For a long time, it appeared as though 2022 would be the year in which a Super Bowl-winning party finally headed to the state of Ohio. Against all odds, the Cincinnati Bengals blazed a trail through the regular season and play-offs to book themselves a ticket to the last dance.
We all know what happened next, with the LA Rams proving to be a step too far when facing the California-based outfit on home soil at SoFi Stadium. It had been some journey for those swept along for the ride, on and off the field, but dreams were ultimately dashed as the most prestigious of prizes fell agonizingly out of reach.
The obvious question now is, can history finally be made in 2023? The Bengals – having finished licking their wounds – are back in the hunt, while hope will forever spring eternal for a success-starved Cleveland Browns franchise.
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The Browns are going to need to find a spark from somewhere if they are to harbor any aspirations of heading down a path that leads to Super Bowl LVII, with seven defeats through their opening 10 games suggesting that another campaign is in danger of being written off.
An experiment on former No.1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield may have been brought to a close, but the era of Jacoby Brissett is yet to entirely convince and more firepower is required alongside the likes of destructive running back Nick Chubb and four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper in order to become truly competitive.
There were fears at one stage that the Bengals could head in a similar direction as they opened with back-to-back losses and three setbacks through their first five games, but a run of six wins in eight games has them back in contention for a place in the post-season.
‘Smokin’ Joe Burrow is back in the groove, with the swagger returned to his game that made a shot at ultimate glory possible last time out, and the Baltimore Ravens now face serious competition for top spot in the AFC North.
The Bengals showed in 2021-22 how dangerous they can be when getting on a roll, with confidence and momentum important attributes for any ambitious outfit to have in its locker, and they will be more determined than most to earn another shot at hoisting aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
For the Browns it looks like being another year of transition and rebuilding, but Ohio may yet get its moment in the sun – as the wait for a first Super Bowl triumph continues – with there still cause for optimism when heading down the road to State Farm Stadium in Arizona on February 12, 2023.