Everybody loves a winner. That’s what the general consensus tends to be. But a 2015 preseason poll of NFL fans proved something different. The New England Patriots took the top spot for most hated team in the league, per a poll conducted by Sports Illustrated. Outside of their fan base loving them, the Bengals are getting the same treatment. Becoming the most hated could turn more attention towards the Cincinnati Bengals and their defense.
Since 2011, the Bengals have become a staple in the playoffs. According to Pro Football Reference, Bengals fans have witnessed the team compile a 52-27-1 record since then. Those wins put them behind only the Patriots (61), Broncos (58), Packers (56), and Seahawks (53). The Bengals are now a high-profile team.
Lately, those who are not fans of the Orange and Black are calling the Bengals dirty. Most of the ire is directed at one player: Vontaze Burfict. Just the mention of his name causes a football conversation to take a turn towards biased opinions.
Isn’t that what the NFL has been built on? Burfict plays for a Bengals team that was the No. 2 ranked scoring defense in the league. Per ESPN, the Bengals finished the season occupying the eleventh spot. That’s a top-tier defense. Both combatants in Super Bowl 50 had top ten defensive units. The Broncos and Panthers finished No. 1 and No. 6 respectively. Yes, defense still wins championships.
What most respected and feared defenses have is character. In fact, the solid defensive units from the past had energetic and lively players that defined their makeup. Linebackers are known as a wild bunch. They’re usually the heart and soul of the defense and the main play callers. It takes a special breed to play the position. There has to be a combination of speed, intellect, and ferocity.
A quick look back at a few linebackers will prove the theory. Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor, Ray Lewis, and Joey Porter are a few that stand out. Each player was wild and fiery. Their opponents cringed with fear. They were respected for their talent, but hated for their success.
Playing defense is an ugly job. Most quarterbacks that can’t make it in the NFL are switched to receivers or cornerbacks, if they have speed. It’s usually a thankless job that only gets recognition when something goes wrong. The Bengals defense has gotten more notoriety from being good than being dirty. But the media loves a good scandal. Vontaze Burfict fits the mold.
The Cincinnati Bengals defense has been crowned the “bad boys” of the NFL. That could be a good thing. When an opponent is thinking about the dominating aspects of the team they have to play, that’s a mental victory. The Steel Curtain defense of the Steelers had that effect on players. The Orange Crush of the Broncos and Purple People Eaters from Minnesota all caused anxiety.
Vontaze Burfict and his defensive teammates are doing the same in Bengals stripes. By becoming a hated team, the Bengals are making their opponents recognize them for their prowess on the field.
When the Bengals lost the January 9 Wild Card Round, fans and media immediately labeled them as a bunch of classless thugs. Nothing was remembered about a defense that played almost flawless football for 58 minutes. The only images splattered across screens were Burfict’s look of disbelief and Adam Jones pleading with an official.
That has effectively made fans look at the Bengals as a team on the edge. Once again, that’s a good thing. The high-powered offense will be fine. Now, the defense will be on the minds of receivers crossing the middle on deep slants.
Being the most hated could turn out to be something the Bengals should embrace.
[Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images]