Just when you thought you couldn't possibly hate CBS Sports' coverage of the Baltimore Ravens more, along come Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason with their ignorant pre-game predictions Sunday.
"I love the Bengals to come of age today," Esiason said.
"I think Baltimore's going to be the fifth seed," Marino added. "Baltimore has not been a good road team all year. And A.J. Green is coming back for Cincinnati. That means Pittsburgh's got to beat Cleveland, which I think will happen. They will be the No. 2 seed, and Cincinnati gets in the playoffs today."
Right, guys. More great football analysis and prognostication from the gang at CBS Sports.
Final score: Baltimore 24, Cincinnati 16.
What's up with the CBS Sports analysts anyway? Why would anyone who doesn't live in Ohio think Cincinnati was going to rise and Baltimore would fold in such a big, big game? Cincinnati, for goodness sakes?
OK, I can see Esiason, who played for the Bengals, making that crackpot call. But what's Marino's excuse?
Was it all based on the Ravens being on the road? Is that how superficial the analysis at CBS Sports runs?
I wonder how much Esiason "loves" the Bengals now. They certainly came of age Sunday, didn't they?
Sure, the Ravens have not played great on the road. And they didn't play great Sunday. But did anyone at CBS Sports ask whether Cincinnati had anyone who can rise to the occasion in the crunch on defense like Terrell Suggs did with his strip of the ball in the fourth quarter? Did they calculate as to whether Cincinnati had any single offensive weapon like Ray Rice?
But there is no need for such calculus in the act-like-you-know-gas-bag-hot-dog school of sports analysis that CBS specializes in. You just move your lips and pump up the bluster.
What's maddening about the empty-headed pregame talk is that coverage of the game itself was solid. The production and direction were as good as I have seen on CBS this year.
I didn't see the CBS cameras fooled badly once Sunday. And I have to say, they captured every important play from several angles, and had them up in replay within seconds to give viewers more than one point of view on crucial calls. The direction was so focused and sure-handed that I thought I was watching NBC's Sunday Night Football at times.
And the producers went the extra mile to line up some good-looking video and live images of Cincinnati to use when going to and coming out of commercials. The images of ice skaters, carriages and twinkly, downtown, night-time lights dressed up the production nicely. Cincinnati certainly couldn't have asked for more.
As for the guys in the booth, Ian Eagle on play-by-play and Dan Fouts on analysis, they were mainly OK – well, up until the final minute.
I wanted to throw a chair at Fouts on the second to last play of the game for unilaterally deciding that Lardarius Webb had interfered in the end zone with a Cincinnati receiver – even though the referee didn't see it that way.
"The official was standing right there and didn't throw the flag," Fouts said incredulously.
I'm sorry, the call didn't seem that incredible to me.
Maybe it seemed incredible to Fouts because he also had seemed to favor Cincinnati to win in his idle pre-game chatter.
"But for motivation, getting to the playoffs, the Bengals have that," he said in his CBS analysis last week. "And, playing at home is a bonus for them because Baltimore is just 3-4 on the road. Cincinnati is a team that a lot of people haven't given enough credit for being as good as they really are."
The best thing Fouts did all day is share the quote from Suggs about the "window closing" on the possibility of a Super Bowl championship for the Ray-Lewis-Ed-Reed-led Ravens. I've heard it before, of course, but in repeating it right after the fumble Suggs caused late in the game, it provided context for some viewers, I suspect, to the urgency that drives this defensive crew even though the skills have declined for some of its older members.
On the other hand, a producer might have fed him him the quote through his earpiece and told him to talk about it at that point. And if Fouts understood that urgency in veterans like Lewis, Reed and even Suggs, why did he and his CBS brethren think it would be Cincinnati and not Baltimore that would rise to the moment? Did he not watch or see video of Suggs against San Francisco on Thanksgiving Night?
Maybe not. That would require some research – something that seems to be outside the bounds of whatever is said to the CBS booth boys at dinner in the hotel the night before the game.
I have no major complaints about Eagle. He was high energy, informed and stayed on top of most story lines.
Woops, sorry, looking at my notes, I see both he and Fouts initially missed tight end Ed Dickson coming back into the game in the second quarter after making a big deal about him going to the sidelines. Losing track of such matters happens a lot in the booth at CBS. And again, it's more maddening because the director did a good job in getting the cameras on Dickson on the sidelines right after he went down.
But what does such lack of focus and follow-up in the booth matter when we all had the great privilege Sunday of seeing the Cincinnati Bengals come of age?
Back to you, Boomer and Dan, you knuckleheads.