Super Bowl LVI X-factors: Stafford is no stranger to turnovers
Super Bowl LVI is just around the corner, and the storylines surrounding the matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals are plentiful.
Join us now as we examine three x-factors that will determine whether the Bengals pull off the upset, or the Rams celebrate a victory on their home turf.
Sun, February 13 2022, 11:30 PM
1. Cincinnati's offensive line vs. the Rams' defensive line
Just three quarterbacks this season suffered a higher sack rate than the 9% mark registered by Joe Burrow. The Bengals’ quarterback was sacked 51 times during the regular season, making him the first quarterback ever to lead the league in sacks taken and still reach the Super Bowl.
After allowing nine more sacks against the Titans, Cincinnati’s front five allowed just one last week. However, that number is a bit misleading, as the Chiefs had numerous opportunities for more, and were somehow evaded by Burrow on multiple occasions.
Cincinnati was able to get away with the high sack number against the Titans because Tennessee’s offense struggled. That won’t be a luxury afforded to them by the Rams. Los Angeles leads the league in pass rush win rate and run stop win rate, and as the Rams put points on the board it could make Cincinnati one-dimensional.
If the Bengals are unable to establish any running room for Joe Mixon, and Burrow is forced into must-throw situations, the third-worst offensive line in pass block win rate will be heavily tested. With Aaron Donald blowing things up on the inside, and Von Miller chasing down Burrow from the outside, how the Bengals fare in the trenches on offense will likely be the biggest factor in the outcome of the game.
2. Matthew Stafford vs. the Bengals' secondary
After languishing for his entire career with a Detroit franchise that continued to show ineptitude in building around him, Matthew Stafford was dealt to the Rams in a blockbuster trade this past offseason. The Rams mortgaged their future in the deal, sending multiple first-round picks and Jared Goff the other way.
Stafford paid dividends, throwing 41 touchdowns during the regular season and 4,886 yards. In three postseason wins, he has thrown six touchdowns with just one interception while completing 72% of his throws. With Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., and Van Jefferson at his disposal, plus a fresh Cam Akers behind him, Stafford is thriving in his new digs.
How will the #bengals approach Matthew Stafford? Their pass rush isn’t the #rams, but it sure did a number on Patrick Mahomes in the second half. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard will be so important in #superbowllvi. My report on NFL NOW on @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/aFeWNF0Hk8— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) February 2, 2022
However, Stafford has shown he can be prone to mistakes. Over the last four games of the regular season, he threw eight interceptions, and his 18 interceptions on the season were the most in the NFL, despite seven quarterbacks having more attempts.
The Bengals have come up clutch in the postseason, forcing seven turnovers in three games. This includes late picks against Derek Carr on fourth and goal, Ryan Tannehill with just 20 seconds left to set up a game-winning field goal, and Patrick Mahomes in overtime to set up another one.
Tight end Tyler Higbee will likely miss the Super Bowl after spraining his MCL against the 49ers, taking away a huge security blanket for Stafford. If the Bengals are able to force the 34-year old quarterback into a few mistakes, it would swing the game in their favor. If Stafford can play a clean game, he can take the step that Goff could not and lift the Lombardi Trophy next Sunday.
3. The Bengals thrive as underdogs
Cincinnati is just the second team in the last 40 years to reach the Super Bowl after facing preseason odds of 100-1 or worse. After a Week 2 defeat to the Chicago Bears, Cincinnati actually sat at 150-1 odds. Ironically enough, the other team to achieve the feat was the Rams back in 1999.
Currently sitting as a 4.5-point underdog, the Bengals are in a familiar situation and one in which they have thrived. They are 7-0 against the spread this season when getting a field goal or more, winning six of those contests outright, and even won one of those games without Burrow. Additionally, Burrow is 11-2 against the spread in his career when on the wrong side of the number.
History favors the Bengals, as well. In the last 14 Super Bowls, the underdog has claimed victory on eight occasions. Underdogs laying a field goal have won seven of the last nine such Super Bowls since 2007, and teams receiving more than three points—such as Cincinnati this year—are a stunning 5-1 during that same span, with all six covering the spread.
Rookie kicker Evan McPherson has been very clutch this post-season, making all of his field goals, and Burrow is 7-0 in his college and professional career in postseason play. The Bengals have the intangibles and trends on their side, and could stun the NFL with one of the most improbable Super Bowl runs of all time.