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As a sports fan, I have two main requests of my teams. Either be good or be interesting. It's best if you're both, and it's the worst if you're neither. A team can be very, very good and not be that interesting (every Alabama team under Nick Saban), and a team can be not so good and be exceptionally interesting (this year's Oklahoma City Thunder). The best and most fun-to-watch teams can be characterized by both traits (this year's Eagles) and the worst and least-fun-to-watch possess neither (the 2014 Reds).
I can handle losing. I can't handle losing and boredom.
There's not much that's interesting about the 2017 Bengals right now. I'm almost obligated to mention that they're not mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but clinging to hope that the combination of things that need to happen for the Bengals to make the playoffs will happen is like me sending a Tweet mentioning that I'd like to have drinks this weekend in OTR with Gal Gadot and waiting in a bar making sure that no one sits in the stool next to me.
They have four games remaining, which, when you're more fixated on what's going to happen in the immediate aftermath of the season's conclusion, feels like an eternity. Aside from a reunion with Mike Zimmer and trying to figure out who exactly plays for the Minnesota Vikings, there's no real intrigue with any of the Bengals' final quartet of opponents. If Marvin Lewis indeed is coaching his final month of his Cincinnati stay, and if his departure starts to become the league's worst-kept secret there could be some intrigue in how his tenure ends. And maybe a young player or two does something in the season's final stretch that portends success next season.
But there's really nothing interesting about this team.
John Ross could've changed that, had he been available to play at all this season, but his rookie season will go down as one of the weirdest in team history, and what he can do and how he fits will be among of the offseason's biggest mysteries (as will wondering if a different coaching staff could've gotten him ready to play). With his absence, there's only one thing that can make what's left of the season interesting.
Playing AJ McCarron.
There's good, logical reasons to play AJ instead of Andy, the most important of which is being equipped with as much information as possible before a decision is made on the backup quarterback. The league itself knows very little about AJ McCarron, and while the Bengals have their own evaluation of him they've made through four years of him being on their payroll, the best and most informed decision about what to do with him, and by extension Andy Dalton and any QB they may acquire in the draft, will come by seeing him play and assessing how much he's progressed since he took over the offense after Dalton's injury in 2015.
But as much as I root for the Bengals, I root for me just as much.
And I want interesting.
I have no idea what AJ McCarron playing quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals would look like. With a bad offensive line, few reliable weapons, a shaky (at best) running game, and the rust that might come with, you know, never playing, he wouldn't exactly be set up for major success. But wouldn't you like to see how much he might have progressed since those five games two years ago? Wouldn't it be at least kinda interesting to see what this Bengals offense looked like with AJ running it? For all of Andy Dalton's good and bad (and statistically, his last ten games have been more than acceptable), we know what he is. He's not interesting, certainly not now. AJ McCarron, who'll be lucky to have anything resembling Andy Dalton's career, is.
This isn't going to happen, not this week, at least. But it should. For the Bengals.
Most importantly, for me.
BENGALS v. BEARS
The Bengals are coming off a physically brutal game and a gut-punch loss, on a Monday night. Their injury report looks like a Bryan Price lineup card. There will be like 83 people at the game. They can't stop the run, and the Bears have a quality back even if they're almost no threat to be productive in the air.
I've never wagered against the Bengals, and I probably still won't.
But they're laying six and a half, which is almost too tempting.
The next time the Bengals are good, and "real fans" start boasting about which crappy, irrelevant game they were at that proves their fandom, I'll mention that I was at this barnburner.
Bears 19 Bengals 17 (Chicago +6.5)
This piece, by Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer, about former Bengal Tim Krumrie, is excellent. And heartbreaking. Read it.
THERE ARE OTHER GAMES
Before we get to this week's guesses, a story....
I was a pretty well-behaved, mannered child. I played well with others and respected authority. But there was a stretch of time around the ages of 11 and 12 when I was an asshole.
Not to other kids, although if you asked them now they may disagree, but mainly to teachers. I talked back. I was disruptive. I didn't listen. And I went out of my way to show them disrespect.
This behavior reflected in my grades, which had always been good, but took a deep downturn along with my overall demeanor and attitude.
I posted all A's across two different marking periods when I was in the fifth grade. By the end of my sixth grade year, I was struggling to earn passing grades. It wasn't that the material was much harder than the year before, it was that sometime between grades five and six, I made up my mind that I was going to be the class comic, the class clown, and sometimes, the class terrorist.
It didn't matter what my teachers did in response, either.
So toward the end of my sixth grade year, the principal called my mom in to discuss my attitude. She incredulously asked if they'd punished me, and the principal - who was a douchebag, even we're being honest - informed my mother, to her surprise, that'd I'd been sentenced to various lunch detentions and extra assignments. He told her that I'd been banned from a field trip (while the other kids went to a skating rink, I wrote book reports), which was news to her and he informed her that a week prior, I'd been put in a two-day, in-house suspension that was populated by older students wearing heavy metal shirts that had chains on their wallet.
My mom was silenced. I remember her alternating glances at me and the d-bag principal, her mouth agape, wanting badly to defend her son but too put off by what she was hearing to stick up for me.
Finally, the principal looked her square in they eye and said "we can design the rules, enforce punishments, and do whatever we can to get him to do what we ask, but ultimately, Maurice (yep) is going to have to decide to stop acting like a jackass."
It took me a while, but eventually I did. And the rest is scholastic history.
My principal's same logic applies to NFL players.
After Monday night's brutal Bengals/Steelers game, many decried its brutal violence, wondering what the league can do to deter the things players on both teams were doing to each other, pointing out that on a weekly basis, there's players hitting each other with their helmets, blasting each other after the whistle, fighting, and genuinely trying to injure each other.
The league can only do so much, and while their punishment system is a joke for its inconsistency and arbitrariness, there's only so much the NFL can do. The onus is fully on the players to decide to stop trying to main each other, to take better care of each other, to find a place between putting their fellow players in the hospital and playing with flags on their belts.
The players are going to have to decide to stop acting like jackasses.
Until they do, what we watched on Monday night, will be repeated often.
I didn't blog about it, but I picked the Saints last night, so heading into this week, I'm 101-86-5....
Tampa Bay (no line) over Detroit. If you think I'm waiting around for a line on a Bucs/Lions game, you don't know me well.
Indy (no line) over Buffalo. If you think I'm waiting around for a line on a Colts/Bills game, you don't know me well.
Jacksonville (+2.5) over Seattle. Last week's Seahawks/Eagles game had the feel of "prideful Seattle team as a home dog circles the wagons against the upstart Philly team that's not quite ready for big-boy football." This week's Seahawks/Jags games has the feel of "just when we started to think that we underestimated the Seahawks, they lay an egg on the road against Blake Bortles."
Oakland (+4) over Kansas City. Now that I'm jumping off, the Chiefs bandwagon in officially empty.
Carolina (+2.5) over Minnesota. Cam has one good game against a good defense left in him, doesn't he?
Cleveland (+3.5) over Green Bay. So Hue Jackson isn't coming to Cincinnati. Do we really think he's that sharp of a departure from Marvin Lewis?
San Francisco (+3) over Houston. I'm probably not gonna see much of this one.
Washington (+6) over Chargers. Read this.
Denver (-1) over the Jets. I've stopped following the Broncos' quarterback situation. John Elway himself could be slinging it against the Jets this week and I'd have no idea. Also, if Todd Bowles doesn't return and there's an entirely new coaching staff, he'd be a fine defensive coordinator for the home team.
Tennessee (-3) over Arizona. If I sent a "who would you rather play in the first round" tweet, giving people the Jags and Titans to choose from, do you think people would take it seriously?
Philly (-2) over the Rams. Two promising young quarterbacks. Two coaches who look good in a sun visor. Both of these things are important.
Dallas (3.5) over the Giants. Seriously, when was the memo handed out that dictated that we're all supposed to love Eli Manning?
Baltimore (+4) over Pittsburgh. If you're clinging to hope, then A) send that Tweet about Gal Gadot and B) root for the Steelers.
New England (-10.5) over Miami. Enjoy your weekend, this interview with Corey Dillon, and the most entertaining game in the history of Paul Brown Stadium.