Dave at Stripe Hype, and I, went though a few topics that are either "hot", or were "hot" through a series discerning Fact from Myth.
1) Marvin Lewis is on the hot seat.
Stripe Hype: Myth. I can only laugh when I see this. Oh, sure, if the Bengals have a season like 2002's he might be gone (though even then, I doubt it), but there's no "playoffs-or-bust" situation in Cincinnati. Heck, as you pointed out, he's the third-most-successful head coach in Bengals history, and one of only three (so far) with a winning record. He's also done what no Bengals coach has done since the days of Sam Wyche: take the team to the playoffs. And that we lost that game and haven't been back since has much more to do with injuries and bad behavior than anything Lewis has done.
CincyJungle: I feel so strongly that Marvin Lewis is safe with his job, the Bengals could go 1-15 for the season and Lewis remains. Provided Lewis doesn't do a Chris Henry (very unlikely), the only way I see Lewis leaving in the near future is if it's his own accord.
SH: I don't see Marvin pulling a Coslet...yet. I do wonder, if 2008 turns out badly, how that impacts the locker room. Ocho Cinco would almost certainly have to go in that case. But ultimately, that would be Mike Browns' call. And I could see a scenario in which the Bengals perform poorly this season, Chad is even worse in February 2009 than he was this year, Lewis wants to move on, but Browns' heels are dug into concrete, and Lewis walks. But even then I wouldn't say it was a sure thing. There's only 32 NFL head coaching positions, after all.
CJ: You think a scenario exists that could force Lewis out of town because of Chad?
SH: "Force"? No. But what if Chad does become the major distraction/disruption that some fear, and Brown still refuses to deal him next year? In that case, I think it's possible that Lewis concludes he has better ways to waste his time.
CJ: That would parallel the trends of modern sports, wouldn't it? Player's demands supersedes coaches and managers.
2) The Bengals defense will suffer after losing their supposed best defensive player.
CJ: Myth. Let me begin by saying I've always thought of Smith as a fine player. The guy had grit, strength and a hell of a motor; his one arm tackles were always impressive. After his rookie season, he never missed a game. That said, Smith was always a disappointment for the expectations that came with him. He broke the single-season sack record at Missouri his sophomore year (8); broke it again his junior year (11). There's a point to be made that he never got the "support" from teammates to draw double teams off of him. If that's the excuse that must be made, then I can hardly call Smith our best defensive player.
SH: Agreed -- myth. Smith was a fine player, just not at No. 4 overall. But the Bengals had a desperate need, so they reached for the best of a weak draft class, and the rest is history. Antwan Odom is a serviceable replacement, and perhaps more. I was interesting to me to see that Dan Arkush over at Pro Football Weekly put Odom on his list of the best free agent moves of the offseason, but not the 49ers' acquisition of Smith. Between Odom, Robert Geathers -- another Bengal who gets ignored outside of Cincinnati, even though he's just a year removed from a 10.5-sack season -- and backups Frostee Rucker and Eric Henderson, I think the Bengals could actually be improved at DE, despite the loss of Smith. The big question is whether Rucker and Henderson can stay healthy and contribute.
CJ: Even if Smith were our best "defensive player", there's no way the Bengals would sign him to a $45 million deal with $20 million in guarantees. Smith being gone, in my opinion, helps this team more than hinders.
3) T.J. Houshmandzadeh will leave Cincinnati after this season.
SH: Fact. That the Bengals focused on extending DT Domata Peko and then moved on to G/T Andrew Whitworth without any stops in the T.J. camp speaks volumes, as does the receiver-heavy draft and the signing of TE Ben Utecht. In particular, Utecht will take catches away from T.J. this season. And there's also G/T Stacy Andrews to consider. Keeping him after this year will require monster money, but may be necessary as RT Willie Anderson doesn't have a lot of years left. So, are they going to re-sign a 32-year-old wide receiver, who is rumored to want No. 1 money, if they have to throw big bucks elsewhere on the offense, too? I'm not seeing it, especially if Simpson and Caldwell pan out.
CJ: Fact. First of all, as you pointed out, this team went aggressively in the draft for a crop of wide receivers. Additionally the Bengals are negotiating with several players for extensions. I think even Houshmandzadeh is reading the writing on the wall that his time is up. He's a tremendous receiver; few have the courage to get smoked over the middle like he does. For financial reasons and his age, I just don't see it. Then again, they re-signed my hero Willie Anderson.
SH: Darn, I was all set for an argument! I will add that, if the young receivers are slow (or fail to) come on, it wouldn't surprise me if T.J. were franchised in 2009.
CJ: Honestly, I don't even see the Bengals franchising him. And the younger receivers, save for an injury amongst the starters, won't get too many looks; not with Chad, T.J. and Utecht. Perhaps they'll let Houshmandzadeh so the younger guys have more looks. Risky, no doubt. But the money will be the strongest argument for him to walk -- not because we don't have it, rather because the Browns seem to have a lower standard of values per position.
SH: I just wouldn't rule the tag out, if only because the nature of its use has changed. With the cap jumping so much every year, more and more teams are employing it to hang onto a key player who arguably isn't worth that kind of coin (case in point: Stacy Andrews). As for the youngsters, well, someone needs to step up into that third WR slot.
CJ: Reports are going around that Andre Caldwell is the "leading candidate" for slot receiver after minicamp. I'm really looking forward to pre-season this year with all the new additions -- especially those guys that aren't likely going to start the season.
4) The Bengals will go 8-8.
CJ: Myth. To be honest, I think the Bengals have a manageable schedule this season. Outside the rough AFC North, the Bengals biggest challenges are the Giants, Cowboys and Colts. We can add the Jaguars in there too. As long as the injury bug doesn't bite them (and I challenge anyone to tell me that's just an 'excuse') and the supposed returns of Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry are similar to 2005, I not only thing the Bengals will be competitive, but they'll win. I've always been an optimistic fellow, so I'm saying the Bengals could win 10 at the most, but 9-7 is a very realistic forecast.
SH: Well, I suppose I'll go with myth, though saying that they won't go 8-8, but 9-7 strikes me a splitting hairs a bit. I've kept away from projecting the season because I have too many injury and performance questions. Some you mentioned. Can we get another season out of Big Willie? Is Rudi Johnson done or not? Can Chris Perry stay healthy? Will Ahmad Brooks still be limited by his groin surgery? Is Rucker any good? And on and on. Even more than usual, I think the key will be the division. The whole AFC North plays a tough schedule, and it could very well come down to the division tiebreaker. I don't think the AFCN sends a wild card this season, either.
CJ: What? You mean you can't read into the future? Are you sure you're a Bengals fan? We all seem to have that gift.
SH: Sorry, my crystal ball seems to be broken. Every year I look into it and every year it shows the Bengals winning the Super Bowl...
CJ: Yeap, definitely broken.