The ultimate goal of any professional sports team is to win the championship. In the NFL, that means the Super Bowl to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Anything else, especially in the modern era with fans and media, is considered an abject failure. Retroactively, talented players like Dan Marino and Charles Barkley have had their greatest minimized because they don’t have a championship.
The road to a title is rarely the same for every team. Sometimes teams are cut off because of injuries, bad luck or just running into the greatest on the other side. The Mark Price-led Cleveland Cavaliers had the latter with Michael Jordan keeping them from reaching the highest peak.
For the Cleveland Browns, winning more games than they lose seems to be the first step in 2023 but that, in and of itself, isn’t enough. A team like the Dallas Cowboys is a great example of being good but, likely, never good enough.
For the Browns, and every other team in the AFC, the road to the Super Bowl looks like it will be a tough one for the foreseeable future.
This year’s AFC Championship game is a rematch of last year’s with the Cincinnati Bengals taking on the Kansas City Chiefs. The Buffalo Bills, who looked loaded and like the favorites most of the year, flamed out against the Bengals yesterday while the up-and-coming Jacksonville Jaguars gave the Chiefs a tough game on Saturday.
A look around the AFC shows just how tough it will be for anyone to make the Super Bowl. In a quarterback and head coach league, the following pairs reside in one conference:
- Kansas City - Patrick Mahomes & Andy Reid
- Cincinnati - Joe Burrow & Zac Taylor
- Buffalo - Josh Allen & Sean McDermott
- Jacksonville - Trevor Lawrence & Doug Pederson
- Baltimore - Lamar Jackson & John Harbaugh
- Los Angeles - Justin Herbert & Brandon Staley
That is six teams with very good to great quarterbacks and solid to great head coaches. If we knew Tua Tagovailoa was healthy, we’d add Miami to the list as well. Russell Wilson lingers in Denver after a rough first year, hoping a new head coach to right the ship quickly.
For Cleveland, and the rest of the AFC, the gauntlet to make it to the Super Bowl is overwhelming. It is no excuse but for any team to be able to make it through all of those quarterbacks and quality coaches is not easy.
Luck, injuries and, perhaps, the weather could play a huge role in separating the best of the best in the conference over the next few years.
Sadly, while Deshaun Watson and Kevin Stefanski could be an excellent pairing, the path to the Super Bowl is full of all kinds of treachery even if the team becomes very good. The path is, seemingly, much easier in the NFC.