The Baltimore Ravens are in the Super Bowl once again and they are a franchise to envy. Fellow AFC North rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, have also been very successful and both franchises have kept the Bengals in their rearview mirror.
After Sunday's NFL Conference Championship Games culminated in the "HarBowl", it got me thinking about things from a Bengals perspective. A range of emotions ensued when it came to pass that a divisional rival of the Bengals was once again headed to the Super Bowl, while the orange and black were sitting at home or on the golf course. There's a mixture of two emotions that usually come to the surface when thinking about the Ravens and Steelers: a strong dislike that is brought on mostly by envy.
Bengals fans have to be pleased with what they've seen from their own team over the past five years. They have a division title and two Wild Card berths in that timespan, but unfortunately, the team hasn't achieved any postseason wins. The 2011 rebuilding of the squad seems to be headed in the right direction with 19 wins the past two seasons and the breaking of 30-year-old curse of not making the postseason in back-to-back seasons. Still, it's that lack of postseason success which leaves a sour taste.
Additionally, things look solid again this offseason for Cincinnati. The Bengals were able to retain both of their quality coordinators who had gained interest for head coaching vacancies at various destinations, and they have an extra second round pick to help their roster. If they're able to do some good things in free agency, this team could once again be in the hunt for the playoffs. There's a strong feeling of consistency starting to brew in Cincinnati these days--something that hasn't been around these parts since the 1980s.
I had that familiar envious feeling while on Twitter Sunday night. Aside from hearing that the Harbaugh brothers outscored their opponents 35-0 in the second half in their respective Championship games, I made an observation about the success of the fellow AFC North powerhouses. With the Ravens' upcoming appearance in Super Bowl XLVII, it marks the third time in the last five Super Bowls that either the Ravens or Steelers have or will appear in the game. Those two AFC North teams have also participated in four of the last five AFC Championship games.
You could go back even further in recent history to the Steelers' victory in Super Bowl XL and the Ravens' victory after the 2000 season in Super Bowl XXXV to look deeper at the sustained success that both teams have had over the past decade or so. Sunday's result continued the dominance of the two AFC North bullies. The Ravens are going on 17 years old as a franchise and they are going to try and achieve their second Super Bowl Championship--which would be two more (should they win the big game) than the 44-year-old Bengals franchise has to their name.
Another fascinating aspect differentiating the Bengals from the Ravens and Steelers is the attitude of a "successful" and/or "disappointing season". The Steelers had themselves a "disappointing season" last year, by their own admission, and they were in the playoff hunt until the Week 16, barely missing out on the playoffs at 8-8. A "disappointing season" in Cincinnati is going 4-12 and have your then-franchise quarterback bail on the team.
There's an old adage that says "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". Marvin Lewis is from the Pittsburgh area and coached in Baltimore--it's safe to say that he understands the culture of those respective franchises. He has preached the need for a strong running game and solid defense in order to win in the brutal AFC North and has been putting the pieces together for a winning formula. Heck, Lewis has come out and said that he wants to build the Bengals in the mold of the Steelers and Ravens. It's a lofty but wise goal.
Positive results have been seen lately in Cincinnati, but the outcome of Championship Sunday shows how far they still have yet to go in keeping up with the Ravens and Steelers--in both long-term consistency and postseason success.