Ladies and Gentleman, this is the weekend you’ve all been waiting for. The most watched sporting event in the United States will be hitting your television screen this Sunday at 6:30pm EST. We have a matchup of No. 4 seeds with the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals for Super Bowl LVI. While this isn’t the flashy matchup people were hoping for with Rodgers, Brady, or Mahomes, it is two fun and exciting teams who deserve to be there.
From 2-14 to the Super Bowl
2 seasons ago, the Bengals had the worst record in the NFL and were gifted the same treat as the Cavaliers were in 2003. They had the opportunity to take a star from Ohio who looked like the next stud at his position. Joe Burrow aka Joe Brrrrrr aka Joe Shiesty was taken with the No.1 pick in the 2019 draft. He played well during his rookie season then suffered a torn ACL.
With another down season, the Bengals had the 5th overall pick in the draft. Most experts wanted them to take Penei Sewell, a projected stud lineman, to protect their franchise player. But, they went with Burrow’s running mate and best friend Ja’Marr Chase. Boy did they prove those analysts wrong. Chase went on to produce the best rookie season by a receiver ever. He ended with 81 receptions for 1455 yards along with 13 TDs.
A free agency class highlighted by Trey Hendrickson, Chidobe Awuzie, and Larry Ogunjobi help to bolster the defense and compete in an AFC North predicted to be a gauntlet of hard games.
The Road to the Super Bowl
After starting 5-3 and losing 3 heartbreakers to the Jets, Packers, and Bears, the team went on a 3 game winning streak. Then, they proceeded to get crushed by the Chargers and lost to the Niners. The Bengals didn’t lose until the last game of the season when they rested their starters.
Evan McPherson, a kicker who was drafted in the 5th round in 2021, has been electric during the postseason. Compared to other players selected in that round, the Bengals were criticized once again for drafting a kicker that early. But, he too is shutting people up. His leg and confidence have made him a perfect 12-12 for field goals in the post season.
While teams have doubled Chase this postseason, other players have stepped up. Mixon, Higgins, Boyd, and Uzomah have made big plays and eventually it will force the defense to adjust for a second. Then, BAM, Chase is open and he can do some damage. While the play of the O-line has been unreliable the whole season, Burrow can extend plays outside of the pocket and occasionally scramble.
A game clinching interception near the goal line against the Raiders, a walk-off field goal against the Titans, and an overtime McPherson field goal have put this team of underdogs in the biggest game of the year.
A Team With Expectations
After trading Jarred Goff and two first-round picks to the Lions for Matthew Stafford, the expectation was to win now. They have almost everything you want. Good offensive line? Check. Good wide receivers? Check. A running game? Check. Good pass rush? Check. Good secondary? Check. Proven quarterback? Well…
Matthew Stafford has spent his entire career before this season in Detroit. So there hasn’t been much success for him. Some say he’s a stat padder, some say he’s a great quarterback playing for the worst franchise in the NFL. He has talent, but never had a team to consistently show it since Jim Caldwell was the head coach.
In the middle of the season, fans were shocked when the Rams traded for Von Miller, a hall of fame pass rusher. Adding him to the opposite of Leonard Floyd and having Donald in the middle on paper was a recipe for success. In addition, Odell Beckham Jr. signed with the team after being released by the Browns. That saga can have an article of its own.
The Road for the Rams
Cooper Kupp had an all-time great season by a wide receiver and won the Triple Crown. That nickname (from horse racing) consists of the most yards, receptions, and touchdowns. Donald and the rest of the d-line got after quarterbacks and disrupted the pocket, runs, and plays.
After starting the season 7-1 and Stafford looking good, there was a lull. Some of that was due to the play of Stafford. According to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, the former Lion said he was dealing with chronic back pain that would spread down to his throwing arm. They went on a 3-game losing streak, all against teams who made it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs or later.
Stafford’s play seemed off for the rest of the season even after bouncing back from their 3 game skid. They went on to win 5 straight and lost the regular season finale against the 49ers.
After beating up on the Cardinals in the Wild Card round, they went down to Tampa Bay. They got out to a 27-3 lead. Then something familiar happened. Tom Brady got the team back into the game with some untimely turnovers and lack of offensive production. After Brady tied the game up with 42 seconds left in the 4th, the Rams had one final shot before overtime. A first play sack led to the Rams using their last timeout. Then, Cooper Kupp single handedly put the team at the Tampa Bay 12 in two plays. First, a 20-yard throw to Kupp who got out of bounds and then a 44 yard bomb down the middle of the field. A spike and then a field goal with zero’s on the clock sent the Rams to play the Niners.
MATT GAY FOR THE WIN! pic.twitter.com/AQBU54oVhD
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 23, 2022
The Niners had the Rams’ number all season, going 2-0 in the regular season and somehow neutralizing Aaron Donald. The game was slow and started with a Stafford pick in the end zone. Kupp ended up scoring both TD’s and the Rams didn’t score in the 1st or 3rd quarters. Down by 10 to start the 4th, Kupp got a touchdown and Matt Gay hit a game tying field goal with 6:49 left. The 49ers next series was a 3-and-out leading to another field goal drive to take the lead. Jimmy G did Jimmy G things and served up a nice interception to end the game. One thing to note was how bad Sean McVay was in this game. From terrible usage of timeouts, bad challenges, and unnecessary risks, he almost cost the Rams the game.
A Preview and Our Predictions
The Rams pass rush is going to be a problem for the Bengals. Their game at Tennessee proved that they cannot handle elite pass rushers. But, the Rams’ secondary is not what they used to be. While Jalen Ramsey will trail Ja’Marr Chase the whole game, one of their usual safeties are out with injuries, Jordan Fuller. The team signed Eric Weddle, who was a great defensive back, but came out of retirement. But, the Bengals’ wide receiver trio will be a lot to handle and Tee Higgins is going to have a favorable matchup against a smaller back. I have more confidence in Joe Burrow, even if he’s younger and less experienced than Stafford because of his mindset coming into this game. He’s treating this like a second Super Bowl, with his first being the National Championship Game in 2019.
The Rams have struggled running the ball this post season because they’re going to Cam Akers more than the should be. Sony Michel is a power runner who can get extra yards because he keeps moving his feet. Kupp is going to be a problem either way with his football IQ even if he’s double teamed. Beckham will probably have Eli Apple on him and the former Giants teammates will go at each other. Best guess is that Odell is going to win that matchup.
This game can go two ways: either the Rams dominate the Bengals because of their front seven and passing game. Or, the Bengals keep the game close and end up winning by a field goal. Should be a fun game so get your popcorn out, beer cold, wings hot, and enjoy the last football game until August.
The Unfinished Business Team Predictions:
Abhi Lyer: Rams 23, Bengals 20
Chris Johnson: Bengals 30, Rams 27
Daniel Collins: Rams 41, Bengals 24
Haley Wald: Bengals 27, Rams 17
Kaira Cabato: Bengals 27, Rams 24
Tia Elbert: Rams 31, Bengals 17
Thomas Senerchia: Rams 24, Bengals 17
Thurman Foreman: Bengals 23, Rams 17
Victoria Schutz: Bengals 27, Rams 20
Bengals 5, Rams 4