availability.
New England (-13.5) over Houston. This has backdoor cover written all over it, doesn't it?
Jets (+6.5) over Miami. If they don't win this one, at home, I don't know how the Jets don't finish 0-16.
New Orleans (+5.5) over Carolina. Can you imagine what your Facebook feed would look like if Cam Newton ever didn't stand for the national anthem?
Seattle (+2.5) over Tennessee. These two teams could both go 5-11. They could both go 11-5.
Chargers (+3) over Kansas City. I absolutely expect LA to lose this game by one point. I absolutely expect no one in LA to care.
Oakland (-3) over Washington. I predict that the phrase "coming out party" will be used often to describe this game.
Dallas (-3) over Arizona. The Cowboys aren't what we watched last week, right?
NFL FAN FIGHT OF THE WEEK
When Steelers fans fight with Browns fans, there are no winners. Literally.
CINCINNATI v. NAVY
I'm doing a weekend that will take our crew to Chicago on Friday, with a huge White Sox/Royals game on the docket, then to Milwaukee on Saturday for Brewers/Cubs and a couple of breweries, and finally to Green Bay on Sunday for the Bengals game. The only thing I don't like is missing a trip to Annapolis, which is a cool town, and a tour of the US Naval Academy, which I've done before and would like to do again.
The people I'm traveling with are, with one exception, not UC fans. They've rolled their eyes everytime I mention that in Milwaukee, we must find a place to watch the Bearcats.
This is an interesting game. UC's defense has been decidedly more patient and disciplined than it was a year ago, but that discipline will be tested against Navy's triple option.
I'm curious to see if the Bearcats can expand on something I'd like to think they tapped into in last week's win over Miami - which I've oddly determined is the most gratifying post-2009 UC win. In the fourth quarter, the offense thrived by going up-tempo, and while the Cats are always better off with a healthy and available Mike Boone, last week at least served as a reminder that there are other players that can run the ball.
Still though, Cincinnati's offense hasn't been good this season, and faith in Hayden Moore is hard to find. I like the direction the Bearcats are going in. I like their chances of keeping this close. I do not think they'll win.
Midshipmen 28 Bearcats 20 (Cincinnati +11.5)
HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK
Buckeyes 44 Rebels 7 (UNLV +40.5)
Wildcats 24 Gators 14 (Kentucky +1.5)
Hoosiers 26 Eagles 6 (Georgia Southern +24)
Chippewas 19 Redhawks 17 (Central Michigan -1)
Dayton 84 Morehead State 5
Thomas More 55 Carnegie Melon 54
Manchester 4 Mount St. Joseph 3
Wilmington 30 Capital 27
Have a great weekend. Enjoy the 1991 Bengals.