AFC championship prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs | Jason Williams
I understand it now. Why the doubters keep doubting the Cincinnati Bengals, even as they prepare to play in their second consecutive AFC championship game on Sunday night.
The doubters have had a hard time forgetting about the three decades of mediocre football and off-the-field player drama.
They can’t understand how a franchise with the same owner and player personnel department can suddenly change from one of the long-time laughingstocks in American sports to a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
The doubters love Joe Burrow, but they still struggle to comprehend how one player almost single handedly has quickly transformed a franchise – this franchise − into a winner.
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The Bengals, the defending AFC champions, take a franchise-record 10-game winning streak into Arrowhead against the Kansas City Chiefs. Still, some in the neutral observer and punditry class keep wondering when the Bengals will return to Bengaldom.
I should know. I was one of the doubters.
My perspective on the Bengals changed last week in suburban Buffalo. Well, it’s about dang time, eh?
The Bengals absolutely owned the Bills from start to finish in their house. It was perhaps the most impressive win amid the Bengals’ magical two-year run. They overcame serious injuries. They won in a place where few do, in the snow, against a team that’s been talked about in recent years as a Super Bowl contender. And it wasn’t even close.
The Bengals sent their toughest critics a message that day: They are not a fluke. Respect them. They’ve earned it. Bengaldom is a deserted island, never to be inhabited again as long as Burrow is in the building.
It doesn’t mean the Bengals are immune to criticism henceforth. It doesn't mean I think they're going to win 'em all.
It means the past sins of the organization shouldn’t be held against the Burrow-era Bengals. It means the organization deserves credit, from top to bottom, from owner Mike Brown to the guys who launder the jerseys and jock straps.
But no one deserves more credit than Burrow, who's led the Bengals to their first back-to-back AFC championship game appearances in franchise history.
Someone posted a video montage on Twitter of several national talking heads’ comments from a few years ago. The recurring theme among the pundits pre-2021: Burrow is too good for the Bengals. He should refuse to play for them.
Yeah, Burrow could’ve big-timed the Bengals, held out and complained about the franchise’s lack of a commitment to excellence. But Burrow seized on the opportunity to influence changing the culture.
He chose to immerse himself in the organization, building relationships with everyone from the front office to the locker room. He chose to earn the respect of Brown and the player personnel staff so that he could provide valuable input on which players to draft and free agents to sign. He’s cognizant in interviews to genuinely praise his teammates and coaches and talk positively about the organization.
It’s what a great leader does. We don’t see leaders like Burrow come around often – at home, in the office, at school, at church or on our favorite football team.
Burrow has set an example for all of us, regardless of our age and profession or whether we’re a football fan or not.
Be part of the solution. You’ll probably change the hearts and minds of even the most hardened critics.
AFC championship prediction: Cincinnati Bengals (14-4) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (15-3), 6:30 p.m., Sunday, CBS
Prediction: By far the toughest game to predict this season, evidenced by oddsmakers going back and forth all week on the favorite. Flip a coin. Bengals win, 24-23.
Last week: Cincinnati defeated Buffalo in an AFC divisional game, 27-10. I predicted the Bengals would lose, 27-24.
My season record: 14-4
Contact columnist Jason Williams by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @jwilliamscincy.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: AFC Championship prediction: Cincinnati Bengals vs Kansas City Chiefs