Three Things: Despite Its Flaws, Football Is Still Awesome.

posted by Mo Egger, ESPN1530 - 

Every day there are three things. Here are those three things.

1) Football, man. This NFL season was marred by crappy play, unwatchable games, over-saturation, staleness, off-field scandals, and being thrust into what some feel is the most toxic political environment in American history. Ratings were down. Interest was, relatively speaking, low. The game's future was a talking point. So was its present.

But then we got something like yesterday, which offered up a thoroughly exciting appetizer in Pittsburgh before the delicious main course that was the epic Saints/Vikings tilt in Minnesota, and what might be the greatest ending in NFL playoff history.

A moment that the entire country, including who among us that swore off the NFL months ago, is talking about.

Especially those of us who spent the entire weekend on a gambling roller coaster that ended with Minnesota taking a knee instead of kicking the PAT, ensuring that while the Saints lost, those of us that had them at +5.5 were still winners.

Here are my three obligatory Bengals-related takeaways from this weekend's action....

*I owe some apologies.

To Marvin Lewis, for holding the Bengals coach to a standard that now seems unfair.  I crap on Marvin for the way he manages games and makes decisions, but his coaching brethren continued to out-do him this weekend.

There was Atlanta's fourth and two rollout that Philly defenders were calling out before it happened, a play that was preceded by a shovel pass. 

There was whatever Mike Mularkey was doing at the end of the first half on Saturday night in Foxboro.

There was Mike Tomlin electing for an onside kick with is team down a touchdown, holding all of its timeouts, and having the benefit of the two-minute warning.

There was Sean Payton's decision to have a wide receiver throw a pass in a critical third and one situation, his puzzling use of both second half challenges, and the fact that with Minnesota left to throw nowhere but the sideline on what ended up being the game-winning TD pass, his defense inexplicably had guys covering the middle of the field.

NFL coaches work 21-hour days, sleep in their offices, neglect their families, and almost pride themselves on shutting themselves from the outside world. Imagine what kind of thinking we'd see from them if they just worked normal hours.

I'm sorry, Marv. You're not as bad as I make you out to be.

And I'm sorry to anyone I suggested to that the Bengals hire Todd Haley back during the glory days of three weeks ago when we were wondering who'd replace Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati. I want nothing to do with the guy in charge of calling what Haley called on fourth down - twice - yesterday.

*Forget wanting the Bengals to be like the Steelers, I want them to be like the Jaguars.

Leading up to the game, and during it, I never got the impression that playing the Steelers at Heinz Field was all that intimidating to Jacksonville. It seemed to me that the relished the opportunity to not only win there again, but push the Steelers around in the process.

And it sure didn't look like playing in Pittsburgh scared Blake Bortles, who didn't show the same skittishness I see from other quarterbacks (cough, Andy, cough, Dalton) when they play there. 

I often say that I want the Bengals to be like the Steelers. Eff that. 

I want them to be like the team that just hung 42 on them.

*Not having a great quarterback is not an excuse.

It's great if you have one. It's preferable that you have one. It's not the end of the world if you don't. You find ways to win with what you have, by building as good as roster as possible. Minnesota has done it. So has Philly (who has a guy that will be a great quarterback). Same for Jacksonville. 

But those teams built quality rosters through the draft, right? Well, yeah. But they were also big players in free agency...smart free agency.

 From The Ringer...

One of the seismic changes to the sport over the past few years has been to the salary cap. In the past six years, the cap has exploded from $120 million to $167 million. In the past four seasons, it rose a minimum of $10 million a year. Meanwhile, after the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, rookie contracts became significantly cheaper, and opened up even more cap space. The competitive balance of the league is changing drastically because of it, and the market for players has become more complicated than ever before.

“It’s the biggest untold story in football,” said former Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns president Joe Banner. “With the excessive amount of available cap space, close to a billion dollars—some teams can’t mentally keep up with that.”

Incredibly, six of the top 10 2017 spenders in free agency, a period formerly reserved for desperate teams to throw money at anyone, made the playoffs: the Patriots, Titans, Rams, Vikings, Panthers, and Jaguars (who spent $20 million more than any other team).

Before the cap rose, the book on NFL free agency was that it was usually a bad idea. Sports Illustrated wrote just three years ago that some big-spending teams had learned that “shelling out cash to players who are nearing their 30s can end up backfiring in spectacular fashion.” That has changed—and quickly. All the room to spend has changed the way teams think about money. Multiple league executives, coaches, and experts told me that it is changing the way teams are built at an unprecedented pace and turned free agency from a last resort into a legitimate team-building strategy, like it has in other sports. Except, unlike the NBA, which had its massive cap spike two years ago to much fanfare, the NFL’s spike has been gradual. That means if you weren’t paying attention, you might not have noticed that the game changed.

So the salary cap has gone up while the value rookie contracts have gone down. Meanwhile, teams aren't having to cut loose veteran players to make room for cap space anymore, and there are provisions in the new-ish CBA that allow cap space to be rolled over.

Which means that using free agency to help build your team is no longer a bad idea.

Especially if you're limited at quarterback.

I hope the Bengals know this.

2) The Bearcats win, Mick gets defensive again, and I like it. I'm not sure there's a big takeaway from UC's win at South Florida, other than that Justin Jenifer's bucket after a missed USF at the end made some of us very, very happy.  Mick Cronin has an excellent team. Brian Gregory does not.  No other analysis is needed.

If you listened to the postgame show, you heard Mick make a bit of a impassioned plea for people to get off of Jarron Cumberland's back, citing those who claim he needs to be more engaged. (He couldn't have been referring to me, right?) If heard Mick's postgame press conference after the blowout win over SMU, you heard Mick defend the things his program is built on, claiming that so much of what's come to define UC basketball is used against them as negatives in recruiting.

(I'm paraphrasing in both instances.)

I like it. 

I like hearing Mick publicly come to the aid of a player who's been a little (fairly and unfairly) criticized this season, and one who might be the most important key to UC's success. And I really like him defending his program's brand, one that's only formed as he and his players have cranked out one quality team after the other. 

In an age of constant nit-picking, it feels like we (keyword: "we") pick apart the Bearcats, the UC basketball program, and its players at times to the point of being extreme.  This is an outstanding program with clear things that define it, and even though they're far from perfect, this season's Cincinnati team is fun to watch, likable, and very, very good. They're 15-2 and having a fantastic season. Maybe we should all tap the brakes just a little bit.

Oh, and since it's been asked of me a few times since Saturday night, I see no problem with Mick Cronin's friend Rick Pitino talking to Mick Cronin's players. Neither should you.

3) The Musketeers win, and look good doing so. XU put together a pretty thorough beatdown of a good Creighton team that seemed to - at least temporarily - steer their season back on course.  Here's my hot Xavier take, if you're ready...

The Muskies are not as good as people said they were before they lost back to back games to Providence and Villanova.

The Muskies are not as bad as people said they were after they lost back to back games to Providence and Villanova.

Here's my other hot take, one you've read in this space before....

These uniforms are glorious, and they need to be made permanent.

(Photo: Getty Images)

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Recommended Link Of The Day: If you take time to look, college basketball has plenty of stars in its constellation

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Mo Egger

Mo Egger

Mo Egger delivers his unique take on sports on Cincinnati's ESPN 1530! Read more

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