The offseason has finally ended and camps throughout the league have opened. Everyone is excited. The players, the coaches, and most importantly, us fans! Just as spring brings life to the trees, grass and flowers, training camp brings life to us. We may be baseball, basketball, hockey or even race fans during the offseason, but nothing excites us more than the prospect of another NFL season. Our excitement doesn't stop with just watching the games. We analyze every move, decision and injury like no other sport. Even sign up for multiple fantasy leagues because we just can't get enough.
The air of excitement in Bengaldom has never smelled so good. Coming off an unexpected season, the buzz doesn't just end with a playoff appearance, but a Super Bowl Championship. This excitement stems from the relatively low turnover on the roster while adding depth at a number of positions. The defense finished in the top five last season and appears ready to repeat that effort. The offense added depth and experience that should provide an injection of explosiveness not seen last year. The offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski acknowledged the bland play calling last season and promised a more balanced offense.
You can tell the players are excited. Since Terrell Owens' arrival, the only thing we have been hearing from him and Chad Ochocinco is either a Super Bowl Championship or a busted season. Even level-headed Carson Palmer has talked about the possibility of winning every game. Whoa, Carson!! That is something no team has ever done. However, wouldn't it be ironic that a franchise associated with futility does something that no NFL franchise has ever done? Yes, 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only undefeated team, but their final record was 17-0 while the Patriots undefeated season prematurely ended after winning their first 18 games before losing to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Is this kind of excitement warranted? I think so. Considering last season's defense was able to keep games close so the offense could find a way to win, is returning this season. With the addition of Tight End Jermaine Gresham and Owens, the possibility exists that the offense may regain the big play ability missing since 2005. If the offense shows the potency and the defense performs at the same level as last season's unit, the level of excitement will not only be warranted, but will grow with each game.
Should the players have the kind of excitement to go and proclaim it is Super Bowl or bust? On paper, they look to make a serious challenge to do it. We all know the games are won on the field and not in some back room with computer geeks crunching numbers to determine the outcome. Each game is so unpredictable that statistics can't determine it. A season that starts well could lead to disappointment. We fans who have followed this team since its inception are all too familiar with that feeling. Yes, there have been times of euphoria but it is few and far between.
This kind of excitement has been seen before. After the 2005 season, expectations were high as Carson came back from a knee injury with Ochocinico and T.J. Houshmandzadeh looking to duplicate the previous year. With the offense set to fly and a defense able to contribute, repeat looked inevitable. After a three-game winning streak to start the season, the Bengals lost five of their next six with a three-game losing streak to finish the season, failing to make the playoffs, as many times before, leaving us to wonder what happened. Even during the depression era (1991 - 2005), there were a number of occasions that the constant losing appeared to be ending, only to see those hopes dashed by week six. Maybe this year is different. Maybe this team will do something that we only dream of.
I think instead of spouting off about winning the Super Bowl, the biggest goal this team should have right now is repeating as division champs, which the Bengals haven't done since the 1981-1982 seasons. It is a real possibility, as the rest of the division seems to have taken steps backward. The Steelers are not the same and Big Ben is suspended for the first six games (though it appears likely to be four games). Cleveland is well, Cleveland. The current favorite Ravens (according to those who think they know) have suffered several losses in the secondary due to injury. Now do these situations make the pursuit easier? No. The AFC North is one of the toughest divisions to win, and it will not be the exception this season. However, once the division is clinched, the resumption of Super Bowl or bust should ring high.
The excitement of the potential is there, but lurking in the shadows is disappointment. We have lived through this before and want to believe this year is the year the Bengals become Super Bowl Champs. I hear players talking about it and that is fine, they should, as it shows they are determined to change the past. I hope they do. However, it can make for bulletin board material around the league. Despite this, I hope the excitement lives up to its calling and generates a season that all of Bengaldom has never seen and will be proud of.