Super Bowl LVI Preview
In easily the least anticipated Super Bowl since Super Bowl 50 (Broncos-Panthers), the upstart Cincinnati Bengals take on the LA Rams in Los Angeles. This is the first Super Bowl in 9 years that the AFC Champion is not quarterbacked by either Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Patrick Mahomes. The Bengals have one of the league's best young quarterbacks in Joe Burrow, and one of the league's best young wide receivers in Ja'Marr Chase. They also have several good complimentary players on offense, as well as a good kicker. Save the first half at KC, the Bengals secondary has been very good in the playoffs. Cincy won consecutive road games at Tennessee and at Kansas City to reach SB 56, forcing key turnovers in each game. During the regular season, they won on the road in the only two division games for them that mattered, and they won on the road at Denver and Las Vegas. On the flip side, they were blown out by the Jets on the road, and were blown out by the Browns at home, and they also lost to the Bears. The Bengals defensive line is a bit thin due to some recent injuries, and against Kansas City, the Bengals really never stopped the run. Why the Chiefs abandoned the running game in the 2nd half we will never know, but fortunately for Cincy they did, but look for the Rams power running game to target this weak spot. I expect McVay to pound it with running back Cam Akers all game long. The Rams offensive line has improved immensely over the final quarter of the season, with the one weak spot being left tackle, but they appear to have shored that spot up. And since coming off IR, Akers has been an upgrade over Sony Michel, even further solidifying the run game. On defense, the Rams have 2 HOFs in their front seven in Von Miller and Aaron Donald. They also have an all-Pro caliber corner in Jalen Ramsey. Miller and Donald should be to create havoc against a Cincy O-line which allowed the most sacks of any NFL team, and Miller and Donald have a track record of playing well in big games. Miller was SB 50 MVP. While Chase will make his fair share of plays, Ramsey and company will contain him. And the Rams will put consistent pressure on Burrow, something the Chiefs did not do, especially in the second half. It's gobs easier to defend the pass when you are rushing 4 and dropping 7, and 2 (Miller and Donald) of the 4 guys that are rushing the passer have to be double-teamed. The Rams are playing at home in LA, and that has to mean something. The prospect of the playing the SB in their own stadium had to be a source of motivation for LA the entire playoffs, and it must continue to be a source of motivation. Do you really want to lose the SB at all, but especially at home? And on top of the solid running game, defense and home field, they have Cooper Kupp at WR, and he is having a historical season. Odell Beckham has also stepped up his game big time as well. Further, the Rams have this year's 1st team All-Pro kicker in Matt Gay. Moreover, the Rams have great team chemistry, and Donald has spoken at length about this all season; and, on top of all of this, the Rams have a head coach who knows what he is doing.
This leads us to the biggest question mark for the LA Rams: Matt Stafford. The game is HIS to lose. Heading into this season, he had been stuck in Detroit and had never won a playoff game. Now he's won 3 playoff games in just 1 year in LA, as many playoff games as the Pittsburgh Steelers have won in the last 11 years combined. He was without question shaky in the regular season, as he threw 4 pick 6s, 3 on nationally televised games. He has been for the most part solid in the playoffs, although he threw a pick at the goal line of the NFC title game, and trailing in the 4th quarter threw a ball that should have been intercepted, but was dropped. Had it been intercepted, we might be talking about a 3rd 49ers-Bengals Super Bowl. I give the Stafford backers the nod when they say he was stuck in a bad spot in Detroit for years. At the same time, he's not a HOF. He's solid, but unspectacular. But on the theme of solid, but unspectacular, that is all Stafford really needs to be in this game because the Rams are the better team.
Make Cam Akers a household name. Pound the Bengals D Line with the running game. Put Cincy in 2nd and 3rd and longs with Donald and Miller. Get the ball back. Pound them more with Akers. Make your field goals. Hold them to field goals. Make it a really boring game. Control the entire game. Hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Rams 26 Bengals 16