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CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Bengals are well aware of the talk after their best season in three decades – that their Super Bowl race was a stroke of luck.
When the Bengals started volunteer offseason training on Monday, cornerback Mike Hilton said the team seeks to prove skeptics that the defending AFC champions are legitimate candidates. Hilton says he has a sense of why people think Bengalis are a marvel.
“Because it’s the Bengalis – exactly, period,” Hilton said. “When you think of the Bengals, are you like, ‘Oh, the Bengals,’ do you know that? But now, with this group of guys that we have and the coaches that we have, we’re really turning this organization around. And we’re trying just to get the respect we deserve. “
By last season, the Bengals had not reached the off-season since 2015, won a playoff game since January 1991, and had not played in the Super Bowl since 1989. After being the worst team in the NFL in 2019, the Cincinnati extinguished all those droughts.
The Bengals won the AFC North and then topped Kansas City, the reigning AFC champions, to win the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
When Hilton was asked if the talk of the unlucky race created some anger or put the proverbial chip on his shoulder, Hilton said: “Absolutely because people still did not believe it throughout the playoffs. They said we were lucky and that here and that. “
In the first team meeting of the offseason, Bengals coach Zac Taylor told the team that all of their goals are still achievable despite the 23-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl LVI. The Bengals strengthened what was one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines by signing three free agents to be starters.
Bengal Special Team Coordinator Darrin Simmons said the message was well received by the team, which is aware that reaching the Super Bowl last season does not include guarantees of returning there.
“We played in the Super Bowl last year, but the series is completely different,” Simmons said. “But [Taylor] that’s right. Everything is still right in front of us, just as it was a year ago. “
To Hilton’s point, the oddsmakers believe the Bengals are far from favorites to play for another championship. According to Caesar’s Sportsbooks, the Bengals have the 11th best odds of winning the Super Bowl, and the Cleveland Browns have the best odds of winning the AFC North.
Despite the odds and skepticism, Hilton said the team is confident and made off-season acquisitions to improve the chances of repeating as AFC champions and proving that 2021 was no coincidence.
“When people call it a stroke of luck, we just smile and put it on,” Hilton said. “We’re ready to go out there and prove it again.”