Monday Brunch: Buying into the Bengals

Three weeks ago all I wanted to do is make fun of the Cincinnati Bengals. Today, I want on the bandwagon. This team is winning me over.

Cincinnati's opening day loss to Denver was the easiest punchline of the season but let's give credit to the men in stripes, they've gotten off the mat and then some. Winning in Green Bay is a very difficult thing to do, and Sunday's comeback victory over arch-rival Pittsburgh – a team that normally waltzes into Paul Brown Stadium and takes immediate ownership of the place – could be a major stepping stone for this franchise.

Cedric Benson(notes) is the obvious fantasy winner here, set up perfectly to be an every-week starter (this sure doesn't look like the Windy City Cedric, amigos). He's got a whopping 66 carries through three weeks while summer darling Bernard Scott(notes) has all of three. The Bengals defense is finally good enough to keep most games close. The offensive line isn't exactly elite, but it's capable enough. You drafted Benson as your third, fourth or fifth fantasy back this year, but he's capable of being a legitimate No. 2 fantasy option on any week he's not facing the Ravens. Enjoy next week's trip to Cleveland.

Carson Palmer's(notes) play is still a work in progress – he only got 4.9 YPA against the Steelers Sunday – but the game-winning drive could be a nice push-off for him (I'll blame the coaches for the mishandling of the spike plays). Palmer has a stable of talented wide receivers to work with, a reliable back to balance the offense, and for once the Bengals don't have to try to win every game 33-30. Chad Ochocinco(notes) looks healthy again and seems to have his mojo back. Andre Caldwell(notes) looks ready to catch 70 balls. And maybe the glut of receivers isn't that big of a deal, given that the Bengals don't throw much to their backs or tight ends.

Tip your cap to Dick Jauron for the fake field goal against the Saints, but otherwise it was a day of curious decisions in Buffalo. The Bills won the coin toss and deferred, their normal play – which allowed the sizzling New Orleans offense to get the ball first and immediately post seven points on the board. Midway through the fourth quarter Jauron opted for a punt on 4th-and-1 in Buffalo territory, trailing by 10; essentially it was a white flag and the ultimate "forget winning, let's try to keep it close" move.

The Bills also struggled to get Lee Evans(notes) and Terrell Owens(notes) involved in the offense and most of Trent Edwards's(notes) completions were dinks, dunks and checkdowns, but that's in part because the Buffalo line couldn't do a thing to neutralize the Saints pass rush. At least the schedule gets easier over the next two weeks, with Miami and Cleveland waiting.

It's easy to jump on Kerry Collins's(notes) final act in New Jeresey (13 straight incompletions), but make sure you give some credit to the nasty Jets defense, plenty of blame to the Tennessee receivers (drops everywhere) and a nod to the nasty, slick weather. Collins isn't a franchise quarterback by any means, but he's not the main reason why the Titans are 0-3.

I'm as sick of all the Brett Favre(notes) hoopla as anyone but I don't see how we can deny him props for that game-winning throw against the Niners. It was a laser, a frozen rope. Yes, Greg Lewis(notes) made a helluva play on the other end but the play belongs to both of these guys. And you can't bash the Niners here, they held up their end on the play, crashing the pocket and having decent coverage in the end zone. Sometimes you just tip your cap to outstanding execution.

As horrendous as Chad Henne(notes) and Derek Anderson(notes) looked in their relief stints Sunday, let's not prematurely bury them for good. Getting practice time and prep with the starters is invaluable in the NFL. If Anderson takes over for Brady Quinn(notes) eventually it has to be good news for Braylon Edwards(notes); Anderson will occasionally throw an effective deep ball, but that's not Quinn's game.

The Patriots didn't risk much with their make-good signing on Joey Galloway(notes) but it's just not working; he looks completely out of synch with the rest of the offense, almost like he met the rest of the team 10 minutes before the game. Tom Brady(notes) said all the right things about Galloway into Week 3, but you could see the quarterback's frustration with Galloway on game day.

The Cardinals spent too much of Sunday night's game trying to throw intermediate and deep passes against a Colts defense that's designed to keep you from big plays. That's not what you do agains the Colts. And poor Kurt Warner(notes) barely had any time to get comfortable in the pocket because Arizona's offensive tackles were getting abused all night. The Cards get the bye at the right time, there's a lot of work needed on both sides of the ball. It might be a good time to see if you can get Larry Fitzgerald(notes) or Beanie Wells(notes) at a modest discount; the get-well Texans defense is waiting in Week 5.

The Baltimore-Cleveland match was over in about 15 minutes and yet Joe Flacco(notes) managed to complete 25 passes for 342 yards and a long score. The Ravens know what they have in their young quarterback and the training wheels are clearly off.

Don't you wish Peter King was in your fantasy league? "Odd that Ray Rice(notes) scored his first NFL touchdown Sunday," PK writes. "Seems like he's had 10." You can move the scribe away from Rutgers, but you can't take the Rutgers love away from the scribe.

It's hard for me to take the 3-0 Broncos all that seriously – the win at Cincinnati was a miracle, and beating the Browns and Raiders doesn't mean much – but you have to be impressed with the job Mike Nolan has done with the defense. Denver still hasn't allowed a touchdown pass, and it's tied for the league lead with 10 sacks.

For all the sunshine thrown on the Jets defense to this point (and it's deserved), we should also mention that it's the Giants defense that has allowed the lowest QB rating through three games (49.2, just in front of Gang Green's 50.2). Obviously Jason Campbell(notes), Tony Romo(notes) and the Bucs had a share in that number, but it's still a nasty stat.

There's a lot of stuff I don't like about Washington head coach Jim Zorn but I'm not going to bash him for the go-for-it call on the Detroit 1-yard line early in Sunday's loss. The equity winner in that spot is going for it; either you get seven points or the other team gets pinned. You're flushing EV if you settle for three points there. Let's not fall into the Fallacy of the Negative Instance.

Vernon Davis's(notes) ability and Week 3 play speaks for itself, but we also have to like his setup. The Niners don't have a dynamic receiver to hog the ball, and Shaun Hill(notes) is the type of quarterback who's always going to like throwing between the numbers (smart decisions, below-average arm strength).

Kyle Boller(notes) helps the Rams offense merely because he's not Marc Bulger(notes), deer in the headlights. It wasn't that big a shock to see Boller throw two scores to a no-name tight end; backup QBs generally trust the guys they're running with in practice. Consider Donnie Avery(notes) as a second-chance pickup this week, he'll be needed now that emerging Laurent Robinson(notes) is out for the year.

What to Read Next