Here's a dirty little secret about my business. When you want to "move the dial," talk about the NFL. I swear I'm not succumbing to that today.
But the Bengals aren't getting a lot of love from anyone outside of Cincinnati a little less than four months away from the start of the NFL season.
Business as usual?
No love, nowhere. For example, in its 2017 predictions for all 32 NFL teams (and really, how silly is this anyway, considering no one, NO ONE has any idea how healthy teams will be in November or December?) this is what Bleacher Report said about the home squad:
While they still have wide receiver A.J. Green, the Cincinnati Bengals once again lost some key free agents this offseason -- most importantly along the offensive line, which is a position they should address in the draft.
Yes, I'm referring to Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, who fled to the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns, respectively.
Sure, they brought in offensive tackle Andre Smith and linebacker Kevin Minter, but come on, people -- those moves won't make up for the loss of Whitworth and Zeitler.
Now the Bengals employ an offensive line that is projected to have Jake Fisher as the starting offensive tackle. He played just 300 snaps in 2016 and was ranked 136th at the offensive tackle position, according to Pro Football Focus.
In 2016, the Bengals went 6-9-1.
Turn that tie into a loss, and that's where they're finishing this year, if not worse given the loss of two key offensive linemen.
2017 record prediction: 6-10
But that highlights the biggest issue with the Bengals this season -- their tackles. It's OK when you have to replace one tackle in any season. To replace two is titanic. And Andre Smith at right guard? If he hasn't developed the feet of a ballerina in the one year he spent at Minnesota, his lack of mobility will be a major issue.
At USA Today, they've used the Las Vegas over/under win predictions for each team to formulate their own. Most Vegas sports books have the Bengals over/under win total for this 2017 season at 8.5. USA Today's writers say that's an inflated number:
Steven Ruiz: This number is waaaaaaaay too high. The offensive line was picked apart in free agency. That’s going to be a big problem given Andy Dalton’s pocket presence issues.
Luke Kerr Dineen: Agree with both Steven and Charles. If it’s a trap line, I’m not seeing it (though I guess that’s the point). Under.
Charles Curtis: Easy money here. The under for a team on the decline. They’re not a playoff team for a second straight year.
A team on the decline? The core is at its peak. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are both entering their seventh season. Geno Atkins is entering his eighth. Vontaze Burfict will enter his sixth season. And while all of those players have exceeded the average career of an NFL player (three seasons), these are hardly players who are over the hill.
Sports Illustrated's Jonathan Jones was a bit kinder to the Men In Stripes when he wrote this about the upcoming season:
"Here’s another AFC North team with a coach who could be on the hot seat. Marvin Lewis is the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL today, but he won’t be able to afford missing the playoffs in consecutive years on top of five years of wild-card futility. The Bengals caught some tough breaks last season by losing seven of nine by a possession. Starting the season against Baltimore, Houston, Green Bay, Cleveland and Buffalo could give the Bengals a 4–1 start going into their bye."
But he also puts the Ravens at the same win total and has the Steelers winning 12. And worse -- for what it's worth at this time of the year -- Jones has projected non-division-winning Kansas City and Denver with 11 win totals. If it plays out that way, the scenario would exclude the Bengals from the playoffs again.
But I will reiterate: Predicting NFL games in-season is a dicey proposition. Trying to do it almost four months before opening weekend is somewhat of a fool's game. The Bengals have two major "red flags" with their starting offensive tackles. And for a team that allowed 41 quarterback sacks last season, that's a major issue. But I'd hold off on the season obituary for the moment. It's a long way from now until January.
Now then, some random thoughts on this random Thursday...
A lot of people are "smelling a fish in the laundry," as legendary Pittsburgh Steelers announcer Myron Cope once said. The NBA Lottery was held Tuesday night and the Lakers got the second pick in the upcoming draft. The projected No. 2 pick in the draft is Lonzo Ball, he of the short career at UCLA, he of the obnoxious father who is pushing a $495 pair of sneakers.
If you believe the "fix" was in Tuesday night, chances are you've been plagued by conspiracy theories most of your life. But I wonder what would have happened if the Magic, Hornets or Kings would have wound up with that second overall pick? Wonder how LaVar Ball would play in those towns...
Unless the Spurs get Kawhi Leonard back, and healthy, they're finished. Golden State in five if Leonard can't play.
I also think the Celtics have a puncher's chance against the Cavs...
Amir Garrett is back with the Reds, or will be when he starts today against the Cubs. So was he sent down to conserve his innings or save money? We'll find out, if he heads back to Louisville at some point again this season. Garrett was optioned to Triple-A on May 7 and will have spent 11 days there.
He threw a grand total of two innings in those 11 days in the minors. To "buy" an extra season before a player is eligible for arbitration or free agency, an organization has to keep a player in the minors at least 14 days during the course of a season. Three more to go for the Reds, with regards to Garrett...
Now this is pretty cool. I hope she makes it...
Not that he needs any sort of confirmation, but it's apparent that University of Cincinnati football is alive and well again under Luke Fickell. Of course, he hasn't coached a game yet for the Bearcats. But check out this story on the new head coaches in major college football and where Fickell is ranked when the topic is recruiting...
The proof will be on the field this fall. College football is littered with out-of-work coaches who've recruited well and haven't developed the talent. By the way, I don't think Fickell will be one of them...
And now for our musical interlude of the week. Forty-four years ago today, this was the No. 1 song in the USA.
It won Stevie Wonder a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal of the year.
Little known fact about this song -- Wonder doesn't sing the first two lines. It's the voice of long-time session musician Jim Gilstrap. It was an impromptu recording session, late one night at the Electric Ladyland studio in New York City that spawned this hit.
Wonder had the ability to play every instrument at his disposal. But assembled on this night for this recording were some top New York City session guys. Ray Parker Jr. -- with a future hit of his own, the them from the movie "Ghostbusters" -- was on guitar. Another great New York-based musician, Scott Edwards, is on bass. And jazz sax legend David Sanborn is working the valves.well.
At the time of its recording, "You Are The Sunshine Of My LIfe" was believed to be Wonder's feelings about his then wife, Syreeta. But their marriage ended in divorce within the next two years.
The song went to No. 1 44 years ago today -- one of two that hit that height from the album "Talking Book." The other? "Superstition."