During the 1970 season, the Cincinnati Bengals represented a nice little story. The franchise had been awarded to Paul Brown as the AFL’s 10th and final entry. Brown preferred a franchise already in the NFL, but took the AFC charter with the understanding that the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers would become division rivals two years later in the AFC Central Division and under the consolidated NFL banner.
For the first half of 1970 the Bengals played the part of a third year expansion team and started 1-6. But then Cincinnati caught fire, winning its last seven games to claim the division crown. No other team would start as bad as 1-5 and then make the playoffs until the Kansas City Chiefs pulled the trick in 2015.
In the 1970 NFL sim I played out through WhatIfSports, the Bengals decided to play like gangbusters all season.
The Bengals advanced all the way to Super Bowl V, where they fell to Minnesota 17-9, giving Bud Grant and the Vikings consecutive world championships, this time with career backup QB Gary Cuozzo. The Bengals success as a third year franchise in professional sports would be rivaled by the Milwaukee Bucks, who won the NBA Championship in their third year of existence in 1970.
With no real dominant teams in the real-life NFL in 1970, the Bengals coming out of nowhere is probably not that much of an anomaly.
The other story of the sim 1970 season involves the Pittsburgh Steelers, who in the real world were still in rebuilding mode and would finish 5-9. In the sim Pittsburgh claimed its first playoff berth in the franchise’s 38-year history as AFC Wild Card with a 9-5 record, and then shocked the heavily favored Colts in the division round before falling in the AFC Championship.
In the NFC the Vikings and Rams won their divisions while the Cowboys and 49ers struggled. The two real-life NFC title game participants went 7-7 and 6-8 respectively.
Dave Osborn and the Vikings would meet the Rams in the sim NFC Championship.