Last week, I posted this poll question on Twitter....
Bengals fans, would you prefer..— Mo Egger (@MoEgger1530) November 28, 2017
First, a couple things...
There are far more scientific ways to gauge how a populace feels than a poll on Twitter, and I have a feeling if I asked the same question heading into say, a do-or-die week 17 game that'd put them in the playoffs with a win, I'd see different results. I also don't feel that if you could somehow poll every person that identifies themselves as a Bengals fan, 65 percent would say they prefer the team not win.
But still....the answers to my dumb little poll question do illustrate a problem.
The relationship between the Bengals and their fans is toxic. It's easily as bad as its been since 2010, and in some respects worse than its been going back even to before Marvin Lewis was the head coach.
Think of where we are.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in town. It's Monday Night Football. The playoffs are at least a slim possibility.
Yet you'll find people that identify themselves as Bengals fans, folks who'd ordinarily be useless all day in anticipation of this game, hoping the home team loses.
And those are the people that actually care who wins. I never believe those who talk about mass fan apathy setting in, but you don't exactly sense that the city is at what you'd call a "fever pitch," do you?
I'm not wired to root against a team I call myself a fan of, and I can't imagine watching the game tonight and hoping for a Pittsburgh win. I don't think the Bengals will make the playoffs, but I'd be happy to see them qualify for the postseason and have a chance to break the 27-year run of no playoff advancement, even if it meant that a head coach I'm pretty much done with had a chance to return.
In fact, I'd argue that a playoff finish - even without a January victory - would represent Marvin Lewis' best work.
But it's easy to understand the mass disaffection people are feeling toward the Bengals and primarily their coach. Despite rallying to re-join the playoff race, it's hard to attribute their "contention" to anything other than a forgiving schedule. They have a core group of guys that have been here for a while and some promising young players that have contributed as well, yet collectively they're a pretty uninspiring, dare I say boring team, almost impossible to distinguish from half of the league. And the public's trust in Marvin Lewis, whose act has worn thin for many, has almost completely eroded.
This is a problem for a franchise that's at a bit of a crossroads. The window for legit championship contention closed when Chris Boswell's kick sailed through the PBS uprights 23 months ago, yet they have enough of an established core that they're far from rebuilding. They have a quarterback who's a fine player but will probably never get any better. They have a head coach right now who's done plenty of good but whose resume has a gaping hole where playoff wins should be listed. And they have a long-suffering fan base that's over team's entire act.
There's a lot of reasons for this, of course. NFL head coaches rarely enjoy meeting with the press, but Marvin's grumpiness even in the best of times is off-putting to some. The unwillingness to bring back Andrew Whitworth has left a large hole on the offensive line and a deep wound with a number of fans. Adam Jones off-field behavior and Vontaze Burfict's on-field antics have gotten old for others. The lack of wins that actually leave a mark resonates for everyone.
I don't know how much the Bengals should be considering any of this when the offseason begins. I tend to believe that barring something drastic - like a postseason appearance - Marvin Lewis won't be back (I had someone who gets a paycheck from an NFL team tell me yesterday that he wouldn't be surprised if Marvin pursues the Giants gig), but there will be major public push-back if he does return. But there's no denying that looming over everything the Bengals do is a toxicity in the relationship between the organization and their fans that's on-par with some of their worst seasons and darkest times.
The Steelers are here. The season hangs in the balance. Can't you feel the excitement?
BENGALS v. STEELERS
I'll guess that those 65 percent get what they want tonight.
Not that the Bengals don't have a chance. The Steelers, for all of their success against Cincinnati, rarely blow the Bengals out. And for reasons that can't really be explained, Pittsburgh does often play down to the level of its competition.
But do you trust this Bengals defense to not let Le'Veon Bell have a big night?
And do you trust this Bengals offense to run the ball as effectively as they'll need to?
If they do, do you trust them to do what they didn't do at Heinz Field back in October, and stay with it?
Do you trust the Bengals defense that allowed the woeful Browns to expose holes on the back end and rush for 5.5 a carry to slow down the Steelers?
Do you trust an offense that's last in the NFL in plays per drive to get enough first downs to keep Roethlisberger and his guys off the field?
I don't trust enough of these things, including Andy in a game of this magnitude, the improving-but-still-shaky offensive line, and a defense that's still not getting quite enough big plays.
The caveat is Vontaze Burfict. I felt going into the first meeting that if the Bengals were going to pull off the upset, he'd have to be the best player on the field.
If he is tonight, they've got more than a puncher's chance.
He hasn't been, at least not with regularity, this season.
I guess I'm in the minority in that I badly want the Bengals to win tonight.
I'm in the majority that doesn't think they will.
Steelers 24 Bengals 20 (Cincinnati +6)
Season record: 100-85-5