Scott Shapiro's Super Bowl LVI Preview
Thirty-two franchises got training camp started this summer with the ultimate goal of playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Unlike most seasons, there were no dominant teams, but it was extremely entertaining and, boy, has the postseason delivered. Dramatic game after dramatic game in the Divisional Round, followed up by a pair of barnburners on Championship Sunday. In the end, it is the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams left standing with Super Bowl LVI just days away in Los Angeles.
Sun, February 13 2022, 11:30 PM
Bengals overachieve in Burrow's second season
It is no surprise that the Rams made it to this point, but that is certainly not true of the Bengals. Sure, Cincinnati has added elite talent at the skill positions through the draft over the past couple of years, but the Bengals were 4-11-1 last season and their franchise quarterback was coming off a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
Their future was potentially bright with their best players on rookie contracts, but their defense lacked stars, and their offensive line was again a major concern. After their Week 14 overtime loss to San Francisco, Cincinnati dropped to the ninth seed in the conference and out of the playoffs. But from there, the Bengals won three straight to clinch the AFC North, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Rams right where they expected
For the Rams, the 2021 campaign was always about making it to the Super Bowl. They traded for Matthew Stafford in late January and added big-name veterans Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. to an already strong roster during the regular season. With so many draft picks leveraged to make this group championship caliber, it was obvious that the front office was “all in”.
Los Angeles got off to a 7-1 start and appeared to be one of the best teams in the NFL, but a winless November and up-and-down play from Stafford were legitimate causes for concern.
The Rams rallied, though, winning five of their last six in the regular season before dominating the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card Round to earn a matchup against Tom Brady and the defending champs. The Rams controlled things against Tampa Bay in that Divisional Round contest, but made mistake after mistake late, almost handing the game to the Buccaneers.
Fortunately, Stafford and All-Pro Cooper Kupp bailed them out in the final minute, allowing the Rams to gain a chance to avenge two regular-season losses to San Francisco. They did just that, earning them their second Super Bowl appearance in four years.
Just an unbelievably clutch play by Matthew Stafford & Cooper Kupp. Cooper Kupp is your MVP as far as I’m concerned, and he went up against the best Defensive Back from Tampa Bay during the most crucial offensive play. Effortless throw from our franchise QB! What a thriller! pic.twitter.com/h6mNh6GQLh— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) January 24, 2022
As has been the case in most of the 2021-2022 NFL Playoffs, the Bengals and Rams have played some tight games over the past few weeks. There is little reason to believe that this one will not come down to the wire as well.
Super Bowl LVI will be another thriller
Sure, the Rams have some serious advantages, but not ones that Cincinnati has not overcome already in the postseason. Blocking Aaron Donald and crew will be a major challenge for Cincinnati’s porous offensive line, and winning the turnover battle for a fourth straight week will require both grit and good fortune. However, Joe Burrow and this gutsy Bengals team just have an intangible that cannot be found on a spreadsheet.
On Sunday, look for the Bengals to run their offense at their normal slow pace of play, running the game clock down toward zero before almost every snap. Sean McVay and the Rams, as usual, will play at a faster pace, but will still look to establish the run, as well as get the ball to Kupp via the short and intermediate passing game. This should lead to a low-scoring first half, making the first-half UNDER a strong play.
From there, this one is likely to come down to two things. Can Burrow avoid constant pressure and make plays with both his legs and arm, and can Cincinnati get a big takeaway or two to earn it a couple of extra possessions? I feel good about the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner’s chances of playing well on the biggest stage. The turnover margin, though, is hard to predict.
When analyzing Super Bowl LVI, some point to the Rams’ home-field advantage. It will definitely be nice for their players to sleep at home and not have to travel, but that is not enough for me to lay more than a field goal in this matchup. Instead, I will bank on another thriller to conclude what has been the best postseason I can remember. Give me the Bengals and the points, as well as the UNDER in both the first half and for the game.
Super Bowl LVI picks