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Cincinnati Bengals versus Kansas City Chiefs

I understand it now. Why do doubters continue to doubt the Cincinnati Bengals, even as they prepare to play their second straight AFC Championship game Sunday night.

Doubters have had a hard time forgetting the three decades of mediocre football and player drama off the pitch.

They fail to understand how a franchise with the same owner and player personnel department could suddenly change from one of the longtime laughingstocks in American sports to a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Doubters love Joe Burrow, but still struggle to comprehend how one almost single player quickly turned a franchise – this franchise – into a winner.

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The Bengals, the defending AFC champions, snap a franchise-record 10 game hitting streak in Arrowhead against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, some in the neutral observer and expert class still wonder when the Bengalis 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 damn time, huh?

Bengalis absolutely owned the accounts from start to finish in their house. It was perhaps the most impressive win in the Bengals’ magical two years. They overcame serious injuries. They won in a place few do, on snow, against a team that has been talked about for the last few years as a Super Bowl contender. And it wasn’t even close.

Bengalis sent a message to their harshest critics that day: I’m not a fluke. Respect them. They earned it. Bengaldom is a desert island, never inhabited again as long as Burrow is in the building.

This does not mean that Bengalis are henceforth immune to criticism. It doesn’t mean that I think they will all win.

It means that the past sins of the organization should not be blamed on the Bengalis of the tana era. It means the organization deserves credit, top to bottom, from owner Mike Brown to the guys who recycle shirts and jockstraps.

But no one deserves more credit than Burrow, who led the Bengals to their first consecutive AFC Championship appearance in franchise history.

Someone posted a video editing on Twitter of the comments of several national speaking leaders from a few years ago. The recurring theme among pre-2021 pundits: Burrow is too good for the Bengals. He should refuse to play for them.

Yes, Burrow could have given the Bengals his all, stood his ground and complained about the franchise’s lack of commitment to excellence. But Burrow seized the opportunity to influence culture change.

He chose to immerse himself in organization, building relationships with everyone from the front office to the locker room. She chose to earn the respect of Brown and the player personnel staff so she could provide valuable input on which players to pick and which free agents to sign. In interviews he is aware that he sincerely praises his teammates and coaches and speaks positively of the organization.

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That’s what a great leader does. We don’t see leaders like Burrow happen 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 or not we are passionate about football.

Be part of the solution. You will likely 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 PM, Sunday, CBS

Prediction: By far the hardest game to predict this season, as evidenced by oddsmakers going back and forth all week on the favorite. Tossing 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 [email protected] and on Twitter @jwilliamscincy.

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