Standing tall with a 9-4 record and scheduled to line up opposite two cream puffs (Kansas City, New York Jets) over the next three weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals are a virtual lock to make the playoffs for only the second time since 1990.

Good for head coach Marvin Lewis, who at this time was coaching a dreadful Cincy team with an even more appalling record (1-11-1). Sports radio was making Swiss Cheese out of Lewis, who saved his hide by leading the Bengals to three straight victories to close the regular season.

Good for quarterback Carson Palmer, whose lone taste of postseason pigskin lasted only a few seconds thanks to a severe knee injury suffered on Cincinnati's initial play from scrimmage against Pittsburgh. The Steelers defeated the Bengals, then kicked Palmer while he was down by going on to win Super Bowl XL.

And good for the city itself, which hasn't had an NBA franchise since the Royals bolted for greener pastures in 1972. More painful is that Cincinnati for 14 years has been patiently waiting for its beloved Reds to return to some sort of spring/summer/fall relevance. The Big Red Machine is now the little red Corvette. Make that Chevette.

Everyone loves a feel-good story, and the Cincinnati Bengals are it.

So why don't we feel good? Simple: The look-at-me antics of receiver Chad Whatevertheheckhisnameistoday are such a colossal turn-off that a quick playoff exit by the Bengals might actually be celebrated rather than frowned upon in states not named Ohio.

The artist formerly known as Johnson who is now Ochocinco and who's teasing us with yet another possible legalized surname alteration (Hachi Go) is a one-man marketing mechanism for himself. Taking Och out of the spotlight is like taking a fish from water and watching him flop around uncomfortably, so he makes it a point to always be in the news.

Problem is, Och's antics pull attention away from the likes of Lewis, a strong NFL Coach of the Year possibility; Dhani Jones, the veteran linebacker who might be on the verge of his first Pro Bowl invite, and Cedric Benson's inspiring emergence after a troubled start to his pro career with the Chicago Bears.

Between his Twitter posts and immature end zone celebrations, Och is all about Och with the success of the Bengals coming in a very distant second. This is why we never have to worry about the Bengals ever making a Super Bowl as long as this clown is in uniform.

KELLY STEPPING IN QUICKSAND: Speaking of the Queen City, condolences should be directed at former University of Cincinnati football coach Brian Kelly for lowering himself into the South Bend guillotine.

If Notre Dame was still viewed nationally the way Notre Dame thinks it's viewed, Urban Meyer would have applied. And Bob Stoops. And Pete Carroll. And Jon Gruden. And Bill Cowher. And Nick Saban. And Pat Fitzgerald. And Mack Brown. And Gary Patterson. And Jim Tressell.

None did, which is why Kelly and Connecticut coach Randy Edsall were the front-runners.

Domers are energized by the Kelly hire. These are the same people who thought Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis were going to return Notre Dame to glory.

As Kelly soon will discover, Touchdown Jesus is difficult to please.


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