This year's Cincinnati Bengals have fans feeling something they likely have not felt in decades — hope.
Zac Taylor's squad defeated the Las Vegas Raiders and Tennessee Titans to make it to their first AFC Championship Game in more than 30 years, but can they overcome Patrick Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs? Two Bengals greats say it is possible.
"This football team is something special," David Fulcher said. "They are making plays, they are making Cincinnati proud again and football is back in Cincinnati — trust me."
Fulcher, a three-time Pro Bowler while in Cincinnati, said he is proud to call himself a former Bengal and happy to see this team finally give fans the success they deserve.
"The City of Cincinnati deserves what is going on right now, because I think we got the best fans in football, I do," Fulcher said. "Why not cap this thing off and give it all to them?"
Though the Bengals defeated the Chiefs in Week 17, the odds are not in Cincinnati's favor. Kansas City is a seven-point favorite coming off the best offensive performance this postseason. Fulcher said winning at Arrowhead will not be easy.
"It's going to be tough — Kansas City is tough at home and you have to play them twice," Fulcher said. "Can you beat them twice? Well, I can remember us playing the Buffalo Bills three times in one year and we beat them, so if it's going to happen, it's going to happen this Sunday for sure."
Before the Bengals played one down in the playoffs, Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz said he was impressed by the team's ability and camaraderie. As they continue to succeed, Muñoz said he continues to buy into this squad and its leader, quarterback Joe Burrow.
"I'm a former lineman and I usually don't do this, but the thought actually crossed my mind, do they have a 2X [Burrow] jersey," Muñoz said. "I gotta represent this guy, because he is just...amazing. When you have your quarterback that is just crazy confident, crazy tough and not to mention his physical ability, I thought about getting the No. 9 jersey."
Muñoz said the bigger the game, the bigger Burrow's performance — elevating everyone else's game.
"I assure you that his lineman, everybody that plays with him, would play Kansas City out here in the parking lot if Joe said, 'Hey, we've got to play out here,'" Munoz said. "'Let's go, because Joe said so.'"
Like everyone else in the country, Muñoz watched the Chiefs beat a strong Bills team in overtime. He knows the game will not be easy, but said Cincinnati has the ability to pull out a win.
"I really believe this team can beat Kansas City and go to the Super Bowl, but there's individuals that have to play a game that they've never played in their life — and that is like A+++ game," Muñoz said.
The Bengals offense did struggle against the Titans, as Tennessee tied an NFL record for sacks in a single postseason game. Muñoz said the Chiefs defensive line is no lay-up, but said he is hopeful the team's offensive weapons are able to see the same kind of success Buffalo did.
"For those of us that watched that Buffalo-Kansas City game, sure Mahomes and that offense, but...if we can stop that pass rush, I don't care right now in this league who you are defensively, when you look at Boyd, Chase, Higgins, Uzomah and Mixon, I don't see how you can cover them if you have the protection," Muñoz said. "As an NFL football player, you know what you have to do and it's just a matter of going out and doing it."
Both Muñoz and Fulcher said they hope to see this team make it to Los Angeles — and said they'll find a way to be there if they do.
"We have a lot of guys that are in town that played here, and in us you have the biggest fans," Muñoz said. "We want you guys to be very, very successful."