If how you feel about NFL teams is tied solely to their most recent outcomes, then I can't imagine how exhausted you must be by the end of the season.
You're also probably like most NFL fans.
We overreact. Maybe more than we do in any other sport. What was last week's narrative is quickly discarded in favor of a new take that's cranked out the minute a result that was different from either what was expected or what happened last week. After the first Monday night, I heard all about how the Jets were the next big thing with their rookie quarterback the Browns should have drafted. A couple of weeks later, it's the Browns with the next big thing at QB after having beating that same Jets team that's now complete garbage.
A week ago, the Steelers were the embodiment of dysfunction. Mike Tomlin had lost the locker room. Their run atop the AFC North was over.
Today, they're still the team everyone else in the division has to go through, and Tomlin is a master of eliminating distractions.
After week one, the Patriots were poised to run the AFC once again, a dynasty immune to crumbling amid the noise and controversy that's surrounded that team since late last season.
After week three, it's over in New England. The only question is in the divorce between Belichick and Brady, who gets custody Gronk?
After two wins, one over a so-so team and another over a slightly-better-than-so-so team, the Bengals were on the up and up, a completely re-done franchise benefiting from deep, philosophical changes, one that was getting massive disrespect from the national media and surely was in the AFC North's driver's seat.
After last week's loss, they are the same old Bengals. Destine to be punted from any kind of contention by Thanksgiving.
I've learned, and I'll admit that it's taken some time and discipline, not to be slave to the most recent result, or swayed too much by one game. This league has too crowded of a middle to do that, at least within the first six weeks or so, and there's too many random variables that change from week to week to really take much from any one games, especially in September.
I think the Browns are interesting. I believe the Chiefs are potentially explosive. I think the Rams are scary good. I think the Redskins are garbage. I think the Chargers will be pretty good. I think the Steelers are taking a step back. And I think the Bengals could be pretty good, far from a title contender even if the AFC is a little more wide open, but maybe a year from now if things go as we hope, they could be very good.
I thought all of those things before the season began. I think all of those things now.
Which is why I'm maybe more optimistic than some were - at least initially about this week's Bengals game in Atlanta. If the Bengals would have won last week, I'd be hearing from people screaming about an inevitable 4-0 start, and a charge toward a division title that'd be wrapped before December arrived.
That a handful of plays swung the outcome in favor of Carolina has many panicking over an unavoidable crash back to .500, with the added doom and gloom of a rough stretch of games against teams with quality offenses in the coming weeks.
Games are more mutually exclusive than we given them credit for being, especially early in the season when strengths and weaknesses haven't been completely solidified. I've always viewed this game against the Falcons as a tough task for the Bengals, because they are facing an Atlanta team in its own building that has a very, very explosive offense. Yet it's seemed winnable because I believe there are weaknesses in the Falcons' defense - especially with the injuries to it - that the Bengals can expose, with passes to Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert, and AJ Green, who should play on Sunday.
The last two weeks, the Falcons gave up a combined 29 catches for 226 yards to Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. Gio is as good as neither, but he is more than capable, and even if he doesn't get the volume of catches that either McCaffrey or Kamara enjoyed, he can still be impactful as a pass catcher against this defense.
So too can AJ Green. As can Tyler Eifert. And yes, so can John Ross.
Atlanta's starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen are both done for the season, the Falcons have a defense that's been carved up the last two weeks, and with a full complement of wideouts, a tight end who had a sneaky good game last week, and Bernard's ability to make catches out of the backfield, I think all the nice things the Bengals made us say about their offense after two weeks can be repeated as this matchup looms.
And maybe we will say some nice things about John Ross after Sunday. I certainly didn't after his performance last week, and the building skepticism about his ability and willingness to contribute are justified, even if we've talked a little too much about Ross following a game in which the Bengals' defense was trucked by Carolina's rushing attack.
But tap the brakes on giving up on him after a little over 100 pro snaps, and allow Ross a chance to use last week as a jumping off point. Don't abandon talent, which Ross has. Not that I think the Bengals would do this anytime soon - but don't be quick to give up on a player that many, many teams would pass up on.
That defense that was run over last week against the Panthers has to play better, of course. The Falcons present arguably as tough a test as the Bengals' secondary will face all season (Kansas City says hi), and it'd be great if the entirety of the vaunted pass rush we slobbered over so much during the preseason would make an appearance. It'd also be swell if Dre Kirkpatrick could A) play B) catch interceptions. And I'd also like to feel better about the Bengals doing so much to take away downfield threats that Austin Hooper will continue to run free across the middle of the field.
But I think the Bengals have more than a puncher's chance on Sunday. Thought so three weeks ago, and I believe so now. This might be the best game of the weekend, and to me at least, it has a last-team-with-its-hands-on-the-ball feel to it. I don't have quite enough confidence to guess that they win on the road against a team with a very good offense, but I will guess that's it's close, I'll take the points, and given that I'm watching the NFL nowadays striving to under-react more than anything, I won't allow the fact that the Bengals lost last week allow me to think that they can't win this week.
Falcons 34 Bengals 31 (Cincinnati +4)
THERE ARE OTHER GAMES
In order of confidence....
Giants (+3.5) over New Orleans. The unintended consequence of the NFL's bad roughing the passer rule is that defensive players will take start taking cheap shots at quarterbacks, figuring if they're going to get penalized, they might as well get their money's worth. Promise you the competition committee never considered this, but it will happen. This game screams +50.5 on the over/under, by the way.
Pittsburgh (-3) over Baltimore. Vegas seems to think these teams are evenly matched. They're not.
Dallas (-3) over Detroit. God, the Cowboys are boring.
Miami (+6.5) over New England. If Bengals/Falcons isn't the best game of the weekend, then this one could be. The last four times I've watched the Patriots play, they've been the less talented, more poorly-coached team. I think they win, but not by much. The Dolphins are a win away from making a lot of people here quite nervous.
Cleveland (+2.5) over Oakland. I like this new world where Thursday night football games are really, really good. This has nothing to do with Browns v. Raiders, of course, but I wanted to mention that and this seemed like a good place to do so, given that Cleveland played on Thursday night last week. Rams v. Vikings was a really entertaining three hours of television last night. This game won't be in the same stratosphere as that one. I like the under on this one, and for all the hype surrounding Baker Mayfield, I believe the Browns' defense is semi-legit.
Philly (-4) over Tennessee. Why can't catchers and pitchers communicate with headsets?
Chicago (-3) over Tampa Bay. Fitzmagic, meet Mack, uh, jic.
Seattle (-3) over Arizona. If this is the only game you see this weekend, then why?
San Francisco (+10) over San Diego. Look, I hate the new roughing the passer points of emphasis, mainly because they defy physics, but do you want to watch the San Francisco 49ers without Jimmy Garoppolo? Me either.
Indianapolis (-1) over Houston. DeShaun Watson v. Andrew Luck shouldn't be like this. Also, I may or may not have made a wager in July on the first coach to get fired. That bet was made on one of the two head coaches roaming the sideline in this game.
Jacksonville (-7.5) over Jets. What's worse, the fact that a team that scored six points last week is a favorite by more than a touchdown, or the fact that I have money on them?
Kansas City (-4.5) over Denver. KC's defense is going to cost them a game they should win. It won't happen this week.
Buffalo (+9.5) over Green Bay. Put Aaron Rodgers on the Bills and they're....the Packers!
Last week: 6-10Last night: PUSH!This season: 26-21-2
CINCINNATI v. UCONN
I haven't done Dez Ridder's performance against Ohio last week justice, and sadly, I don't have much time to give it what it deserves here. He was fantastic in bringing UC back from down 21 against the Bobcats, and I admit that I was calling for Hayden Moore to get a series when the Bearcats were down by three scores. I like Hayden, but there's very little reason to play him now.
This team is going to be a win away from bowl eligibility after just five games. That's pretty remarkable.
I don't trust the Bearcats enough yet when they're getting laying more than two touchdowns, but I really can't imagine them losing to UConn, which I'm sure you'll remind me of if they do.
Bearcats 31 Huskies 16 (UConn +17.5)
Ohio State (-3.5) over Penn State. I've watched Penn State's defense. I don't trust it. Even at home. Also, I think this controversy is stupid.
Kentucky (+1) over South Carolina. Vegas continues to undersell the Wildcats. I'll keep picking them, hoping for an SEC East showdown with Georgia three days before UK and Duke open the college basketball season in Indy.
Indiana (-16.5) over Rutgers. Glad that whole Big Ten thing is working out for you, Rutgers fans.
Miami (+1.5) over Western Michigan. Appreciate the defense allowing the over to hit, Chuck Martin
Dayton over Marist.
SEND ME MY CUT
TCU (-10.5) over Iowa State.
Cal (+1.5) over Oregon.
Clemson (-25) over Syracuse.
Purdue (-3.5) over Nebraska.
Tennessee/Georgia under 55
(Photo: Getty Images)