Super Bowl LVI Preview
Rams vs Bengals
Ladies and gentlemen; we are here. Bengals vs Rams, Super Bowl 56; it is the game we have all been waiting for. In this star-studded matchup, both quarterbacks have a chance to change the course of their legacy. While Joe Burrow has been revered as "the future of the NFL", winning this game would prevent the "hasn't won the big one" or the "he isn't a winner" narrative just two years in his career. Burrow winning this one would do wonders for his career. While this game is extremely important for Burrow, I don't think many people have questions about whether or not he can "win the big one". He did it in college and has led his team to the Super Bowl in just his second year. However, that question is very prevalent for Matthew Stafford. Stafford just won his first playoff game this year after 12 seasons in the NFL. This Rams roster is filled with superstars from start to finish and the game is in his home stadium; there are no excuses for Stafford to not be able to bring this one home. A lot is riding on this game for both of these quarterbacks, but mostly Stafford.
The key for the Rams' offense is playing a clean game and not shooting themselves in the football. The Rams' greatest opponent is themselves. Every game, Stafford leaves a few passes up in the air; passes that can lose them this game. With Jessie Bates roaming in the secondary and Mike Hilton locking down the slot, Stafford has to be conservative with his passes. With that being said, you don't win Super Bowls by being conservative. The risks that Stafford takes have to be calculated; he can't throw into double coverage. If Odell Beckham Jr. or Cooper Kupp have one-on-one matchups, Stafford needs to take those shots. He can throw 50/50 balls, but he can't force anything. Life is all about balance, and Stafford needs to find his when taking shots downfield. When the Bengals run man coverage, Stafford needs to find Eli Apple. Whether Apple is lined up against OBJ or Cooper Kupp, the Rams will have a mismatch. Sean McVay will try to get Apple on an island with one of his receivers and that is how the Rams will win this game. McVay will use his x's and o's to win with his "Jimmys and Joes". For the Rams to win this game, their offense must play turnover-free football, take calculated risks, and go at Eli Apple.
I hate betting against Joe Burrow; I have been doing it all post-season long, and he has proved me wrong every time. With that being said, I don't bet against the Bengals because they have Burrow; I bet against the Bengals because of their offensive line. The Bengals gave up more sacks than any team in the regular season and have given up the most in the playoffs thus far. I am not sure how they were able to hold the Chiefs' defensive line to only one sack, but they'll need to repeat that formula against the Rams. With Aaron Donald and A'Shawn Robinson coming from the interior, and Von Miller and Leonard Floyd off the edge, the Bengals need to find a way to keep Joe Burrow clean. Last year's Super Bowl was decided off of offensive line play, and I could see the same thing happening in this one. How do the Bengals stop the Rams' defensive line? I am not sure, but Zac Taylor will need to pull something crazy off. Whether it be chipping, doubling, or sliding protection; Taylor needs to find a way to buy his star quarterback some time. If there is a cornerback not named Jalen Ramsey guarding Ja'Marr Chase, Burrow needs to throw him the ball. You know that meme "F' it, Ja'Marr's down there somewhere"? He is going to have to have that mentality when Chase has a favorable matchup. I like the Bengals' chances in this game if they can win the time of the possession battle. That means running the football with Joe Mixon and letting the clock run. Keeping Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford on the sideline is the best defense that the Bengals could play. Joe Burrow will be smoking a cigar after this game if he can get the ball out fast and keep the Rams' offense on the sidelines.
By matching Jalen Ramsey on Ja'Marr Chase, I believe the Rams can take the Bengals' number one weapon out of the game. If Joe Burrow is the heart of the Bengals' team, Chase is the heartbeat. He gives life to Cincinnati's offense and is one of the most explosive players in all of football. Chase wins with his speed and physicality, and Ramsey is one of the only defensive backs in the NFL who can match both of those traits. Ramsey is hungry for this Super Bowl, and I know he is asking Raheem Morris to follow Chase all game long. If Morris grants Ramsey his wish, I think it puts the Rams that much closer to hoisting the Lombardi trophy. I'm also letting Eric Weddle play with free reigns in the box. Weddle is one of the best run-stuffing defensive backs in the NFL and was a big reason why the Rams beat the 49ers two weeks ago. The Rams should be playing press coverage across the board and force Joe Burrow to hold onto the football. If the Rams' secondary holds up, I believe Von Miller wins Super Bowl MVP. We all know what he did the last time he was on the big stage, and I know that greatness is still in him. In order for the Rams to win the time of possession battle, they need to stuff the run and force the Bengals into third and longs. The blueprint is there for the Rams' defense, now it all comes down to execution.
When looking at the matchups on paper, the Bengals' defense doesn't look like it has a shot. I don't think the defense needs to shut down the Rams' offense entirely to lead get the win. Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford are going to put drives together; that is a given. All the Bengals' defense needs to do is hold them to three in the red zone and capitalize on Stafford's mistakes. Every game he'll make one or two mistakes and if the Bengals' defense can force a few turnovers in this game, I believe they will pull off this upset. One area that I believe the Bengals have an advantage is upfront. The Rams' offensive line has struggled as of late, and Trey Hendrickson doesn't play around. Forcing the Rams into third and longs and making them one-dimensional makes this game a lot easier for the Bengals. It is a tough task, but the key for the Bengals' defense is capitalizing on Stafford's mistakes and holding the Rams to three in the red zone.
While schematically these two teams are relatively similar, they were formed in very different ways. The Bengals were built through the draft while the Rams were built through trades and free agency. One of the key players that the Bengals drafted this year was Evan McPherson. Special Teams could have a huge impact on the result of this game, but fortunately for both teams, they have kickers who have been money lately. The team that wins this game will most likely be the team that is more discipline and have fewer mistakes and penalties.
It feels like I have changed my pick 1,000 times since we found out that these two teams were playing. My brain is telling me to pick the Rams, but my heart is telling me to pick the Bengals. Joey Burrow has proved me wrong every game in the playoffs thus far, but I'm done picking against him. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I picked against my gut, and my gut tells me to pick the Bengals. While on paper, the Rams are better in almost every single statistical category, Joe Burrow is just so god damn special. I never thought I'd be saying this, but I am picking the Bengals to win the Super Bowl.
Rams' Key to Victory: Take calculated offensive risks and don't shoot themselves in the foot.
Bengals' Key to Victory: Buy Joe Burrow time and capitalize on Matthew Stafford's mistakes.
Matchup to Watch: Jalen Ramsey vs Ja'Marr Chase
Final Score: Rams 30 Bengals 33
Super Bowl MVP: Joe Burrow QB Bengals