In many cases, when a team reaches the Super Bowl, beating another team that was favored to win the Super Bowl on the way, that winning team takes over the mantle of favorites.
That hasn’t been the case for the Cincinnati Bengals, who toppled the Kansas City Chiefs in last year’s AFC championship as the crowning achievement of their improbable 2021 season.
Even after a near-Super Bowl victory, Cincinnati entered 2022 with questions of whether they would win their own division, let alone compete with the best teams in the AFC. It was the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, then everybody else.
That’s where the odds remain now, even as the Bengals prepare to visit the Bills on Sunday for the divisional round of the playoffs. The Bills and Chiefs hold a significant edge on Cincy.
It’s likely what prompted Bengals running back Joe Mixon to declare Cincinnati “the big dog of the AFC” just days before their regular season game against Buffalo that was eventually canceled.
The Bengals were underdogs for that game just as they are for Sunday’s game, and it’s not likely a disposition they internalize. This team believes it should be considered one of, if not the best team in the AFC, and they’ll be out to prove it.
"What people have to understand is, we the big dog of the AFC."
Joe Mixon had his response locked and loaded when I asked him about a chance to prove they're the best on MNF. #Bengals @fox19 pic.twitter.com/bpe5yvY2Ot
— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) December 31, 2022
Without having reached a Super Bowl, the Bills successfully inserted themselves into the conversation through steady success that included playoff appearances in three straight years before this season, playoff wins in the last two years, an AFC title game appearance and an all-time classic game against the favored Chiefs.
By contrast, the Bengals are still new to the scene. Their success has come fast, perhaps too fast for anyone to process that they might actually be a big dog. In one season, they reached and won an AFC title game, also playing an all-time classic against the favored Chiefs.
On Sunday, they’ll get a crack at the other so-called “big dog” and have a chance to leave no mistakes about where they stand in the pecking order.
The Bengals are five-point road dogs in Buffalo, and they don’t even need to win to establish themselves as a power in the conference. They just simply need to slug it out with Buffalo to the very end. Joe Burrow can cement himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Bengals will go into next season with even more clout than they entered this season.
For my money, that’s exactly what they’ll do. Five points is too large a spread for a team as balanced on both sides of the ball as the Bengals, who have the ability to score points in a hurry.
Mixon doubled down on his “big dog” comments last week before the Bengals played a closer-than-expected game against the rival Ravens in the Wild Card round. Those comments will either serve as bulletin board material for the Bills, or they’ll be extreme foreshadowing for us and the rest of the league.