Phrases like Super Bowl and championship feel out of place in the Cincinnati Bengals locker room. Thirty years without back-to-back winning seasons and 22 years without a playoff victory can do that.
Yet, an interesting narrative arrived inside the Paul Brown Stadium offices and tunnels as the latest edition of the Bengals began training camp two weeks ago. Those words started showing up everywhere.
A press release regarding training camp saw Executive VP Katie Blackburn quoted as calling this the Super Bowl championship season.
Marvin Lewis stated during his contract extension press conference that the need to win a championship is hanging over his head.
Players stand at the lockers and the letters DNO splash across the chest of their T-shirts -- Destination: New Orleans.
Sure, in August, all 32 teams bathe in optimism and breathe high expectations. If training camp plans played out for everyone, no coach would be fired or player released.
Still, most optimism around this franchise is typically anchored with caution. Not this year. This team embraces expectations.
“There's definitely more of that playoff talk and Super Bowl is definitely a little more obvious than it has been other years,” said CB Leon Hall, entering his sixth season with the Bengals. “For instance, when we went to the playoffs in '09, we were just talking about doing our job basically. We knew we could have a good team and felt good where we were at, but it definitely was a little different. I think it speaks to a lot of the young talent we have here this year and the season we had last year.”
Finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs last season played a role, but a feeling this team can learn from the mistakes of those in the past also feeds the belief. In 2010, enough brash predictions and expectations were flushed through the Bengals training camp to fill the egos of Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens -- well, if that's even possible.
Johnson -- the player formerly known as Ochocinco -- and Owens spoke brazenly, and the Bengals couldn't deliver, finishing 4-12 and enduring a 10-game losing streak. The parts have flipped 180 degrees since that season and Lewis sees a core better prepared to deal with high expectations and positive press clippings than previous editions.
“The biggest thing that we have done differently now is change people,” Lewis said. “We've changed a lot of people. That is apparent.”
Last year's team found success by playing with a chip on its shoulder to combat the endless stream of pundits counting them out. They were given no chance. The exact opposite occurred this offseason.
Finding a way to keep a chip on the shoulder and for a young team to understand it's not necessarily destined to dominate will be a key to avoid the pitfalls of the previous teams. There were the 2006 Bengals, who finished a disappointing 8-8 after losing the final three games of the regular season. And there was the 2010 group, which was remembered as one of the biggest failures in team history.
But past is past, and players say that doesn't have anything to do with what will happen in 2012.
“You can't look at what you did in the past,” said C Kyle Cook, a starter in Cincinnati since 2009. “Yes, we made the playoffs last year. Yes, we made a good run. But could we have been better? Yes. Go back to my tenure here, go back to years we've been good, the following year has not been so good. The year we had Hard Knocks, my first year starting, we were good running, won a division, 6-0 team, next year we came out we weren't so great. What you did the year before has nothing to do with your record. Nobody carries over no matter what you did.”
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates from training camp on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLCIN.