The Cincinnati Bengals have spent much of their history as a bottom-feeder in the NFL, especially in the AFC North era. Only brief periods with Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton as their quarterbacks produced any kind of consistency, but still not postseason success, at least until Joe Burrow came along in 2020.
Three years into his career, he is threatening to take the Bengals to the Super Bowl for the second time. They have doubled their franchise postseason victory total in the past 13 months—which says as much about their history as it does their present.
But it still says a lot about their present as well, and how far they came in a short time. The Bengals won two games in Zac Taylor’s first season as head coach in 2019, having done poorly enough to earn the top pick in the draft that netted them Burrow. And they only won four games in his rookie season—including two after he was injured. They are 22-11 since then, plus 5-1 in the postseason.
“I think if you would’ve told people that we were going to be in this spot a couple of years ago, I think people would say we were crazy”, he told reporters this week, “but we trusted the process, trusted the organization and the front office and put together a great team and great people and got us to this point”.
“I wouldn’t say it’s surreal. I would say winning is expected”, he added when asked about the team’s recent success and turnaround.
What does feel surreal is living in a world in which it’s expected for the Bengals to win. But that indeed appears to be the timeline we’re now in. It will be up to the likes of Kenny Pickett and T.J. Watt and George Pickens and…Matt Canada? to prevent them from winning too much.
As it is, they are currently two-time defending AFC North champions and are on the doorstep of a second consecutive conference championship. A first Super Bowl title for the organization still alludes them, but they are only two wins away from that goal.
The Pittsburgh Steelers bill themselves as a franchise whose mission every season is to win the Super Bowl, yet few have felt in any recent season that they stood much of a chance, realistically, of doing so. Bengals fans now know what it feels like to believe that their team can win the Super Bowl—not just this year, but in any year in the relatively near future.
We as Steelers fans used to feel that way. The script has flipped and we’re currently playing the supporting cast. But as with the Bengals calling the Kansas City Chiefs’ home stadium ‘Burrowhead’, the winner gets to write the story. So they’d better start winning.