There’s no denying the Cincinnati Bengals are one of the premiere franchises in the NFL these days. After all, in just the third season with Joe Burrow under center, the Bengals are playing in a second-consecutive AFC Championship game, aiming to finally get over the hump of winning the Lombardi Trophy. Still, the team is new to this type of success, and the roster as a whole is relatively young.
And so, it’s not just the production on the field, or Burrow’s fashion sense, that lead to the Bengals staying within the mainstream conversation of the league. The team as a whole had a strong negative reaction to the league’s approach to the location of playoff games it would compete in potentially putting the Bengals at a disadvantage, whether playing the Ravens on the road despite being AFC North champs or the potential for a neutral site conference game. Then there was Eli Apple’s loud behavior on social media to the Buffalo Bills after the high-flying offense collapsed last weekend. All the while, the Bengals, starting with former Steeler cornerback Mike Hilton, referred to its next opponent’s home stadium as “Burrow-head,” seeing as Cincinnati holds a three-game winning streak over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Having seen the orange and black stripes all throughout his career, former Pittsburgh Steelers and current Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is not overly surprised by the Bengals’ behavior.
“I’m sure a lot of guys are aware of the comments that they’re making,” said Smith-Schuster, via Ed Easton of USA Today Sports. “I’ve been playing against this team since I’ve been in NFL, so it was nothing new to me. The Bengals, they’ve always been the rah-rah team. And you know, they back it up. And so they’ve been doing that this whole season. So it’s just more so for us, for me to go out there and just play, just play ball and have fun. And just talking with my shoulder pads and helmet.”
The Bengals, as a whole, have backed it up. Despite a shakier start against the Ravens in the Wild Card round, Cincinnati throttled the Bills on the road in the snow. The Chiefs, and a potential Super Bowl opponent in either the Philadelphia Eagles or the San Francisco 49ers, are the only options to shutting the Steelers’ division rivals up at this point.
Smith-Schuster is no stranger to his voice being the center of attention either. While his final seasons in Pittsburgh were viewed as rocky by a portion of the fanbase, he backed it up against the Bengals going 6-2 against Cincinnati during his run with the Steelers. In fact, he was known to play up to the Bengals’ physicality, laying a hit on Vontaze Burfict that remains a highlight play among fans, even those that soured on him in the end.
“I just think, honestly, they’re just a physical team,” Smith-Schuster said. “They just play physical from start to finish, all four quarters. That’s something I saw playing them in Cincinnati, and it felt like a playoff atmosphere game, and that’s kind of what I’m expecting to see here.”
After all the words spoken between games in these playoffs, not to mention both teams proving to be the best the AFC has to offer, there’s little reason to doubt Smith-Schuster’s prediction a physical contest. You could almost consider it a spoiler.