Training Camp Eve always brings out the win-loss predictors. From what I can gather the Bengals’ tallies range anywhere from 4-12 to 12-4, depending on a particular prognosticator’s football knowledge or homer quotient. Me, personally, I’m not a numbers guy. I don’t predict actual digits; way too many variables ... way too many factors. Plus, there are much better numbers guys than me here and at other blogs who can crunch numbers, do all the math—and make since of players added via the Draft, free agency or trade. But sometimes you gotta look beneath the surface. That’s why Bengals success in ’08 won’t come from what’s been added; it’ll instead come from what’s been subtracted—basically addition by subtraction.
Here’s how I see it: The 2008 Bengals are considerably better because we can ...
Subtract the ‘In Marvin We Trust’ Days. While it’s not quite a Michael Jackson-type plummet, you have to admit Lewis’ star has either totally faded, or at least its fizzle has a high motor. But now it’s more than fans questioning his ability, it’s the NFL Establishment, too. No doubt Saint Marvin, once foolishly mentioned as a successor to Parcels in Dallas, sees his NFL future tanking, just like his teams in late season. If there’s ever a pull-out-all-stops, Hail Mary, go-for-broke of a coaching effort job in his future, it’s now. In fact, the NOW t-shirts speak more to his needed career boost than team success. One more Lewis-like year and Saint Marvin will at best be back on the Coordinator’s junk pile. Look, Lewis does not want to be tagged by the NFL powers for ChadGate, HenryGate, ThurmanGate, ArrestGate, Locker-Room-In-ChaosGate and Sucking DefensesGate. So, this year we’ll see the absolute best Lewis has to offer—not because he wants to bring home a Super Bowl to good ol’ Cincinnati—because he HAS to salvage his post-Bengals career. Prior to last season’s lackluster coaching effort, Saint Marvin could probably have back-peddled into to a decent Defensive Coordinator’s job. But after five straight bottom-feeder defenses, who’d hire him now?
Subtract the ‘Chad Walks on Water’ Days. In two short years we’ve gone from ‘In Marvin We Trust’ to ‘In Chad We Disgust’. And I for one couldn’t be happier. My Jedi instincts say there’s at least 3 huddles-full of Bengals’ players sick of The Chad. Nauseated by The Chad. And have been for years. But like Lewis, the beloved Chad for a time was untouchable. No more. Seeing Moutho Cinco criticized for everything from selfish antics and dropped passes, to running wrong routes and his ‘yawns after catch’ act will inspire team spirit like we haven’t seen in years. Chad exposing Chad has been good for the team.
Subtract the “High Expectations” Days. The test of a real winner is: can you win when people expect you to win—even when they’re all gunning for you? Well, this generation of Bengals has proven they’re not close to that metric. Now, with the expected-to-win monkey off the their backs, the likelihood for success goes up, at least marginally. As strange as it sounds, a team with this many pro-bowlers and potential Hall of Famers can actually sneak up on people in ’08.
Subtract the ‘Bengals Veteran’s Act’ Days. Lewis got one thing right last year—this team got stale (One key part he left out was, it’s his job to ensure that doesn’t happen. But I digress). Let’s be honest, this team’s batch of veterans have not gotten the job done. Bottom line, the Lewis, Palmer, Willie, Chad, T.J., Levi, Rudi, J. Johnson Show hasn’t worked ... so far. Time for some new blood. My Jedi instincts say a few rookies and first- and second-year players will begin supplanting some veterans in both performance and publicity. Also, count on a rook’ to emerge; not a Cris Collinsworth-type burst on the scene craze, but one who’ll have a big-impact season. And look for The Chad’s star and stupid end zone show to further wane, too.
Subtract the ‘Middle Man’ Days. Finally the poorly rated ‘Ahmad in the Middle’ program gets cancelled. Brooks is no middle linebacker. Beast-like physical abilities, yes. Knowledge, football instincts and discipline, no. As much brawn as those great Baltimore defenses have, it’s brains that make it work. Brooks will never get ticketed for brains and instincts. And he’ll never pass a walk-a-straight-line-to-the-ball-carrier test, either.
Subtract ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors’ and ‘Thug Twins’ Days. Carrying the Thug Twins—Henry and Thurman—for the past 2-3 years was an ill-advised, unnecessary weight on the team. Finally jettisoning the twins will be like a smoker’s lung rejuvenating itself back to health. And if for nothing else, lopping off of those two infected limbs shows the serious players that Brown-Lewis do have their team-disruption limits. Now we can all—including local under-aged girls and innocent by-standers—breathe a little easier. So, despite countless reasons this team could easily land face down in ’08, I am surprisingly optimistic. Very optimistic. But it’s more for what’s not here than what is.