Week 14 NFL power rankings: Packers remain at No. 1, but several teams on rise

Doc's Morning Line: Be thankful this Thanksgiving and a Bengals-Steelers prediction

Paul Daugherty
Cincinnati Enquirer

I went on an extended riff in This Space Tuesday about the food and drink choices on Thanksgiving and my overwhelming desire to do nothing. What I didn’t mention is the gratitude I have for the day, and how it grows as I age.

A very good thing about being on the edge of Social Security is the acute and deepening awareness that this great life can always end. Take it from the actuaries. From that clarity rises a richer mindfulness about things we take for granted. Essential things. Everything from a log in the fireplace to a turkey on the table. Mostly, the presence of family to make it all matter.

As the years pass, the table gets smaller. Thursday, our Thanksgiving “family’’ will consist of my wife, my father in law and me. It’s the in-laws year to feast with Jillian and Ryan; Kelly and his new bride will be at their home in Brooklyn. Our siblings are far away, mine in Florida and Maryland, Kerry’s in Maryland. 

Three can be a crowd, but not on Thanksgiving. I remember the years with our parents and siblings and all the children raising hell and wonder why I didn’t appreciate them more. It would have been impossible to appreciate them too much.

The Irish melancholy will join me tomorrow, no less real than the food we’re blessed to be eating. To all of youse younger than I, who still know the warmth of this most family of days, keep it close. Seize it, live it fully. Life should never be assumed. Happy Day.

Now, then. . .

ARE WE SQUARE with The Committee now? Can Gary Barta come out to play and not be run over by a Rumpke truck or drowned in a vat of Hudepohl wort? (Lookitup, kids.)

The judges did what they had to do. For this week at least, the UC Bearcats have won the battle of attrition that is the CFP rankings. Just as Luke Fickell suggested they would. If they win Friday at ECU and at Ol’ Lady Nip on Dec. 4 v. Houston, it’s hard to see them not making the playoff.

By placing UC 4th, The Committee has boxed itself in. How could these folks drop UC out of the Top 4 if the ‘Cats are 13-0? This weekend, the Big 10 and Big 12 will cannibalize their own. OSU-Michigan, Oklahoma-OK State. Two of those four will be out of the picture by Saturday night.

Then there’s Notre Dame. Not even the committee could rank the Irish ahead of a perfect UC.

This stuff sounds complicated. It’s not. USA Today:

A group of four lurks behind the top four. Michigan hosts Ohio State on Saturday and would win the Big Ten East with a victory. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, both with one loss, also meet. The Sooners would earn a rematch with the Cowboys in this year's Big 12 title game with a road win Saturday. (Oklahoma State would face Baylor in the Big 12 title game with a win.) And then there's the case of one-loss Notre Dame: The Irish could benefit from a series of losses from the teams above, but a lot will have to go right.

Even if Oklahoma ends the regular year with two wins, how could the judges rule the Sooners better than the Bearcats? When OU was unbeaten, it was considered no better than 9th. Oklahoma State needs a couple blowouts.

Even the cynical among you can concede this morning that the committee just made UC’s road much smoother.

Now, then. . .

UC AS A DESTINATION JOB? Not quite. Probably, not ever, as long as OSU, Alabama and a few others still play quasi-am ball. But with every game won, hill climbed, perception changed and conference affiliation upgraded, the possibility of Clifton as a career destination improves.

(What I meant to say with that tortured wreck of a sentence is: Fickell will stay awhile. So will the guy that follows him, if he’s any good. The carousel at UC will stop spinning.)

Thad Matta left Xavier because he didn’t think he could win a national title there, and that was after the Musketeers nearly beat Duke in the Elite 8. Brian Kelly left UC for much the same reason, though his lifelong dream was to coach in South Bend.

If UC is playing in a semifinal five weeks from now, that can’t-win-it-all stigma is removed.

Where would Luke Fickell go tomorrow that’s any better than where he is today?

He has recruiting on such a roll, good prospects are being passed over, for better ones. He’ll be heading into a P-5 conference in a couple years. The pressure he faces to succeed at UC is mostly self imposed.

Fickell could make more money somewhere else, but since when has money been an issue with him?

If you have built your Ford to a point where it gives you 200,000 miles only needing a regular oil change, why would you trade it in for a Ferrari?

It has always been assumed, both with X hoops and UC football, that their current coaches were highly talented fast-trackers who’d do great things in town while keeping their real estate agents on high alert. Maybe not so much in Clifton anymore.

AN INTERESTING WEEK FOR THE MEN, who host the Stillers Sunday. For the first time in forever, Pittsburgh is more desperate than its little brother. L’il bro is better and more importantly, healthier. An L to the Steelers would not be disastrous.

If the Steelers lose, they’re in an impressive hole.

What should scare you if you bleed orange (anybody bleed orange?) is that Ben is playing very well, especially for an octogenarian. His arm is almost shot, he can’t move, but he almost took down Justin Herbert on the road Sunday night. His defense prevented that, but his defense could get instantly good if Watt, Fitzpatrick and Haden play. All missed last Sunday, but apparently look good for this Sunday.

The Steelers are 26th in run defense, but 4th in sacks, so expect Mixon to do his best John Riggins imitation again Sunday. But even with Mixon carrying 30 times, Burrow still got pulped some by the Raiders.

The Steelers wideout group can run with the Bengals, and that was before Tyler Boyd was listed as questionable for Sunday.

Las Vegas got badly outcoached last week. That won’t happen this week. That said, the Bengals have better players all around than Pittsburgh. Younger players, too, unfamiliar with Steeler Mystique as it has applied to the Men for centuries. There should not be a letdown like what happened in the Meadowlands, if only because Pittsburgh isn’t the Jets. Zac Taylor is growing weekly as a leader and play caller.

And really, how much longer can Ben possibly own the Bengals in Cincinnati?

Men 23, Steelers 17.

INTERESTING POINT made by former GM Mike Tannenbaum, writing on the website The 33rd Team. He says what I've said forever: Taking a wideout in the 1st-round is dicey, because the football world is full of good wideouts:

Ultimately, from a strategic planning standpoint, teams should account for the surplus of receiving talent in the league. Will we see more WRs taken in the first rounds as teams look to copy others? Or will teams begin to fill other needs since they can find WR talent later?

The latter is the better way to fill out a roster, as quality players at EDGE, OT, and CB are scarce in later rounds. The risk is not ensuring that your QB will have ideal weapons in a pass-first league. It’s a classic case of cost-benefit analysis, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

THIS AMAZES ME. . . I’ve been covering the Bengals since 1988 and I don’t recall them ever playing on Thanksgiving. Thirty-four years, more than 70 games. How is that possible? Correct me if I’m wrong.

TUNE O’ THE DAY. . . Van Morrison’s best stuff has always had a spiritual quality to it. If you claim to like Van and in the next breath suggest his best tune is Brown-Eyed Girl well. . . your cred on the subject isn’t breathtaking.           

Spiritual, mystical Van is the best. Even romantic Van is fantastic. My favorite album of his is Into The Music. Side 2 is pure, head-over-heals love angst.

So is this tune, off the disc titled No Guru, No Method, No Teacher.