Fool me three times, fool me four times, and well, you can go fool yourself.
Article continues below ...
That’s how the football-viewing public feels about the Cincinnati Bengals. Trust me, I get it. You don’t want to hear about a 4-0 team that has downright dominated its opponents and has trailed for less than two minutes total all season. You don’t want to hear about a loaded roster that’s filled with so many first- and second-round picks that the names read like they came from a college all-star game.
You don’t want to hear about a team that is as healthy as it has been in the past four seasons. And you don’t want to hear about an offense that just had its first game in franchise history with both four rushing touchdowns and a quarterback throwing for more than 300 yards.
You don’t want to hear about it because you’ve been burned. Or, at least you’ve seen this team get burned. Time and time again.
What sticks out is 0-4 in the playoffs the last four years with Andy Dalton inevitably withering away in January games and 0-6 under Marvin Lewis in the postseason. Football fans have had their share of seeing the Bengals win big games in the fall, only to drop them in the winter. There are five other unbeaten teams in football right now. Mention any of them in a neighborhood saloon, and you’ll get a healthy discussion about their Super Bowl odds and upcoming schedules. Mention the Bengals and you’ll get a blank stare or a roll of the eyes.
But maybe that’s just what the Bengals are thriving on this season. They know this. They know you don’t want to hear about them. "Ho hum. Just a 4-0 start," tackle Eric Winston told reporters as he walked into the locker room on Sunday.
But they also know they’re a different team. That Bengals squad that lost in the wild-card round a season ago didn’t have A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham or Marvin Jones. It didn’t have Vontaze Burfict. It didn’t have a first-round bye or a home game, something that’s looking very possible a month into the season this year.
He’s got a new haircut, he’s rocking new suits, and he’s been lights-out. I’ve fallen for these guys before, but this year feels different.
Week 5 NFL Cheat Sheet trivia question: Bears running back Matt Forte reached 8,000 rushing and 3,500 receiving yards in his 111th career game, good for the second fastest in NFL history. Who got there faster?
Schrager brings FOX college football analyst Joel Klatt on to discuss Colin Kaepernick’s regression, what can be done to revive him, and an introduction to the best college quarterbacks and how they project in the NFL.
Indianapolis at Houston: Andre Johnson has gone two games without a catch, and Frank Gore had another uncharacteristic fumble last week in a big spot. The Colts, as a whole, haven’t been good with the ball. The team had 14 fumbles with a team-record low four lost in all of 2013. In the 20 games since, they’ve had 39 fumbles, with 20 lost. Indianapolis has owned the Texans in recent years. Until I see some actual life out of Houston, I can’t take the Texans in good faith — Andrew Luck or not. This one will be ugly. Watch the baseball on FS1.
The pick: Colts 20, Texans 10
Final: Colts 27, Texans 20
Chicago at Kansas City: It’s tough to get a good read on the Chiefs because of their opponents. The three teams the Chiefs have lost to thus far –the Packers, Broncos, and Bengals — are a combined 12-0. If Kansas City is worth mentioning come January, it will need to win games it’s supposed to. Here’s one of those games.
The pick: Chiefs 31, Bears 21
Seattle at Cincinnati: It’s not every year you get Joe Buck and Troy Aikman up in Cincinnati, but this game is worth the billing and more. I’ve said my piece on the Bengals, and think the Seahawks could have been in real trouble had they not beaten Detroit last week. Their offensive line has been horrendous four weeks into the season, with Russell Wilson being pressured more than any other quarterback in football last week. I’d expect even more of that Sunday.
The pick: Bengals 24, Seahawks 16
Washington at Atlanta: The Falcons keep on rolling, and I don’t see the good fortune ending any time soon. Look at this gem of a slate the next few weeks from the scheduling gods: Redskins this week, then games against the Saints, Titans, Buccaneers and 49ers. The Falcons could be 9-0 and I still wouldn’t have a real read on them.
The pick: Falcons 23, Redskins 20
Jacksonville at Tampa Bay: You’ll hear young quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, and Ryan Tannehill get beat up in the media, but there may have been no less inspiring performance last week than the one from Blake Bortles in Indianapolis. Bortles has shown real flashes, but he missed several throws in a game the Jags could have — and should have — won. Lovie Smith is an absurd 0-10 as coach of the Bucs at home. I think he finds that elusive first home win Sunday.
The pick: Buccaneers 33, Jaguars 23
New Orleans at Philadelphia: The first song played at Eagles practice Tuesday was Twisted Sister’s "We’re not Gonna Take it" — and I think the fans have had just enough of it, too. But there were some — oddly — bright moments in Sunday’s loss. Sam Bradford, with the worst pass protection he’s had all season, played well. There were flashes in the pass rush. It’s still wide-open in the NFC East, and the Eagles know that. They’ll find a way Sunday.
The pick: Eagles 24, Saints 20
Cleveland at Baltimore: The Ravens players have heard the same fact — the last team to make the playoffs after starting 0-3 was the 1998 Buffalo Bills — for two weeks now. If there’s any 1-3 team I have faith in, it’s the one coached by John Harbaugh and quarterbacked by Joe Flacco. This team knows adversity and it has found ways — against all odds — so many times before.
The pick: Ravens 27, Browns 17
St. Louis at Green Bay: A confession, here — I’d take the Packers at home vs. any team in NFL history at this point. Hell, I’d take the Packers at home over a team of traveling NFL all-stars. That’s nothing against the Rams, a squad I think will win 10 games this season. This just won’t be one of them.
The pick: Packers 30, Rams 20
Buffalo at Tennessee: The Bills signed Boom Herron, giving them a running back room that includes a Boom, a Shady, a Boobie, a Cierre and a Karlos. Is that the greatest collection of names at one position in the history of the sport? Well, no. The 1999 Saints once had two Billy Joes — Tolliver and Hobert — in one quarterbacks room. People bitch and moan about the good old days of the NFL — when quarterbacks were allowed to be hit, when men were men. I just miss an NFL that had guys named Billy Joe.
The pick: Bills 20, Titans 17
Arizona at Detroit: I’m not sure what the Lions did to the NFL, but how about their schedule? At San Diego in 100-degree heat to start the season, at Minnesota for Adrian Peterson’s first home game since his suspension, the Broncos in primetime, the Seahawks on Monday night at the Link and now the Cardinals. Yikes. They’re 0-4, and I have them going 0-5, but I’m not sure they’re not one of the top 15 teams in the league. Brutal schedule, and these things snowball.
The pick: Cardinals 26, Lions 21
New England at Dallas: This one lost a bit of its luster with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Lance Dunbar all out, but there’s some added interest with the return of Greg Hardy. Randy Gregory might go, too, and Sean Lee could be out there. The Patriots have had simply too much success, and too much time to prepare coming off a bye week, for me to have any real concerns about them, though.
The pick: Patriots 35, Cowboys 17
Denver at Oakland: All that wasted breath talking about Peyton Manning’s arm, the Sheriff’s noble fight against Father Time and his offensive line — when, all along, who knew it was going to be the defense that led the way for the 2015 Denver Broncos? And how about the guy in charge of it all? No, not Von Miller or Aqib Talib — 68-year-old Wade Phillips. Quite a story, there.
The pick: Broncos 34, Raiders 13
San Francisco at New York Giants: When you sign a contract north of $40 million, you expect to be part of the game plan. So you can imagine Torrey Smith, he of just two receptions last week, appears frustrated with the 49ers offense. "We have to get it together as a unit," Smith said on Sunday after a dreadful 17-3 loss to the Packers. "It’s not always the offensive line’s fault. It’s not always Kap (quarterback Colin Kaepernick). We have to all be in sync on these plays to make it happen." The season is slipping away for San Francisco. Before I jump ship, I’ll give the Niners one more game where they dig deep and find a way. I just don’t believe this team is as bad as it has played the last three weeks.
Pittsburgh at San Diego: I can watch Philip Rivers all day, and last Sunday against the Browns he was magnificent down the stretch. Antonio Gates is back this week, and I’d expect him to get looks early and often. The Chargers haven’t played very well this season, but they could emerge out of this one with a 3-2 record and within striking distance of the Broncos. Could be much, much worse.
The pick: Chargers 27, Steelers 23
Reader Email of the Week:
I saw you on TV complaining about the baseball champagne celebrations. As a 48-year-old with three kids and countless life lessons learned, I want to share one with you. Life’s too short, man.
–Frank, Richmond, Virginia
I appreciate you watching the "FOX Sports Live: Countdown" show on FS1 the other night. It’s a blast. Let me clarify what I was saying, though. I don’t have a problem with locker room celebrations. I love them. I have a problem with a locker room celebration exactly two days after a locker room celebration, which will undoubtedly be followed by another locker room celebration, another one after that, and a final one after that if there’s a World Series victory. That’s five locker room celebrations in four weeks. Seems excessive. If there’s one you could probably get rid of, it’s the one after the wild-card game. As for your life lesson — "Life’s too short, man" — doesn’t quite sound like one to me. Kinda left me hanging there.
Week 5 NFL Cheat Sheet trivia answer: Marshall Faulk reached 8,000 rushing yards and 3,500 receiving yards in 107 games, good for fastest in NFL history.