Doc's Morning Line: Only the Bengals can keep themselves from making the playoffs

·6 min read

Only the Bengals can keep the Bengals from making the playoffs by winning the AFC North. I reached that dubious conclusion Monday night while watching Bill Belichick blow his nose into his hand, then wipe it on his sweatshirt. Who wouldn’t be moved to great thoughts after seeing that?

The Bengals have the best and healthiest players still standing in the division. That’s subject to change, obviously. It might have started changing Sunday, with the hurts to Logan Wilson, Chidobe Awuzie and Joe Burrow’s Finger Thing.

I’m sorry, but the QB’s Pinkie Problem has been somewhat overblown, yes? Yours truly knows finger pain, having torn a tendon in my right middle finger during a wrestling practice in high school. Hurt like hell, missed a couple matches.

But we’ve made Burrow’s pinkie pain seem like seven days on the rack.

He didn’t have anything amputated. He dislocated a digit. Playing through it wasn’t like charging San Juan Hill. (Lookitup, kids.) It was something just about any professional football player would do. Props to St. Joe, but no medals, K?

But we digress.

The worst thing about Sunday’s L to the OK Chargers was the opportunity missed. The 2nd-worst was the candor from a few key players (Higgins, Boyd) that the club lacked energy to begin the game. It’s December, kids. C’mon.

The impressive rise of Zac’s Culture Club has changed skeptical minds. What it hasn’t done (yet) is forge the sort of consistency that December tends to reward mightily. The Men are good at bouncing back; their talent for staying atop the mountain needs some work.

All that said, the goofy North is up for grabs. If the Bengals don’t grab it, they’ll have themselves to blame.

Did you watch Steelers-Ravens Sunday? I caught the 4th quarter. Excitement, drama. . . and two teams as perishable as an opened beer in the sun.

Praise Ben for reaching back a few years and finding the Ben of old, not the old Ben. Good work by the O-line and the defense. But if Mark Andrews catches a catchable ball from Lamar Jackson on the deciding 2-point try, the Steelers are on to next year and seeking a QB. The win was heroic, but not durable.

The Steelers still have to play KC and Tennessee, the Browns and Baltimore.

The Ravens are like an aging man who postpones hip surgery so he can play one more round of golf. They lost CB Marlon Humphrey for the year Sunday. If you’re keeping score, they’re now down two Pro Bowl-quality corners (Humphrey and Peters) a couple credible RBs (Dobbins, Edwards) and more than a few O-linemen.

More, Lamar Jackson is slumping and temporarily incapable of lifting up his team solo. The Ravens have 61 points in their last four games. Two weeks ago, Jax threw four picks; Sunday night, he was sacked seven times. This isn’t a team poised to make a run, unless it’s to the infirmary.

And the Ravens still have to play Green Bay, the LA Rams and the rest of the North.

I haven’t mentioned the Browns because they’ve done nothing remarkable, not all fall. I’m a Mayfield guy, but I’ll concede his talent is not on the level with Jackson and Burrow. Plus, physically, he’s a wreck on the highway.

The Bengals? Even with Sunday’s hurts, they’re in good shape, given it’s Week 14. Even considering the depth-challenged offensive line. Their schedule is challenging, but no tougher than what B-more and Pittsburgh face. The issue is, they can’t have any more games like last Sunday.

Kansas City has its mojo back. Everyone else Cincinnati plays still thinks it’s in the playoff chase, including the 6-6 49ers, here Sunday.

Is asking a team to consistently play the way it’s capable asking too much?

Because that’s all the Bengals have to do the next five weeks, and they’re playing on the third Sunday in January.

Now, then. . .

THE PATS SCORE ONE FOR MASTODONS EVERYWHERE. . . Three passes last night. Three, out of 46 total plays, enough to win at windy Buffalo, where ESPN regularly ran a weather update across the bottom of our TV screens, a means to explain why the Belichicks were playing like OSU in 1956.

“I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old,” said center David Andrews. “[At] 6 years old we threw the ball more than three times.”

It worked partly because Belichick has a way of finding and cultivating players who don’t mind sacrificing personal glory for communal victory. The Master noted the polar express running through godawful Highmark Stadium and decided the passing game was out and that he would win with running, defense and field position. And so he did.

BTW and FWIW, Buffalo has the only truly dreadful ballpark in the NFL. Oakland was the consensus No. 1, but now the Coliseum only hosts the A’s. That leaves the mess in Orchard Park, plopped in the middle of what John Mellencamp would call “little pink houses’’ out in the faceless ‘burbs.

There are other places that leave you wanting – Jacksonville comes to mind, so do KC, Landover, MD, (home of the Teamskins), Gillette, Philly, Detroit and whatever they’re calling that charmless pit in Jersey these days. But none tops the glorified high school place where the Bills play.

If any city deserves a new stadium, it’s Buffalo. Great fans, nice people, rust-belted and continually needing a boost. The current stadium was built in 1973 at a cost of, um, $23 million.

Last August, the Bills submitted a proposal for a $1.4 billion, 60,000-seat stadium in Orchard Park on set for completion by 2027. Here’s hoping it becomes reality. Fans there deserve better than playing at Orchard Park High.

CARS ARE BORING. . . From the NY Times:

With so much change going on in the car business, I’d been looking forward to visiting the Los Angeles Auto Show, one of the world’s largest. But it wasn’t long after arriving on the show floor last week that I began to feel — how to put this delicately? — bored out of my mind.

Cars are growing brains, and I’m glad for it. I just wish they weren’t also losing heart, soul and personality.

Spot on.

OGs among us recall the days when every year brought excitement from Detroit. The new-car shows were highly anticipated and they always delivered. GTOs, Barracudas, Camaros, Chevelles, Mustangs. Now?

Boxes on wheels. Your SUV looks like everyone else’s SUV.

Soooo. . .

What was the coolest street car ever? In my mind, it was the ’67 Camaro SS, just ahead of the 64 ½ Mustang, and I had one of those ‘Stangs.

Why can’t affordable cars be both smart and beautiful?

TUNE O’ THE DAY. . . Heard this one yesterday on Underground Garage on Sirius. Great tune. Johnny is aided and abetted by his two pals, Stevie and Bruce. All the Jersey guys sound the same.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: AFC playoffs: Cincinnati Bengals control own destiny | Blog

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