We finally have the Super Bowl LVI matchup set for two weeks time. The AFC Champions are the Cincinnati Bengals and the NFC Champions are the Los Angeles Rams. The Bengals will be making their first Super Bowl appearance since 1989 and the Rams since 2018.
Bengals Path to Super Bowl LVI
The Bengals are the more shocking participant after starting the 2021 season as 150-1 odds to make the Super Bowl, the biggest underdogs to make the championship since the 1999 Los Angeles Rams coincidentally. The team was expected to make a strong leap from the year before with second-year starter Joe Burrow under the helm.
The road to the Super Bowl was a long one for Cincy, battling injuries and inexperience. By the end of the year they were able to win the AFC North for the first time since 2015 with a record of 10-7 and claimed the 4th seed heading into the playoffs, this would lead to their most challenging game of the year, the AFC Championship versus the reigning conference champs, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The game started as most had predicted and it seemed like Cincy's cinderella story was about to strike midnight. Only 20 minutes into the game, the Chiefs were up by a score of 21-3 and Patrick Mahomes was on fire. The Chiefs were up and trying to separate themselves further continuing to throw the ball. Burrow and company would inch closer thanks to a 41-yard screen pass to Samaje Perine just before the half ended, which was almost matched by the Chiefs when their drive ended at their opponent's 3-yard line as the half expired, a gutsy call that would come back to haunt them later.
The second half would be all orange-and-black.
The Bengals were firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball and would battle to take the lead with only 6 minutes left in the game capping an 18-point unanswered comeback. Unfortunately Patrick Mahomes laughs at 4th quarter deficits and drove his team to a game-tying field goal sending the game into overtime.
Then Kansas City won the overtime-coin toss again, signaling a story we've seen all too many times including the instant classic last week versus Buffalo.
What we hadn't seen before was the Bengals defense playing at the caliber they have been. For as courageous as the Bengals offense had played the second half, their defense was truly the hero yesterday, snubbing Mahomes to 0 touchdowns in the last 25 minutes of the game and causing a fatal interception in overtime.
Once Burrow and the Bengals saw this awe-inspiring turnover nothing was going to stop them, leading a drive that would end by yet another Evan McPherson game-winning field goal, and it seems as though Cinderella may have found her glass slipper after all.
Rams Path to Super Bowl LVI
The Los Angeles Rams started this season before everyone else, trading for their new quarterback Matthew Stafford during the playoffs last season. They would open up with the 4th best Super Bowl odds but that wasn't good enough, trading for key stars Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller mid season to beef up their already star-studded roster. The team would be hot all year and end up nabbing the NFC West title again, marking the 3rd seed in the NFC.
The Rams easily made their way through the Cardinals and would survive the Buccaneers come back to earn a spot in the NFC Championship versus the well-rounded 49ers team. The Rams and the 49ers had already faced off twice this year with San Fran coming out victorious both times.
But this matchup would be the only one that mattered.
It would be a slow start, both teams managing 3-and-outs on their first drives, signaling the familiarity each team had with the other. Both teams would trade touchdowns in the middle of the 2nd quarter, then Robbie Gould would kick another field goal giving the 49ers the lead at halftime.
A George Kittle touchdown would give them a 2-score lead entering the 4th quarter, with all momentum on San Francisco's side. Unfortunately the 49ers coaching has never been the best down the home stretch, and with poor offensive play calling, a misuse of a 3-timeouts-to-0 lead, and poor play in general. The Rams were able to battle back with 13 unanswered points and seal the deal with a last-minute interception off Jimmy G.
Bengals vs Rams at Super Bowl LVI will be an instant classic. Both teams have superior, high-flying offenses led by quarterbacks who have a taste for throwing for 300 and 3. Both defenses have also been on fire these playoffs and have been extra stingy when it comes to opposing passing games.
At early glance the Rams will be favored due to the public's still impression of "The Bengals don't belong here", and they may be right, seeing as the Rams certainly do belong with the upper-echelon of football teams and the Bengals had the #1 pick only two years ago. That pick was Joey "Franchise" Burrow however, and it's likely this Super Bowl, and the Los Angeles Rams, (who are the second team in history and in as many years to host a Super Bowl in their own stadium) will have to run through him.
Stay tuned for more NFL Playoff and Super Bowl LVI content only at fansonlysportz.com, and check out more pieces from writers Zak Drapeau, Chris Hetu and Evan Mallios for our continued coverage through the big game!