CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl this season? Vegas says, "Don't bet on it."
In fact, some sports books out in the desert say you're taking a risk if you bet the "over" on total wins for your men in stripes.
The Westgate Hotel Sports Book has the over-under on Bengals wins this season at seven. Betonline.com has the Bengals over-under on wins at 6.5. Several of the sports books have had the Bengals as low as six this season.
The thing to remember about any posted bet is this: It's not a prediction. The "books" set a number that they believe will create action on both sides, but clearly the Bengals aren't inspiring a lot of national belief.
Vegas Insider even has the Bengals at 100-1 to be hoisting football's ultimate trophy next February. Those are the exact same odds that website gives to the Bears, Browns and Dolphins.
But what do they or ESPN know? Most of what's being predicted for the 2018 NFL season is just lip flapping. You want to predict how many games a team will win in November? Tell me how many of its players will be healthy or how many of its opponents' will.
The lack of faith in your Bengals doesn't end there. Last week, espn.com ranked the rosters of every NFL team. They had the Bengals 18th out of 32 NFL teams. The Steelers roster was rated seventh, the Ravens 20th and the Browns dead last.
Of the players currently on the Bengals roster, espn.com ranked exactly two elite players: AJ Green and Geno Atkins. Most of the Bengals roster fell into the "average" category. Only one Bengals offensive lineman, Clint Boling, achieved a rank of "average." On defense, starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was ranked as "poor."
The Bengals have the NFL right where they want them, or maybe it's the other way around.
Look, we all know why the national perception of the Bengals is the way it is: Marvin Lewis, their record in the playoffs, their record the last two seasons. Put that with a large turnover on the coaching staff in the last two years and, voila, welcome to 2018.
The only problem with all of that is a rather large one. In professional sports, past is not always prologue. Times change, teams change. The coach's creed is every season is different. And as much has coaches babble with nonsense, the creed is often true.
Who saw Jacksonville coming last season? For that matter, the Eagles. In 2016, the Eagles were 7-9. The Bengals were 6-9-1. In the 2017 season, the Eagles won the Super Bowl. The Bengals, of course, were 7-9.
So here we are now, just three weeks from the start of training camp. The Bengals appear to be better than last season -- not wildly better, just better. They had a pedestrian offseason, but in a large way, they needed that.
"If you're drafting a center with a first-round pick, people are yawning. And I understand that from being on the Hall of Fame selection committee. We don't put centers in the Hall of Fame. We put in one, in the last 20 years." This is Clark Judge talking. He has covered the NFL for various newspapers and websites for his entire adult life. He runs the Talk of Fame website and weekly radio show.
"But here, it's not too much different, and I'm not going to make a strong analogy here, from what the Atlanta Falcons did a couple of years ago," Judge said. "And that's when they brought in Alex Mack and said, 'We've got to solidify the center of our offensive line.' "
This would be Billy Price that Judge is talking about. From all indications, Price is bigger, stronger and smarter than any center the Bengals have had since Rich Braham. And he has been gone 12 years now.
"Billy Price, to get him where they did? This is a guy who didn't miss a start in 55 games at Ohio State. He's durable. He's tough. He's the kind of guy you want in the middle of the line. When they (the Falcons offensive line) protected Matt Ryan like they did, you saw the difference. You really did see a complete change in that offense, and in Ryan, in particular," Judge said.
Mack arrived in Atlanta in 2016. The Falcons, of course, went to the Super Bowl that season.
The Bengals' problem isn't dissimilar to what the Falcons were facing before they brought in Mack. Atlanta's line wasn't as dismal as the Bengals' line has been the last two seasons. The Bengals allowed 80 sacks the past two seasons. Not all of those were the line's fault, but most of them were.
Cordy Glenn should be a huge upgrade over the guys the Bengals were running out onto the field to play (allegedly) left tackle last season. Glenn's problem is heath. He played in only six games last season, nursing a bad foot. The Bengals still have issues on the right side of their line. Andre Smith is gone, again. Jake Fisher is healthy, again, over his heart issues. And the right guard spot is so wide open, you might consider applying.
But there's only so much you can do in one offseason, at least by Bengals standards. This is a team that, historically, hasn't embraced the concept of free agency. Maybe if it didn't have the word "free," it'd be a different story. You would never see the Bengals do what the Jacksonville Jaguars did a year ago, signing 13 free agents, three in the first day of business. But trading for Glenn and drafting Price was a start.
"I'm not saying these guys are going to the Super Bowl, like the Falcons did," Judge told me. "But it made sense. If you're going to bet on Andy Dalton, and the Bengals are -- they made it very clear -- protect him."
Dalton, by the way, grades as "average" in the espn.com player rankings. And maybe because of that, the Bengals, as a whole, grade as an average team.
The Eagles' roster grades best in the NFL. They have a wealth of riches at quarterback with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. The Falcons are ranked second, with Matt Ryan. Drew Brees earns the Saints' roster a third-best ranking. The Patriots are fourth on the espn.com list.
But football seasons aren't a function of rankings. Most seasons turn on health and luck. No teams should be anointed a champion in July. And no team, not even the average ones, should be counted out.
"Their running game stunk last year," said Judge of the local squad. "The team offense was dead last last year. Well, do something about it. You've got some weapons. You've got a quarterback you're committed to. So protect him."
We won't have to wait long until we find out how that's going.
Now, to sound out things that have been bouncing around in my head like a ping-pong ball in a dance club:
- My pal Vinnie Iyer from sportingnews.com has his list of the top 10 wide receivers in the NFL. Can't say I argue with any of it.
- I interviewed Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella once. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to him. But after reading this, I think I'd like to talk to Tortorella consistently. The guy is one of the best "quotes" in the biz.
- It's now a "180," but I'm coming around to the idea of not trading Scooter Gennett at the end of this month. First of all, the Reds don't have to trade him. He's under club control through the 2019 season. Second, who is to say the infield prospects in their organization are going to be as good as Gennett is playing right now? Prospects are suspects until proven otherwise. And, who is to say Gennett will be playing as well this time a year from now? Unlike other years with other players, time is on the Reds' side with Gennett. A year from now, they will know if Nick Senzel can play at the major league level. A year from now, they will know if the way Gennett has hit this season was a fluke or trend. You usually don't get a lot for a middle infielder in a trade, certainly not in the middle of a season. So the Reds can afford to wait on Gennett.
- Matt Harvey on the other hand? Been nice knowing you. You can thank us later for getting your arm and your head screwed on straight. Think about this about the free agent to be. If you would carry him until the end of the season and make him a qualifying offer (to at least get draft pick compensation for him signing with another team) and he would forget free agency and take that offer, it would cost the Reds in excess of $17 million for Harvey in 2019 salary. That $17 million would buy a lot better pitcher than Harvey. But he was a nice pick-up for a cheap price. Have you seen Devin Mesoraco's numbers with the Mets? Not good.
LeBron James in Los Angeles made too much sense for it not to happen. He owns an entertainment company that makes, according to the company's website , "compelling stories for television, feature and digital." Just a wild guess here, but I don't think Cleveland is as compelling to the entertainment industry as Los Angeles.
Second, James is all about his legacy now. And he left a cool $50 million on the table with the Cavaliers; money is secondary to him. In 2017 alone, he made $55 million just on endorsements. He has earned well north of $500 million in NBA salary. There's no way he can catch Michael Jordan and his six NBA titles. But James can be the first player to win three NBA titles with three different teams.
He probably took a look around what was in the Cavaliers locker room with him and came to the conclusion everyone has: It's not a very good group. Remember this is the team that beat the Pacers this spring in seven games. And to win that seventh game, the Cavaliers needed 45 points from James to win by only four.
Now he will go to the Lakers, who haven't been relevant since the Kobe-Shaq era. I would not be surprised if the Lakers work out a deal to get Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs. And I would not be shocked if Lonzo Ball is in another uniform next season. My guess is James told the Lakers he likes Lonzo, but keep his father away from me. Easiest way to do that? Trade Ball.
- I'd be shocked if the Cavaliers win 30 games next season. If they're being honest about it, they would probably be shocked, too.
- And then, you have this from Charles Barkley . And actually, I get what he's saying.
- Down in Lexington, John Calipari has set the bar high for his team this coming season. He does understand there is only one ball on the court at any given time, right?
- Two things about the World Cup as it rolls into the quarterfinals. One, with Argentina and Germany now out of the way, could the Cup be headed to England? After the Brits beat Colombia on penalties (not exactly a strength for England), it could be. Except there's that little problem with Brazil and France still around. And, two, it should be a World Cup rule that Ian Darke call every World Cup match in 2020. There isn't a better voice in the game. And he has been missed this go-round. End of story, although I like John Strong.
This is a good time to wish singer, songwriter and showman Huey Lewis a happy 68th birthday. And some good wishes, too, as he battles health issues. This is one of his earliest hits. But it's also one of my all-time favorites.
This is from his 1982 album "Picture This." The song peaked at No. 7 36 years ago. It was written by the prolific songwriter "Mutt" Lange, who was married for a hot minute to Shania Twain.
Lewis didn't want to record this song, largely because he had no hand in writing it and thought it was too commercialized in sound. But he and Lange, who knew each other from working together in Lewis' first band, "Clover," were under pressure from their label to produce a breakout hit. Lange convinced Lewis this would be that hit. Turns out, Lange was spot on. By the way, as on so many of Lewis' hits, sax player Johnny Colla is an absolute star on this song.
Times have turned tough for Lewis. He was forced to cancel his entire 2018 tour because, he said, his hearing has deteriorated so badly, he can't sing anymore.
I remember seeing Lewis, a huge 49ers fan, immediately after the Bengals-49ers Super Bowl in Miami in 1989. We were both stuck in a sea of people. He was in a human mass flowing toward the 49ers' locker room. I was in another human mass heading toward the Bengals' locker room. The human flows of traffic stopped just as Lewis and I were next to each other. We literally looked at each other at the same moment. I had no idea what to say. He, of course, was ecstatic about the outcome of the game. So all I said to him was a title from one of his songs. I said, "Well, if this it ..." He looked at me and said, "It better not be." It wasn't, of course for the 49ers. They had two more Super Bowl wins left in them. For the Bengals? Sigh.
Anyway, happy belated 68th birthday to the man who delivered the News back in the day, born Hugh Cregg III on July 5, 1950, in New York City. You, of course, know him as Huey Lewis.