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." Take these guesses as seriously as I took this person's advice on how to do my blog.
Whenever Andy Dalton is finished playing for the Bengals - whether that's in five years, three years, or by the end of this year - the game I'll think of the most is the one he most recently played.
Against Green Bay, Andy was good. He just wasn't good enough.
On the surface, Andy's performance at Lambeau Field was fine. There's a ton of quarterbacks who'd kill to have a game in which they completed 21 of 27 passes for 212 yards with two touchdown tosses, zero picks, and a passer rating well above 100. His play was a reason why the Bengals even had a chance to win that game last Sunday.
His play is also a reason why they lost.
He took two sacks that he shouldn't have, including one that backed up field goal attempt that Randy Bullock eventually missed. There was an unforgivable intentional grounding penalty on a play in which Dalton had a wide open Brandon LaFell. There was a deep ball to LaFell that probably ices the game, and another chance at hitting an uncovered AJ Green that could've helped seal a win as well. And there was the three-and-out to start overtime when his team demanded that Andy do something to lift them to a win.
Through more than six seasons, we've talked about Andy Dalton from every which way, and arguably the most common refrain has been that Andy Dalton - for all of his attributes - is a quarterback that needs to be elevated and not one capable of elevating his team. Last week was a perfect example. He his performance against the Packers - in a game the Bengals were desperate to win - was very credible. His team, however, is flawed. Andy's not good enough to elevate it.
So the question is where do the Bengals go from here? Surely a performance this week against the Browns that looks like the way Andy played against the Ravens and Texans earlier this season will ingite the loudest calls for AJ McCarron to play yet. That will be an understandable refrain, and possibly, one I'll lend my voice to. And regardless of what happens this weekend, there is very likely to be a time this season when it makes more sense than ever to give McCarron a shot at showing what he can do at this stage of his career.
But I think most questions about the Bengals and their current and future quarterback situation involve answers that have little to do with AJ McCarron. They, like seemingly most of the NFL, have shown nothing to indicate that they feel that AJ is a better starting option than the guy they have. At the same time, the way they've structured Dalton's deal tells us that they absolutely know what they have in their starter, and it makes you wonder what will happen - and plenty of scenarios could abound - if their 0-3 start spirals into a season that earns them a chance at selecting a quarterback that they think is better.
Short of being able to draft one of high-end QB talents that'll be entering this coming spring's draft class, the Bengals will be building a team around a quarterback who's limitations are as well-established as his qualities, all while trying to achieve the same perfect mix that resulted in excellent Bengals teams that won 33 games from 2013 through 2015. Teams that combined solid offensive line play with skill players that quickly developed chemistry with their quarterback, and defenses regularly ranked among the NFL's best. Teams that had some of the deepest, most air-tight rosters in the league. Teams that were able to elevate the play of its quarterback.
That sounds easy, and the way the Bengals went from one of sports' biggest punchlines into a franchise that some were calling one of the league's model organizations made it seem easy, but if building really good teams were easy, then the NFL's middle class wouldn't be so densely populated.
Last Sunday yielded positive developments. The Bengals went young against the Packers, and that move paid dividends. A look at the snap count last week reveals an emphasis on younger players, many of whom had starring roles against Green Bay, with Karl Lawson, William Jackson III, and Joe Mixon leading the way. Can a continued focus on using the young guys and getting more out of them accelerate the process of building a great team around a quarterback who's merely good?
Or does the 0-3 start send the Bengals down a path where they end up with a young quarterback whose talents are greater than those of Andy Dalton's?
Those are questions that will be answered in the long-term. For the short-term, a team that's not great at anything will demand greatness from its quarterback.
Far too often, especially when the opponent is a good one, I don't think Andy will be up to the task.
BENGALS v. BROWNS
I was walking out of Lambeau Field following the Bengals overtime loss to the Packers, when someone among a relatively healthy showing of orange and black-clad fans uttered the following...
They're going to lose to the Browns, aren't they?
I muttered "yes" to the people I was with.
I have my reasons, most of them make little sense.
I always worry about a team enjoying the spoils of a moral victory going into its next game against a bad opponent.
I always worry when organizations that seem to be trending up field teams that have a few positive tangible results to show for it.
I worry when the coach of the other team is desperate for a win and smells blood against an opponent, and an opposing coach, he's familiar with.
I worry when the visiting quarterback is having a down season, trying for an elusive first win playing against the coach who used to tutor him.
By the time we'd gotten back to Cincinnati though, I no longer felt like I did when we were all trudging out of the not-so Frozen Tundra.
The Bengals have the better team, the more experienced quarterback, a defense that's playing reasonably well (the secondary was not good against the Packers) and they're getting their best defensive player back. DeShone Kiser is immensely fun to watch, but he's been hit a lot and there's just not enough explosiveness in Cleveland's offense to make me believe that they can score that much.
And even if Myles Garrett plays, the Browns have been passive enough on defense for even this struggling Bengals offense to take advantage.
If Andy plays well, the Bengals win easily.
If Andy plays okay, the Bengals win.
If Andy plays poorly, all bets are off. And I'll be with you in wanting to see someone else next week.
I'll guess we get okay Andy, at the very least.
Bengals 24 Browns 13 (Cincinnati -3.5)
WATCH THE GAME WITH ME
I'll be at Take 5 Bar and Grill on Harrison Avenue for the Bengals/Browns game. There will be Bud Light specials, including $1 drafts. And I'll have Bengals/Bills tickets to give away. We will see you there. Go here for more info.
BENGALS LINKS OF THE WEEK
THERE ARE OTHER GAMES
Thanks to Mike Glennon and John Fox, we hit easily on Green Bay last night, sending the 2017 slate to an even 24-24, in a game that begged a key question.....
It takes ten people to fill network airtime during an NFL weather delay?
Miami (+3) over New Orleans. This is a London game, so one team could win by more than 71 touchdowns and I wouldn't be surprised. There are people in the UK who probably think that Blake Bortels is our biggest sports hero.
Atlanta (-8) over Buffalo. As good as the Bills were against the Broncos last week, I have them getting shelled by the Falcons, only so we can start talking about how the Bengals are gonna be 2-3 heading into their first game against the Steelers, only to have the Bills come here and win something like 15-11.
Jacksonville (-3) over the Jets. Wait, so the Jags might be good?
Baltimore (+3) over Pittsburgh. One day, we're gonna see that vaunted Steelers offense that every NFL writer spent the offseason drooling onto his laptop over. Not this week though, against a Ravens defense that got BORTLED!!!!! in London last week.
Tennessee (-2) over Houston. Dick LeBeau is going to outlive all of us. And he's not going to lose to a rookie quarterback.
Rams (+6) over Dallas. Jared Goff. Fun to watch. Feels more emphatic to type it that way instead writing "Jared Goff is fun to watch," doesn't it?
Detroit (+2) over Minnesota. This will be the most entertaining game of the weekend. Also, Jim Caldwell is the best terrible coach in NFL history.
New England (-9) over Carolina. I'm involved in a bet on this game in which the winner has to buy the other and me lunch. So go Panthriots!
Tampa Bay (-3) over the Giants. If Odell Beckham's team doesn't want him, I will gladly take him.
Arizona (-6.5) over San Francisco. Yes, I watched both teams play last week. I'm sticking with the Cardinals.
Chargers (-1) over Philly. Yes, LA2 is 0-3, but they're pretty good on defense, and Darren Sproles is hurt. Too bad no one in Los Angeles gives a shit.
Denver (-3) over Oakland. I hated the way the Raiders struggled against the Redskins last week too much to pick them on the road against a team with a quality defense. Also, the AFC West is fun. The AFC North is not.
Indy (+13) over Seattle. Please come back, Andrew Luck.
Kansas City (-7) over Washington. The Redskins were mighty impressive last week. The Chiefs have been mighty impressive all season.
NFL FAN FIGHT OF THE WEEK
From the Monday Nighter between the Giants and Lions two weeks ago comes this gem. The best fan fights really are the ones that spill over into the rows beneath.
CINCINNATI v. MARSHALL
A rare Bearcats home game this weekend brings the Thundering Herd to town. I've had two conversations with people about this game. In both, the person I was talking to hit me with a "I think this is gonna be a pretty good game."
I'll discard the 8 billion yards Navy ran for last week and focus on how UC played on offense. The Bearcats opened things up, and Hayden Moore looked the part more than anytime over the past season-plus. I'l guess that continues, and I'll guess that, unlike Miami, the Cats don't allow two kick returns for scores.
This is a pretty big game for the Bearcats (who got the Deadspin treatment today), considering what lies ahead the next two weeks. I like the home team to win. I don't like seeing a minus attached to the number next to their name.
Bearcats 28 Thundering Herd 27 (Marshall +3)
HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK
Buckeyes 31 Scarlet Knights 3 (Rutgers +30)
Wildcats 28 Eagles 17 (Eastern Michigan +14.5)
Nittany Lions 28 Hoosiers 20 (Indiana +19)
Fighting Irish 23 Redhawks 14 (Miami +21)
Dayton 111 San Diego 3
Thomas More 87 Westminster 49
Hanover 33 Mount St. Joseph 31
John Carroll 10 Wilmington 1
Have a great weekend. Enjoy the 2003 Bengals.