I'll be the first to admit it: I don't know a whole lot about the NFL. I follow the Bengals, but I would struggle to name a dozen players off the top of my head. I know a little bit about each of the Bengals' fellow AFC North teams—mostly, which players do the most damage when they play the Bengals.
I'm not even sure that I could name a single NFC quarterback without Googling it.
But I've been a Bengals fan since the time I was eight; seriously, what eight-year-old doesn't think those helmets are sweet? Most of my good friends are much bigger sports fans than I am, so I get a lot of crap from them when my teams aren't doing well.
I cheer for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA season. I got a fair amount of crap about LeBron not being able to win a championship in his home state and the absolute disaster of a team they have become since he left.
My best friends are Chicago Cubs fans; I'm a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Sure, I am normally the one rubbing wins in their faces, but Cubs fans have a special way of getting under a Cardinals fan's skin.
I support the Columbus Crew during the MLS season. My friends mock the MLS completely, always reminding me that real soccer is called "football" and it takes place in the European premiere leagues, not the United States.
But, in spite of all of the mockery I take as I attempt to be a sports fan, perhaps nothing earns me more ribbing than being a Cincinnati Bengals fan.
If you're reading this article, then you're probably a Bengals fan, too, and you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. I don't need to bring up sore memories of all of the Bengals' shortcomings during the franchise's history.
Who will win today's game?
I like to think of myself as an optimist when it comes to my sports teams. During the 2011 NFL preseason, before I took the time to learn anything about Andy Dalton or A.J. Green, I predicted the Bengals would make the playoffs in 2012. For a team with a history like the Bengals, just making it to the playoffs is a good season, in my book.
What was my prediction for the Bengals during the most recent preseason? Another berth into the playoffs and a win in the first round. I am no less confident of that prediction today than I was in August.
The first half of my prediction was confirmed after Week 16 of the regular NFL season. What would it mean to a fan like me if the second half of my prediction were to come true?
Negative Statistics Put to Rest
There are a lot of playoff-related statistics that an anti-Bengal can throw our way. A playoff win today could take away most of their easy pot-shots.
Everyone knows the big statistic: 30 years since the Bengals earned back-to-back playoff berths. It was the longest such drought of any franchise in the NFL. Even if we don't win today, that one is finally behind us.
It's also been more than 20 years since the Bengals won a game in the postseason. They've lost their last four playoff games. If you haven't already done the math, that means that this marks only the fifth time the Bengals have qualified for the postseason since 1990.
If we get that win today, this is another statistic we can finally put behind us.
Finally, while reading an article from CincyJungle.com today, I learned that the Cincinnati Bengals have never won an away game in the postseason. This is a statistic that my friends have never thrown at me, but I've got to believe NBC will make note of this on more than one occasion today.
A Cincinnati win today means no one will be able to throw that insult at us anymore, either.
Confirmation of Andy and A.J.
I'm not a big fan of big-name sports players turning their backs on the teams that help them get established.
Like everyone in the city of Cleveland, there is no one I hate more in the NBA than LeBron James. I could go on and on about this, but I'll spare you. The thing that hurts the worst, however, is that we still haven't really recovered from losing James. As much as I love Kyrie Irving, he's no LeBron James (yet).
After my St. Louis Cardinals won their most recent World Series, arguably the greatest cleanup hitter in the game left for a bigger paycheck in California. But the Cards made the playoffs without him (and without their future Hall of Fame manager), almost returning to the World Series, in fact. So I'm not bitter towards Albert like I am LeBron. I feel sorry for him, really.
And then there's Carson Palmer. Like many frustrated players before him, he simply refused to play for the Bengals. Either trade him or pay him to sit. That never sat well with me.
But look at what Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have accomplished in just two short years.
During the 2010 NFL season, when the Bengals featured a lineup including Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, the Bengals failed to even make the playoffs. One year later, with Dalton at QB and Green at wide receiver, the Bengals returned to the postseason.
In the seven years (2004-2010) that Carson and Chad led the Bengals, they never managed to make the playoffs two years in a row. Andy and A.J. have already done so.
Whether or not the Bengals win today, Andy and A.J. will end this season with at least as good of a postseason record as their predecessors.
If they manage to pull off a victory, becoming the first-ever Bengals team to win on the road in the postseason and the first squad to score a playoff win in over 20 years, there will be no question in anyone's mind that this is a completely new era for the Bengals.
Carson? Ocho? You won't be missed.
Everyone Will (Finally) Have to Take the Bengals Seriously
Just last week, someone at my house ate some popcorn out of a tin with the Bengals logo on it. "Maybe the popcorn wouldn't be so bad if the tin was for a team that was any good," he said.
Really? We've qualified for the postseason. That means that we're one of the six best teams in the AFC, one of the 12 best teams in the NFL.
Winning today could change all of that. Maybe it's true that a team is only playing a game in January because of a fluke. Two fluke seasons in a row? If that's not oxymoronic, then I guess I could give you that. If you make the playoffs and can't win, maybe you shouldn't have been there in the first place.
A win today changes everything. A win today means we're just two more games away from the Super Bowl. A win today means we face off against the best team in the conference next week.
A win as the sixth seed says, "Sure, our season had a rough patch or two, but we made it to the postseason, and you have to take us seriously."
Finally: taken seriously. That's what a Bengals win would mean to even a casual fan like me.