For those who don’t follow American Football, it’s probably hard to appreciate what is happening with the Cincinnati Bengals at the moment. At the heart of it is one of the factors that makes American Football so great, and why I much prefer it to certain aspects of football (soccer), for example.
Thanks to the way that money has flowed into modern football, the way that FA, UEFA, and others operate, money is the key aspect of the game. It is pure capitalism at its worst. While there is the occasional exception (such as Leicester City in 2015/6 possibly), for most of us football fans (even of teams, such as my team Sheffield United, that used to be at least comparable to many in the top league in terms of fan bases, stadium size, etc.) we know that there is no hope in being the ultimate champions (as for the “Champions League”… forget it). There could be an FA Cup win (though that competition has also been devalued over recent years) or some other Mickey Mouse competition, but otherwise the main hope is to win more than you lose and to enjoy the journey.
American Football attempts to balance the system thanks to the draft whereby the weaker teams from the previous season get what they think will be the better crop of new players. It doesn’t work quite that simply, as there are still free agency signings, injuries, and various other factors that can lead to some teams being strong for many years and other struggling for a long time.
For the Bengals, since being created in 1968, they have only been to the AFC Championship twice (1981 and 1988) before. The winner goes on to play the NFC Champions in the Super Bowl. Yes, that’s right, for only the third time in their history the Bengals are on the brink of going to a Super Bowl.
So, you think I can predict how this one will go? Absolutely no chance. The Bengals are the rank outsiders – especially thanks to them being one of the weakest teams in the NFL last season and rock bottom the year before (while our opponents, Kansas City Chiefs, went to the Super Bowl in both those years).
I see a very bright future for the Bengals for the coming decade. This is a different team to what we’ve seen in the last… well… forever from what I can tell (and based on supporting them since 1984). The culture and skill set is in a different league to what we’ve seen before. And it will probably get better as free agents will be queuing up to join rather than avoid us as in the past. Does that mean championship and Super Bowl wins? Possibly not. As Paul and Nathan have discussed on Cincinnater, injuries, for one, can ruin even the best of teams. This year could be one year too soon, but it could also be the only chance we get in many years. So perhaps, like in football, we should enjoy the ride. But, unlike in football, we know that the Holy Grail is now in reaching distance.
Ultimately, all I can predict, as in the previous two games, is that it will be emotional. I just can’t predict a score line (and won’t for good omen reasons). I just hope that the match gets decided on great play and not ruined by injuries or bad refereeing.
Note: This post is based on text that was originally included in the post “AFC Championship Game predictions: Bengals at Chiefs” on the Bengals UK site.