With the spigot of draft speculation left running and drowning all of us, I welcome you, as a change of pace, to look at the schedule. Thursday night, the NFL will pull back its curtain and dazzle us with a full slate of 16 games for each and every team. This is an annual occurrence and usually one I come to discover rather than await, but anything based on indisputable fact right now is heartily welcomed. Before such revelations are announced, however, we as junkies of the stuff, can give another thought to the who and where while we wait on the when.
Upon first glance, the the host of opposition appears a bit more tame this season compared to that of recent past. Of course, I'm not pulling out numbers to suggest any such claim, but it at least feels softer anyway. But after about 45 seconds of consideration, one begins to change their mind and wonder how they will beat most of these teams. Worry not, my friends, this is the schedule goes.
One thing that jumped out at me right away was the lack of West Coast games, save for San Diego, where they won last year. Some folks, particularly coaches, like to downplay the long-travel games, but I'm convinced that it's a disadvantage for any team to travel more than two time-zones away. These are men conditioned to follow strict routine and do the things the same way every time. That's why any road game is difficult, but a West Coast one is doubly so (Bengals all-time West Coast record: 16-48, 3-8 under Marvin Lewis).
Another element of the schedule that excited me was the fact that the Bengals will travel to three Great Lakes cities, increasing the chances of a snow game this season. Of course this all depends on the time of year, but if the schedule-makers decide any of these showdowns are to take place in late-November or after, fingers will be crossed.
I know there are those who don't always enjoy weather games, saying that it limits the tremendous athletic ability on the field, but it's pretty rare to get a real snow game in the first place and when it does happen,it seems to make the game more memorable. There are countless examples of weather games: the Fog Bowl in Chicago in the 80's, the tuck-rule game in New England in '01, and for Bengals fans, the painful late-season loss in Denver in 2006. Also, if BenJarvus Green-Ellis were to gain an advantage in any kind of game condition, it would be a game with snow.
The AFC East doesn't scare me much.
The Patriots are always formidable as long as their superhero quarterback remains under center and their supervillian coach remains on the sideline. Of course, both are getting older, but they will have to be sitting in yellow jackets before I totally count them out.
Miami spent a lot of money in March and gained the collective applause of the media, and they certainly appear to be a team on the rise, but they are unproven and an implosion of the season would seem less surprising than any wild success stories.
Buffalo continues to wander about in the void, looking for anything to hang their hat on. They have another coach and another quarterback and another chance to prove that they aren't permanently random. The fact they haven't already moved to Toronto astounds me.
Then there are the Jets who either have no plan, or are fooling us all. Rex Ryan is brash, yes, but he is not a bad coach. The situation he was placed in was doomed for any long-term success. When Mark Sanchez was winning, the team smashed their way into consecutive AFC championship games and could have done so with most quarterbacks in the league. Once the dominant offensive line and defense grew too old, the backup plan proved faulty and the rest is tabloid history. Now the Jets look upon each other with terror in their eyes. Even the unshakable Ryan comes off as unsure and listless. He intends to regain control of the defensive playcalling, but that side of the ball may not be the issue. They are an organization firmly in the grips of a downward swing and may be too beyond repair to have a shot at a winning season in 2013.
The NFC North could be a different story.
The Lions have some nice names on paper. Their big year in 2011 fueled Detroit fans with optimism only to be deflated with a sorry encore last season. When they were winning, they reminded me of the 2005 Bengals, with a young hotshot quarterback, elite receiver and a promising coach. That Bengals team never maintained any meaningful success after that and held on to many of the key pieces for too long in hopes of a revival. If the Lions think they can simply pass their ways out of the woes of losing, they will feel a similar fate.
Minnesota is a tough one to call. Greg Jennings is cool, but is Christian Ponder? And if Ponder isn't cool, is Matt Cassell? The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, and, like last year, he alone can be enough to get them to the playoffs, but I don't have a lot of confidence in that team. Perhaps I still have a lingering disappointment about Leslie Frazier and his time as defensive coordinator here, I don't know.
Green Bay is always going to be hard to beat as long Aaron Rodgers plays there. The guy is one of the best and is already matched up with Drew Brees to take over the legendary QB tandem once Manning and Brady hang it up. Their secondary remains a bit of a question mark for me and that offensive line dealt with some issues a year ago, but all in all, the Packers remain a legitimate Super Bowl contender even in April.
The Bears now have Marc Trestman as their coach who is said to be a quarterbacks expert. His goal is to squeeze the remaining talent from Jay Cutler and take him to straight to the Super Bowl. While they cut loose their captain on defense, they still have savvy veteran leadership decorated with Pro Bowls and awards. This game seems tough for the Bengals no matter what time of year they're scheduled.
It doesn't make sense to attempt to predict the wins and losses just yet-it barely makes sense to write about this at all-but I do like the way these opponents feel as a whole. Whether the divisional tables are shifting or not is day for a different bacon, but these other teams matter too, and are worth keeping an eye on.
Try this when you're grilling:
Buy some dates from a Mediterranean shop if you can-the Medjool kind. Get some bacon. Line the bacon with a little brown sugar-don't go overboard. Wrap the bacon around the date and stab it through with a toothpick. Grill them bitches. Keep in mind that the grease dripping off will create flair ups. Turn em every now and then. You know what cooked bacon looks like; take it off when it's ready. You'll love me for it.
Other bacon-wrapped dates.
Thursday is the final day for teams to host prospects (within the metro area of that team) and Friday is the final day for restricted free agency-the Bengals have no remaining restricted free agents. The NBA Playoffs begin Saturday and the NFL Draft is next Thursday, April 25. My birthday is March 12, and the Cincinnati Reds were founded in 1869. For all other dates, go to the library and look them up.
Mojokong-needs not told twice.