CINCINNATI — The NFL is at the top of the American sports landscape for a very good reason: the league makes sure you never, ever forget about it. Ever.
The regular season takes up four months of the year. The four rounds of postseason play last another five weeks. There’s the week in between conference title games and the Super Bowl that’s all about the hype. Even the preseason games, where the main objective is to make sure teams arrive to the real games as healthy as possible, is packaged with all the hoopla, extravagance and ticket prices of Week 1.
The NFL doesn’t want to be left out of our lives. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the league was insecure.
One corner of the NFL world that’s not getting much attention is Cincinnati. For certain, the Bengals have some storylines, some questions and a budding quarterback-contract drama but right now, in the first week of June, they are a random blip on the NFL radar.
"You get no points for buzz," said head coach Marvin Lewis Tuesday following a practice inside Paul Brown Stadium. "The buzz has nothing to do with winning football games in the fall."
The Bengals have been pretty good at winning games in each of the last three falls. They’ve increased their win total each of the last three seasons, going from nine in 2011 to 10 in 2012 and finally 11 wins last season. The postseason, as everyone is well aware, has been a different animal.
That’s why the lack of buzz nationally for the Bengals. Even locally, the atmosphere surrounding the team is tempered. It has but one thing to prove: can it win in January?
There are no answers to that question in the first week of June. Only OTA workouts.
"We don’t have guys here that are trying to get into the media, trying to make big stories. We have guys who have head down and work hard. It fits our team," quarterback Andy Dalton told FoxSportsOhio.com. "Obviously when you have more success and you do things there is going to be the buzz, there is going to come a lot of attention. We have gotten that since I’ve been here. There’s been a lot of good stuff that has gone on and the media and everyone has taken notice so there has been hype around it but right now we’re trying to remain focused. That’s fine for us. We just put our heads down and go to work."
The status of the ongoing contract talks between the Bengals and Dalton is a topic for sports talk debate and column-written opinions. Both sides say they would like to reach an agreement but neither is saying much more. In an interview last week with Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, Lewis made mention of the seven-year contract Chicago and Jay Cutler agreed to in January, a deal that could be worth $126 million when all is said and done. The comment was in connection to the Dalton contract talks.
In the world of the NFL, especially in late May/early June, anything related to contract talks is big news. Even if it isn’t news, if it’s the same answer with a few different lines.
"Unfortunately I answer the (Dalton contract) question too often," said Lewis Monday night at a youth football camp being put on by his foundation, the Marvin Lewis Community Fund. "It is what it is. He’s our quarterback. We believe in Andy and what he’s done with this football team. He continues to grow and moves forward. We’ve got a new coordinator here on offense now that really feels we can further take advantage of Andy’s skills and keep moving forward. That’s the exciting part."
The Bengals have raised the expectations from the outside with their play the last three seasons. Those expectations haven’t changed inside the building for this season but to those on the outside there is very much a wait-and-see approach. Hence, no buzz.
"We don’t get to turn the page until you earn back through this coming season," said Lewis on Tuesday. "This football team is one that knows what it’s all about. When we come to work and we started off the offseason program every seat is filled. That tells you right there that these guys know what’s important and what’s ahead of us all of the time."