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How the Bengals avoided the dreaded Super Bowl hangover this season

How Joe Burrow, and offensive line upgrades, were critical to Cincinnati’s season.

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to avoiding the fabled NFL Super Bowl hangover, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that did it better than the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals.

In a study done this past December by Sporting News columnist Edward Sutelan, he found that in the history of the 56 Super Bowl losers, only 13 of them won 12-plus games the following season, and only three won 13-plus games.

Despite starting this season 0-2 and sparking a lot of early-season Super Bowl hangover talk, the Bengals defied history by finishing the regular season with a 12-4 mark — one of the best seasons a Super Bowl loser has ever had. Cincinnati had a chance to be just the fourth team to win 13-plus games the following year, but the Week 17 matchup with Buffalo was canceled and not rescheduled due to Damar Hamlin’s medical emergency.

But how did these Bengals manage to not only avoid a Super Bowl hangover, but also win two more games than their 10-7 regular-season finish a year ago?

Simple, really. They kept the core of the roster in place, and they upgraded the offensive line, the perfect recipe for letting Joe Burrow cook.

Keeping that championship-caliber roster intact

In terms of players lost and gained in the offseason, the only notable player Cincinnati lost was tight end C.J. Uzomah, who had 493 yards and 5 touchdowns with the Bengals last season, to the Jets. Hayden Hurst has done a decent job of replacing his production, finishing this season with 414 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, it’s mostly the same group that played at an elite level in last year’s playoffs. The only real change is the loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Chidobe Awuzie midseason to an ACL tear and having to replace him with second-round rookie Cam Taylor-Britt, who has done a serviceable job to this point. The rest of the defense has continued to play great, helping to offset the loss of Awuzie thus far.

The real change came along the offensive line, as Cincinnati got four new starters there, three of whom were quality free-agent signings in center Ted Karras, right guard Alex Cappa, and right tackle La’el Collins. The Bengals also drafted Cordell Volson in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and he’s been a decent starter at left guard, including a standout performance in the Week 13 win over Kansas City.

Keeping Joe Burrow upright

In 2021, Burrow was sacked 51 times in the regular season, including 21 times over his last five games.

In 2022, Burrow was sacked 41 times, but 13 (!) of those sacks came over the first two games. It should be noted that Burrow was sidelined for nearly all of training camp and the preseason due to an appendectomy. Once Burrow actually had the time and opportunity to develop chemistry with his new linemen, they flourished together.

Burrow has been sacked just 28 times since Week 3 and just 12 times since Week 9.

However, the offensive line will be down a pair of starters in the playoffs, as Collins suffered an ACL tear in Week 16, while Cappa suffered a severe ankle injury in Week 18 against the Ravens that’s expected to sideline him for the postseason.

Though Collins and Cappa won’t play again this season, it can’t be overstated how much they helped the Bengals get through the majority of the marathon that is the regular season, and they deserve to be acknowledged for their role in helping the Bengals dodge the dreaded Super Bowl hangover.

That said, does the current offensive line have enough in the tank for these Bengals to win four more games to hoist the Lombardi? While it remains to be seen, I feel confident in saying the current offensive line is still an upgrade over the unit that allowed Burrow to be sacked a postseason-record 19 times last year.

Because as long as Joe Burrow can cook with the weapons he possesses, this team is capable of beating anyone.