It is good to be Marvin Lewis right now. Not only will be not have a chance to fall to an NFL-record 0-8 in postseason games this weekend, but he's got a fat new contract, and he's shown the football world just how smart and sly he is.
Consider what he just did. Just a few weeks ago, the guy had no contract for next season, was wrapping up one of his most uninspiring seasons as the head coach of the Bengals, was thoroughly unpopular with the public, and had few prospects of working in his same capacity elsewhere.
Marvin Lewis was in the least possible position to exhibit any power. He owned no leverage. He was almost completely at the mercy of a boss that could've had unlimited choices to replace Marvin at his disposal.
And yet, Marvin still managed to flex some muscle, keep his gig with the added bonus of getting a two-year contract, wrestled some control away from a boss that had no real reason to keep him, and managed to distance himself from the failure that was the 2017 Bengals season.
You might not want Marvin Lewis to be coaching the Bengals anymore, but you've gotta respect what he just pulled off, no?
The narrative has shifted this week, greatly. Three weeks ago, Marvin was near the end of a tenure that was coming to a sad end, running out the clock of a 15-year stretch that seemingly everyone believed has reached its expiration date. The team needed a freshening up, the stale stench of the last two years needed to be cleansed, and a new voice needed be heard.
Yet with his power play, Marvin has managed to not only keep his gig, but shift the narrative away from his failures as a head coach to other less-meaningful things that suddenly dominate the discussion as to why this past season was such a mess.
The whole "Marvin needs more control" thing is always brought up when the Bengals aren't winning, which is when Marvin's performance is most under the microscope. When his team is reeling off playoff seasons, you don't hear or read much about Marvin needing more say into things like player personnel or the makeup of the coaching staff, but as soon as things start to go south, he starts dropping hints that, you know, he needs a little more control.
Which is a subtle way of taking the blame and throwing it at Mike Brown.
So this week, Marvin has deftly shifted the blame from him to his boss, while deflecting attention away from him to people like scapegoated offensive line coach Paul Alexander and old, in-over-his-head offensive coordinator Ken Zampese.
With more control, some new assistants that he'll handpick, and the capital that comes with a new contract guaranteeing Marvin Lewis a 16th (!) and 17th (!!) season, surely the results next season and the year after will be different, right?
I don't know.
I do know that when you strip away the window dressing of some new assistants, more control for the head coach (whatever that means) and whatever forward-pushing narratives the Bengals push, it will still sound to me like the same people telling us to somehow expect something different.
If we get more of the same, though, Marvin will find a way to maneuver himself away from the blame , and probably, into another contract.
He might not be able to beat the Steelers or win a playoff game, but don't let those things distract you from the fact that Marvin Lewis is an absolute genius.
THERE ARE PLAYOFF GAMES
Here's what makes this particular Bengals season so painful...
The AFC was garbage this season. Again. The two best teams are quarterbacked by older players at the end of their careers, including one who's starting to resemble Bob Huggins during his later UC seasons. The other playoff teams are quarterbacked by Alex Smith, Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota, and Tyrod Taylor. We might have the worst two AFC wild card teams since the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams, including one team that at times tried not to make the playoffs. The AFC went 23-41 this season against the NFC in head-to-head matchups, the most lospided result ever in the NFC's favor. And playoff hopefuls like Baltimore, Indy, Houston, Miami, and Oakland - who for reasons I don't understand just guaranteed $100 million to a coach whose winning percentage that's only slightly higher than Marvin Lewis' - all crashed and burned for various reasons, helping to open the door for a team like the Bengals to crash the postseason party.
And yet, they basically spent the last half of the season merely playing out the string.
But remember, that's not Marvin's fault.
I went 127-120-9 picking games against the spread this season, a total that's skewed by a disastrous week 16, in which I turned in a 2-12-2 performance during a season that had favorites cover at was at times an agonizing frequency.
My preseason guesses for the season weren't much better, highlighted by an 0-6 mark in guessing which NFC teams would make the playoffs.
But I'm feeling it in the postseason, so here we go...
Kansas City (-9) over Tennessee. You are going to watch the Tennessee Titans play in the NFL playoffs and you are going to get mad. You are going to look at their skill players and wonder who in the f**k they are. You are going to be reminded that DeMarco Murray plays for them, but is injured. And you're going to remember how much fun it was to watch Marcus Mariota when he was at Oregon. You're going to watch the Titans play in the playoffs and wonder how the Bengals could not only not be as good as them this season, but lose to them on the road along the way. This game will end, and people will spend Sunday and Monday going out of their way to remind us all that the Chiefs destroyed the Patriots in week one, which seems like it was 38 years ago. I look forward to that, because it will mean that the NFL's least-interesting team - the Titans - will have finished playing.
Jacksonville (-9) over Buffalo. The Bills are not good. Fun story. Interesting fans, Nice, giving people to Andy Dalton's charity. But they are not good. Since starting 3-1, the Bills have lost to the Bengals, suffered five more losses by an average of more than 24 points, barely beaten dreck like Indy and Miami (twice), and needed the Ravens to allow Andy Dalton to make his first completion that mattered toward the playoffs in seven years in order to back into the playoffs. And now, LeSean McCoy is hobbling. I don't want to be on the side of Blake Bortles laying points, but the Bills give me no choice.
New Orleans (-7) over Carolina. Drew Brees has a running game, a competent defense, a dome over his head, and an opposing offense that has a comically bad group of skill guys, and an athlete in Christian McCaffrey that they have no idea how to use. The Saints are going to win, go to Philly, pummel the Eagles, and be the trendy pick to play Pittsburgh (yes, Pittsburgh) in the Super Bowl. I'm not sure how I'd take in a New Orleans/Minnesota title tilt. I am sure that we will see Brees and company dispatch of the Carolina Cam Newtons relatively easily.
Rams (-6) over Atlanta. It's worth pointing out that at various times this week, this number has climbed to 6.5, which would've been a little more tempting than the six the Falcons are getting as I type this. The inclination is to bet against the team with a rookie coach and a quarterback who's never played in the playoffs, and on the team with the experienced playoff QB and the supposedly high-powered offense.
But the Rams are better than most people realize, ending 2017 as one of only nine teams in the last 30 years to rank in the top six of DVOA in all three phases. (Had they not tanked against San Fran last week, they'd have ranked in the top five in all three phases) They have more team speed than people realize, two bona fide stars in Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald, an excellent defensive coordinator, an All-Pro left tackle, and a well put-together, if still anonymous team that all but ended Seattle's impressive run of consecutive playoff seasons.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has been worse than you think against playoff defenses, scoring more than 20 just once in seven games, and Matt Ryan has looked like a guy with money on the other team in recent weeks, and Steve Sarkisian has coached the offense like he's got Ken Zampese in his headset.
If the Rams played in a city that actually gave a shit about them, they'd be being pushed as the biggest story in the league right now. Instead, no one in SoCal cares, and the national attitude mirror's LA's indifference.
Until Saturday night.