Destination: New Orleans

Sure they made the playoffs last year, but the team was 9-7 during the regular season.

And it was an unimpressive 9-7.

The team was outscored by the opposition during the regular season, did not have a winning record in its division, only had one regular season victory against a foe that finished with a winning record, and didn’t qualify for the postseason until the final game of the year.

Sound familiar?

That team was the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

The Bengals also made the playoffs with a 9-7 record last year and while they are not listed among the preseason favorites to go this year’s Super Bowl, Cincinnati is widely considered to be an up-and-coming team.  Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com picks the Bengals to win the AFC North and advance to the AFC Championship game and ESPN’s Bill Polian also picks the Bengals to win the division.

“I think there are some people that realize that there is a lot of talent in this room,” said seven-year veteran Andrew Whitworth.  “That’s fun.  That’s going to make it exciting and it means there are expectations.  That’s the environment that you love to play in.”

The highest expectations for the Bengals are inside of their own locker room.  The players are wearing t-shirts that include the letters “DNO.”  As NFL.com’s Albert Breer uncovered when he recently visited training camp, those letters stand for Destination:  New Orleans – the sight of this year’s Super Bowl.

“That is nothing new,” said Andrew Hawkins.  “The goal is to be world champs and you have to set your goals high and work toward that goal.  I remember coming into camp last year.  On my first day here, the very first thing that Coach Lewis talked about was going to the Super Bowl.  That’s always the goal.”

Is it a realistic goal?

The Bengals certainly have a talented young nucleus with a quarterback to build around in Andy Dalton, but perhaps just as importantly, the team also has a roster filled with hard-working, no-nonsense pros.

“I don’t think that there are certain guys that are leaders – there are a ton of leaders in this locker room,” said Whitworth.

“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves,” said BenJarvus Green-Ellis who played in the Super Bowl last year with New England.  “Right now we’re just worried about having a good practice and making sure that we’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s.  You don’t win a Super Bowl in February – you win it right now on the practice field doing the things that you’re supposed to be doing.”

The Bengals face a more difficult schedule this year, but it’s worth pointing out that Baltimore and Pittsburgh face even more challenging schedules.  The opponents are the same for all three teams with the exception of the following matchups:

Cincinnati:  Miami (home), at Jacksonville

Baltimore:  New England (home), at Houston

Pittsburgh:  New York Jets (home), at Tennessee

Advantage:  Bengals.

After getting their hopes up in previous seasons only to see Cincinnati stumble, I get the sense that many Bengals fans are reluctant to fully buy-in.  They’ll dip a toe into the water, but won’t dive in head first.

I’m not saying that the Bengals are going to the Super Bowl this year, but there’s nothing wrong with joining the players and coaches in making New Orleans the destination.

“I think every team, every year starts out with the goal to go to the Super Bowl,” said Whitworth.  “We want to go to New Orleans and we want to win it.  I’ve had the luxury of winning a state and a national championship in New Orleans so it would be sweet to win a Super Bowl there too.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

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