Well, it’s officially a new year. There’s always a special feeling that comes this time of year, and, in my opinion, it’s one of the best things we experience as humans: hope.
No matter what the previous year was like, there’s always the feeling that the next one could be better. When you want it to be a building block to past successes, you believe it can be. When you need it to get you out of a rut, you think it can do just that. Perhaps it’s sometimes wishful thinking or romantic optimism, but then again, perhaps sometimes it’s not.
I have lots of hopes for this year, as I’m sure you do, too. But we can’t let them be just that. Hope is the key to the ignition, but it takes someone getting in the driver’s seat and gunning the engine to turn that feeling into tangible results.
I was down the rabbit hole of my Instagram explore page the other day when a fitness video of a guy doing a bunch of at-home workouts popped up. Behind it was an audio file from Joe Rogan that said this:
“Pretend there’s a documentary crew filming your success story and following you around right now. What would you do? What would you do if you knew there was a crew following you around with cameras documenting your future incredible success? And they want to catch you in the act of it all? You would do all the right things you would have to do. Think about that.”
This perspective stuck with me, as the past year was one that kept me searching for motivation to keeping working toward goals. One of my strengths as a student was checking off boxes of things that needed to get done in a day. Assignments, projects, appointments. Whatever it was, if I wrote it down, it was getting done.
But I had graduated, and there were no more assignments to complete. Job opportunities were few and far between. I had to find ways to create those boxes, and oftentimes those I completed failed to produce any fruit. I could knock out five job applications, work the networking angles on LinkedIn, scour the Internet for email addresses, check off every to-do on my list, only to get nothing out of it.
It felt like failure. As a student, you get grades. As an employee, you get a paycheck. Tangible results of the boxes you check off and the goals you complete. Without those, I’ve found I could be a tough guy to keep motivated.
But Rogan’s quote shed some light on the whole matter. Act like there’s a documentary crew watching your every move. They’re seeing all those job applications go out. They’re catching you waking up early to work to get to where you want to be. They’re getting you staying up late to finish up a long day’s work. Nothing is a waste of time if you’ve got the right mindset.
As I do with everything in my life, I tried to find a way to relate this revelation to sports. Anybody know of a team that’s been through a bit of a rut and is hoping to turn things around in 2021?
I do. A couple actually.
I had planned on listing some New Year’s Resolutions for the Bengals, but for the sake of our doing, let’s pretend I’m directing a documentary about them. What do I think they could do this offseason that would make for the most compelling 2021 success story? Let me tell you…
- Get Burrow healthy. Imagine seeing Joe Burrow back in time for training camp. Pads on, orange #9 jersey glistening in the bright July sun. He’s launching beautiful deep balls to a confident Tee Higgins and hitting Tyler Boyd on all kinds of crossers. He’s smiling and cutting up with a healthy Joe Mixon as the team breaks the huddle while chatting up his offensive line as they settle at the line of scrimmage. The cinematography!
- Extend Jessie Bates. The fourth-year safety is entering a contract year and playing the best football of his career. He’s Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated safety, and he’s everything the Bengals love in a player: homegrown (meaning Cincinnati drafted him), low profile, and a true leader. Locking him up for his prime is something I definitely expect the team to do in 2021.
- Re-sign William Jackson III and Carl Lawson. Aside from Bates, Jackson III and Lawson have been the best players on this Bengals defense. Lawson has been the only breath of life in an otherwise stagnant pass rush, and if they don’t have him next season, they’ll be in a really rough spot. And when it comes to Jackson III, the Bengals first-round pick from 2016, it’s all about how the value meets the need. Cincinnati signed Trae Waynes to a huge contract last offseason, anticipating him to be the top cornerback on the team. Will his injury and Jackson III’s solid play be enough to make them reconsider and shell out some cash to the Houston product? I’d say they would be wise to make it happen, as Waynes has never really been a sure thing and the CB depth behind Jackson III drops off a cliff.
- Repeat last year’s spending in free agency. The Bengals broke the bank last year in free agency, targeting and acquiring numerous starting talents. They may not have as much funds to play with this offseason, but they could still land some talent at certain positions of need like the offensive line or at wide receiver.
- Secure a premium offensive talent in the draft. Whether it’s an elite offensive tackle to the tune of Penei Sewell or Christian Darrisaw or a dynamic playmaker like Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, or Kyle Pitts, Cincinnati needs to boost that offense early. They’re going to be in a great spot to grab a blue-chip prospect at several positions of need. Wide receiver is definitely a possibility, as A.J. Green and John Ross are all but gone next year. They have bodies at tight end, but none nearly as athletic or dynamic as Pitts. And well, we know about the O-line. Speaking of that unit…
- Bolster the offensive line. This is point-blank. It needed to be done last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. It stings that Burrow’s injury had to be the catalyst for change, but at least there’s no denying it now. Whether it’s shelling out money to a big-name free agent or spending some premium draft capital, it’s gotta happen.
If that stuff gets done, I may just have the footage to take home an Emmy when it’s all said and done. But enough about the future, let’s talk present.
Onto the news of the week!
Coaching changes announced
Elise Jesse of AllBengals.com has reported that the Bengals are planning to part ways with OL coach Jim Turner, DL coach Nick Eason, and defensive assistant Gerald Chatman. According to Jesse’s source, the organization began examining potential firings following the club’s loss to Miami several weeks ago. Since then, Cincinnati has won two straight and looked quite a bit more efficient, but it appears to be too little too late. The writing was on the wall for some changes, and Jesse says that even more firings are expected to come.
Mike Daniels tests positive for COVID-19
Saturday morning news broke that the Bengals defensive tackle tested positive for coronavirus, effectively ending his 2020 season.
#Bengals DT Mike Daniels has tested positive for COVID-19, sources tell me and @RapSheet. He’ll miss tomorrow’s game vs. the #Ravens. Cincy has another player with symptoms and is working through close contacts. Moved their walkthrough to later today while they contact trace.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 2, 2021
Fortunately, there were no other Bengals deemed close contacts.
Source says Bengals contact tracing revealed no high-risk close contacts with the player who tested positive. So Bengals are good to go for Sunday minus DT Mike Daniels.
— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) January 2, 2021
Brandon Allen received Week 16 award
After leading the Bengals to a win in Houston thanks to a 29/37, 371 yard, 2 TD performance, Allen was named FedEx’s Week 16 Air Player of the Week.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 30, 2020
It’s a nice feather in the cap for a guy who seems to be positioning himself as a nice choice for the team’s backup QB spot next year. It’s important to remember that the backup role will be particularly important, as Burrow’s recovery efforts may hold him out of Week 1.
B.J. Finney placed on Reserve/Non-Football Injury List
The guy the Bengals received in exchange for one of the best pass rushers in team history suited up in stripes only once this season, and only played a total of two special teams snaps. Last I checked, Carlos Dunlap’s made quite an impact out there in Seattle, though.
Bengals/Ravens talk coming just as soon as I enjoy the last sunset of 2020…
— Bengal Jim’s BTR (@bengaljims_BTR) January 1, 2021
Four things to know
1. For the Ravens, it’s win and get in. If not, they’ll need a Browns or Colts loss to clinch a playoff berth. It’s nearly the same scenario from 2017, and we all remember what happened then.
Three years ago today. The last time we played the Ravens in Week 17.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 31, 2020
2. A lot of draft positioning is on the line. As it stands, the Bengals are locked into the 5th or 6th spot depending on how tiebreakers work out. There’s a chance they could jump up to 3rd with a loss, but there’s also the possibility they could slide to 10th with a win. Whether you’re rooting for the Bengals to win or lose today, you should also be cheering for the Texans (who possess the 3rd pick, which is owned by the Dolphins), Falcons (currently at 4), and Eagles (at 6, which could flip flop with Bengals due to tiebreakers as both teams have the same record).
3. Tyler Boyd (concussion) is available to play. The Bengals slot receiver will make his anticipated return to the lineup after missing last week’s game. He’s 140 yards shy of his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, and will have his work cut out for him today if he wants to keep that streak alive.
4. The Bengals have won their last eight regular-season home finales. This impressive stretch dates back to 2012 and includes four wins over the Ravens. Talk about a rare streak of dominance for Cincinnati. I feel like most times we hear stats like that it’s the complete opposite. What are the odds it continues this season?
Three players to watch
1. J.K. Dobbins, Ravens RB
Dobbins has put together an impressive season, really coming along down the stretch. Lamar’s ability to move helps open lanes for the rookie, who has been a fantastic rusher between the 20s. Gus Edwards tends to check-in for the red zone work, but Dobbins sees most of the action. Last time he faced Cincinnati he only had one carry, but took it for 34 yards. Dobbins will have a bigger workload today, as his emergence has phased Mark Ingram out of the offense.
2. Tee Higgins, Bengals WR
It’s the finale to a fantastic rookie season for Higgins. The Bengals have something in Higgins, who looks like he will be the team’s top receiver next year. He’s one reception away from breaking Cris Collinsworth’s franchise rookie record (67), and I’d be shocked if he didn’t have every chance in the world to do it today. And if he manages to get 92 yards, he’ll have a 1,000-yard season to boot, something only two other rookie Bengals receivers have done.
3. A.J. Green, Bengals WR
If this is the end to Green’s Cincinnati tenure, what a run it’s been. He’s delivered a decade of highlight plays and must-see moments. When he snagged that go-ahead TD vs. Pittsburgh in the 2015 Wild Card game, he delivered what should have been the franchise’s biggest moment of the century. Yet, injury-plagued seasons have stripped his name of the pedigree it probably deserves. It’s impossible to think of the Bengals without him, but that time is winding near. He needs a TD to tie Chad Johnson’s franchise record, and I’d love to see him get it today.
Two names you’ll hear
1. Leshaun Sims, Bengals CB
William Jackson III is out today, leaving Sims to man the boundary versus Baltimore. Sims hasn’t been great this year, but he’ll have a chance to step up today and show some promise during a game that may determine whether or not he’s on the roster next season.
2. Samaje Perine, Bengals RB
After turning in a great performance versus the Texans that saw him rumble for 95 yards and 2 TDs, Perine is making his case to remain on the team next year. If nothing else, his presence gives the Bengals social media team some fun opportunities:
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 29, 2020
Baltimore is a much better defense, but I expect Perine to have ample opportunity to build off his success last week.
One way the Bengals can win
The Bengals have enjoyed winning in different ways the past few weeks. One was building an early lead and never wavering, the other was pulling out a close game on the wings of a clutch defensive play.
The recipe for beating Baltimore has been well-established: force them to catch up through the air. As dynamic as their offense is on the ground, it struggles when passing. Lamar Jackson primarily spreads his targets out between two players: Mark Andrews and Hollywood Brown. If you can limit those two, corral their backs on the ground, and pick up where you left off offensively last week, you’ve got a shot.
Zac Taylor has picked up impressive wins in the last two weeks, but this one would be the most impressive of all. Beating a Ravens team that needs the win would be the type of thing to turn heads and generate chatter going into next season, albeit with a worse draft pick. But something tells me this team isn’t too concerned with that. I think knocking a division rival out of the playoffs would mean far more to this team than securing the fifth overall pick.
But I certainly wouldn’t be too upset at landing that draft spot, either.
Happy New Year to you and yours. Thanks for joining me during this 2020 NFL season. Get out there and give your documentarians something to work with.
But first, we’ve got one last ride. Bengals. Ravens. 1 p.m. on CBS. See you there.