As I write these words, the Patriots are beating the Chargers 24-0, and it looks as if the final score will be in the neighborhood of 371-0.
Look, I didn't think that would be the opening line to this potential semi-masterpiece, but I believe Bengals fans should find relief in it. Well, sort of. Here's why: One game doesn't make a season (cliche...check). I grant you it looks pretty effing bad right now, giving up 51 to Derek Anderson and the Browns and all, but it's not the end of the world. Yet.
(By the way, everyone, including myself, keeps calling the Browns "lowly," and yet they count among their skill players two top ten draft picks in Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards, and Jamal Lewis, a former top ten pick who clearly has something left in the tank. Plus, Derek Anderson isn't exactly a retread who has bounced around from team to team; nobody has a freaking clue as to how his career will unfold.)
What today's shootout loss does mean, though, is that the Bengals have a zero percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. None. Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "No shit, guy, they just gave up half-a-hundy to the asspots from Cleveland!" And I don't blame you for feeling that way, but I'm going to do my best to keep you off the ledge (unless you really want to jump).
The reason I even mentioned the words "Super" and "Bowl" in the previous paragraph is because I still think this Bengals team has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. (Hang with me now, stunned Bengals fans.) What's lost in all of this mess is that they scored 45 freaking points. Regardless of the opposition, that's a buttload of scoring, and they did it without their star LT, without their superfreak WR and without their ace-in-the-hole 3rd down back. Plus, their Pro Bowl RT was quite obviously playing at less than 100 percent. The point I'm trying to make is that it takes a ton of talent to put up the numbers that Carson and company put up Sunday. And it's realistic to assume that the talent pool will deepen (by the return of Levi Jones, Chris Henry and Chris Perry, and the physically improving Willie Anderson). But even if it stays the same (which it almost certainly won't), the offense should be good enough to generate more W's than L's.
But Brad, what about the defense?
In case you didn't know, Sunday's performance wasn't a lack of execution or missed assignments (more on that later)...they're just an awful group, and that's not going to change in the next three months. But that doesn't mean the Bengals will be sitting home in January, either. Case in point: the 2000 St. Louis Rams.
The St. Louis Rams played in the Super Bowl in '99 and '01, but the team in between barely squeaked into the playoffs before losing in the Wild Card round to New Orleans. This is mostly because they decided against playing defense for the entirety of the season. They allowed a staggering 29.4 ppg to easily come in last place in that category. As for the offense, they were precisely the opposite, averaging 33.7 per game, by far the best in the league. Hell, they even have their version of the Browns' 51-45 win on Sunday: a 54-34 week 8 drubbing at the hands of the below average 7-9 Kansas City Chiefs. By below average, I mean that for the 2000 season, KC's QB was Elvis Grbac, their leading receiver was Derrick Alexander and the leading rusher, Tony Richardson, a freaking FB, lead the way with less than 700 yards. Not exactly a who's who, you know? And they put up 54 points against a playoff team!
But Brad, did you just compare a team with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in their respective primes to the 2007 Cincinnati Bengals?
Actually, yes. Kind of. The Bengals are nowhere near as versatile (at least not until Henry and Perry return), but I'll take this Carson Palmer over that Kurt Warner, and that makes both offenses similar, at least in terms of explosiveness. (Palmer, by the way, is going to shatter every team record this season. Lock it).
Here comes another strong point from yours truly...
As much as you think teams can't win without a strong defense, that simply isn't the case. Defenses take you to the next level in the playoffs, no question, but offenses are clearly more valuable in the regular season. Before you think I'm making shit up for the sake of argument, you should consider the '98 Chargers. Did you know that that Juggernaut went 5-11 despite giving up the fewest yards in the NFL? If you didn't, I bet you can guess why. Fine, I'll just tell you. Because their offense was garbage--they averaged 15 ppg that season.
Lets play some regular season math with Professor Smart Person (aka me)...
Elite offense + lousy defense = possible Wild Card team.
Elite defense + lousy offense = top five pick.
So as you can see, this season is not a lost cause, but lowering expectations isn't such a bad idea. They'll have to score a lot of points, and hang on for dear life at the conclusion of most games, but 9-7 or 10-6 isn't an impossibility.
Part Deux to be continued Monday afternoon. It will be chock-full of game reaction, such as extended complaints about Marvin Lewis' ongoing absentmindedness. And yes, I realize I should have posted that column before this one. I'm stupid. Deal with it.