I have a confession to make. I was a bit of a Broncos “fan” when I was younger. The reason I say “fan” is because I wasn’t necessarily bleeding blue and orange or anything, rather I just really enjoyed watching those Denver teams as a kid. You know the one’s with Terrell Davis, John Elway, Rod Smith, and Ed McCaffrey. I had a TD action figure and I even bought one of those cheap ass commemorative hats when Elway won the Super Bowl. I enjoyed that era and I’ve never really had an axe to grind against the Denver football franchise that is until right now. Seeing Peyton hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy over that artificially enhanced forehead of his on Sunday evening legitimately made me sick to my stomach. Why you ask? Well I’ll tell you why, the Bengals are a better professional football team than the Denver Broncos and if it weren’t for that heartbreaking loss in December I’m thoroughly convinced that would have been Andy Dalton and co. up on stage. Denver did everything they could to give us that game. They let us jump out to an early lead, gave up huge plays in the secondary, never put us away when they had the chance, they even missed the game winning field goal in regulation which should have put the breath back in our lungs and led to a decisive victory in overtime. Instead we give away the game on an AJ McCarron fumbled snap and once again found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Turns out that game cost us the no. 1 overall seed in the playoffs.
Check this out. Let’s say we hold onto the ball and find a way to win that game. The Bengals, Broncos, and Patriots all have 12-4 records, but the Broncos have the head to head over the Pats and the Bengals have the head to head over the Broncos which means the Bengals would have been the 1 seed. New England gets the 3 and has to play Pittsburgh in Foxboro Wild Card Weekend. Would have been a great game no doubt, but let’s assume Tom Brady takes care of business at home.* The 3 seed Pats would have been headed to play the 2 seed in Denver, while we would have gotten the fifth seeded Chiefs at home. The Bengals would have beaten that Chiefs team so bad it probably would have been considered a hate crime perpetrated upon the Native American people while Sunday’s great Manning/Brady matchup would have played out last week in the Divisional Round, let’s assume the same results (same teams, same location, same game). That means the Bengals would have squared off against the Denver Broncos at 1 Paul Brown Stadium Sunday evening with a ticket to Santa Clara on the line. I’m not saying it would have been easy, but I think I’ve made it abundantly clear that I would loooooovvvvveeee to have had a shot at those guys again. We had every opportunity to beat them in December with a backup QB making his second career start at their place and we still almost pulled it off. Had we done just that and gotten the opportunity to square off again on Sunday, Andy Dalton would have likely been back under center, playing a very beatable opponent at home. I’d have felt REAL good about those chances.
I know that there’s a lot of if’s in that scenario I just laid out, but the bottom line is the Bengals had the red carpet laid out in front of them to get to the Super Bowl. We had as good of a chance as anybody to complete the year of destiny, but instead of walking said red carpet and entering through the front, we decided to try and sneak in the service entrance and got denied at the door. It just sucks to watch a team that I know we’re better than get a chance to win the Lombardi Trophy. Denver is a very good team, don’t get it twisted. A motivated Peyton Manning on his last hoorah and that stout defense is tough to deal with, but you’ll still have a tough time convincing me that the Bengals when healthy weren’t the best team in the AFC this year. Not the most experienced, not the best coached, certainly not the most disciplined, but top to bottom the Cincinnati Bengals had maybe the most stacked team in the AFC. Maybe even the NFL, yet we came up a day late and a dollar short in typical Bengals fashion and we’re not playing the Carolina Panthers for all the marbles on February 7.
Fuck it. Since I’ve pretty much blacked out and created an alternate universe where the Bengals are actually playing for a Super Bowl, I’ll go ahead and give a Super Bowl prediction. The Panthers are a pretty fucking good team. Like, historically good if we’re being honest so the Bengals would certainly have their work cut out for them.
Prediction: Mike Nugent misses a 36 yard field goal on the final play of overtime.
*I’m not totally ruling out the Steelers winning in Foxoboro. As much as I hate to say it, if anyone can pull off the improbable in the postseason it’s those bastards (I think we witnessed that firsthand if my memory serves correct). If that be the case, then we would have had to play the Steelers in the divisional round at home, NOT in a monsoon and possibly with a healthy Dalton. I’d have felt a whole lot better about that matchup instead of the Wild Card game with AJ McCarron in the rain.