By Christopher G. Hetu
Super Bowl LVI
(4) Los Angeles Rams (12-5) vs. (6) Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Location: So-Fi Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Kickoff: 2/13 6:30PM EST
Spread: -4.0 Rams
C/O to sportingnews.com
The Time Has Come
At long last, the final showdown, the king of all kings is about to be crowned this Sunday. Super Bowl LVI is nearly here and the stage is officially set between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams. Both crowned conference title champions, both winning in thrilling and swift performances and both ready to be enshrined in NFL History. But only one will come out on top of it all, so let's dive into both teams performances this postseason and decide who will be taking the Lombardi Trophy in this year's Super Bowl!
Cincinnati Bengals (AFC Conference Champions)
C/O to Rob Carr/Getty Images
It's been nothing short of a stellar postseason for the most favored team in the NFL right now. If you had to pick between the two, the Cincinnati Bengals are the fan favorite to win it all and it's not a bold statement to make. This team truly belongs on this stage, this all started with hosting the Las Vegas Raiders on Wildcard weekend.
AFC Wildcard Round
C/O to en.as.com
The Raiders put up a big fight, but the Bengals had this game in the bag from the start. Joe Burrow looked like the field general he was born to be, throwing a dot in the back of the end zone to Tyler Boyd as he just barely stayed in bounds to get the pass off. This truly was the first sign of this teams ultimate destiny to travel the distance in the playoffs. Although the run game wasn't very effective, but it didn't need to be. Burrow threw for over 200 passing yards and Ja'Marr Chase had himself a nine catch day for over 100 yards. The defense forced Derek Carr to turn over the ball twice, once on a fumble and once on an interception. They looked so confident throughout these four quarters and when it came time to head on the road, that's where a true test came.
AFC Divisional Round
C/O to Getty Images
The Titans really put Joe Burrow and the Bengals to the test on divisional round weekend. The number one seed in the AFC came ready to play but could never truly pull away from the Bengals entirely. Even despite Joe Burrow getting sacked nine times in the effort, he still managed to throw for over 300 yards once again. Constantly setting up Evan McPherson in good range to kick the three and then rely on the defense to make big stops.
They did just that, matching the nine sacks with one sack of their ownh plus three interceptions off Ryan Tannehill. And although the Bengals let up over 100 yards rushing, they held Derrick Henry under 70 yards and the longest run allowed off him was for 9 yards. The key to this one was the battle of adversity, and despite being stopped plenty of times, the Bengals stayed persistent and setup Evan McPherson to hit the game winning field goal and send them off to the AFC Title game.
C/O to pantherswire.usatoday.com
Out of all the tests in the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs have proven to be the tallest task for any team to face for the last four seasons. The Bengals however, defeated this team back in Week 17 in Cincinnati with a final score of 34-31. However, being in Arrowhead proved to be a different story, the Chiefs dominated the first half going into halftime up 21-10. But on the last play before halftime, they decided to test this Bengals defense, trying to score a touchdown with just seconds left instead of kicking the field goal. The Bengals stood them up and momentum completely shifted in their favor come second half.
The Bengals run game came alive as Joe Mixon rushed for 88 yards and even Burrow ran for 25 yards while facing pocket pressure. Tee Higgins was the true MVP in the Bengals receiving game as he caught 6 passes for 108 yards, he came up big on several of the Bengals drives. The defense took the ball away from Mahomes twice in the effort and Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson combined for 3.5 sacks of the four times Mahomes was brought down. One of those interceptions came in overtime which set the Bengals up to drive down the field and once again called upon Evan McPherson. He delivered once again and here we are in present day, the Bengals are headed to Super Bowl LVI!
Los Angeles Rams (NFC Conference Champions)
C/O to Tommy Gilligan - USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Rams, back when the season first started were run away favorites for the Super Bowl with the trade for Matthew Stafford that sent Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions. This team came out looking like that favorite but suffered three tough losses in a row to the Titans, 49ers, and Packers. People began to step back and scratch their heads wondering if this team still had what it took. The Rams put all thoughts aside and went into Wild Card Weekend with quite a show.
NFC Wildcard Round
C/O to Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times
Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals came into So-Fi Stadium battered, Murray had an injury midseason and DeAndre Hopkins was hurt for most of the second half of the season. The Rams took full advantage of this matchup against their division rivals, although the defense only sacked Murray twice they managed to pick him off twice and take one of those interceptions back for six!
The run game had a steady showing from Sony Michel and Cam Akers each combining for over 100 yards. Stafford threw for 202 yards and threw two touchdowns, one to Cooper Kupp and the other to Odell Beckham Jr. while rushing for one on the ground. The Rams walked out looking like the super bowl caliber team people were talking about, crushing the Cardinals 34-11 and headed to Tampa Bay to face the all time great, Tom Brady.
NFC Divisional Round
C/O to lafbnetwork.com
Nobody expected the Rams to be leading the way they did in this divisional round game against Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This all started from getting pressure on Brady, I have never seen him so uncomfortable in that pocket to deliver passes downfield. Von Miller, Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd each combined for three sacks on Brady, constantly forcing him to throw passes into traffic or throw the ball away. Stafford once again had a great game throwing for 2 TDs once again and over 300 passing yards.
The Rams lead going into the late minutes of the third quarter 27-3, suddenly the game became 27-27 and it seemed as if the Rams were done for. Suddenly the clutch gene activated for Stafford, throwing an absolute DOT to Cooper Kupp with under 40 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. This setup Matt Gay to kick the game winning field goal and send the Rams to the NFC Championship for the second time in four seasons. The Rams nearly let the game slide away but did just enough throughout this one to dominate Tom Brady for at least 3 quarters, enough for them to escape with a win!
NFC Conference Championship
C/O to Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
We couldn't have asked for a better matchup at this stage, not once, not twice but THREE TIMES we got to see the Rams and 49ers go toe to toe. The 49ers were the one team this year that had the Rams number, blowing them out 31-10 and then coming back to win 27-24, it was these Rams losses that made people question their chances of going the whole way. Despite his shoulder injury, Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners offense were quite efficient with their drives. Deebo Samuel continued to be that hybrid tailback/wide receiver threat, in which he rushed for around 25 yards and had four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown that he brought up from 44 yards!
By the third quarter the Niners were up 17-7, Jimmy G. hadn't been sacked the whole game and the doubts started to circulate once again on the Rams hopes of making the Super Bowl. That clutch gene came back to Stafford and Cooper Kupp as the Rams enacted their comeback. Stafford found Kupp twice in the end zone and the Rams defense continued it's dominance as it had all postseason to keep the Niners offense at bay. Have to give some credit to Jaquiski Tartt who dropped an interception that could've sent the Niners to the Super Bowl. Alas, the history books only remember the victorious. Stafford with the game tied at 17-17 drove down the field to setup Matt Gay to kick the game winning field goal and the Rams are headed to Super Bowl LVI!
Super Bowl LVI
C/O to thesportsrush.com
This is one of the most historical Super Bowls we may ever see. For the first time in NFL history both teams participating are not one of the top 3 seeds in their conference. We're seeing a second year quarterback leading a long forgotten franchise back to the promise land in over THIRTY YEARS. We're seeing a quarterback who came from arguable the team with the greatest curse in NFL history to suddenly being traded to a super bowl contender. There's a lot at stake for either side, but lets look at each side's keys to the game if they want to come out on top.
Keys to the Game
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams as stated before have put up a tremendous postseason performance, silencing all doubts on their pursuit for immortality. However, this Bengals squad is competitive so first off Stafford must limit his mistakes because in games this season where he's thrown 2 or more interceptions, the Rams have lost. Stafford needs to play nearly flawless like he has all postseason, because if he's on point the rest of the team is as well.
Next would have to put that pressure from the front seven, this is probably the best pass rush in all of football. Bengals o-line is one of the worst in the NFL, the have been able to protect Burrow well but have given up at least two sacks in every game this postseason. If this pass rush can get pressure, disguise the secondary coverage, they'll have no trouble forcing Joe Burrow to make mistakes.
Lastly, use home field to your advantage, I know this is the Super Bowl but last year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made NFL history by being the first home team to ever host and win the super bowl. The Rams are in the same spot as the Buccaneers last season, take advantage of the fact you're not traveling to this stadium and your home crowd is here to back you!
Representing the home team in the Super Bowl this season, however they are in the away teams home stadium. The Bengals have played on the road their last two matchups so this shouldn't even phase them but here are their keys to the game. First, no doubt in my mind is pocket protection, Joe Burrow has been sacked every game this postseason. I know it's a lot to ask of a lower-tier offensive line against the best front seven in the NFL, they need to slow this rams pass rush down. Whether it's opting to run the ball, throw the ball short or feeding to a receiver after they've released their block, pocket protection must be this teams number one priority in order to win this game.
Second, we need to see a stronger run game out of Joe Mixon, he's struggled a lot this postseason, did show strides however against Kansas City when he rushed for over 80 yards. But doing this will take some pressure off Joe Burrow and they can move to play-action after a while to keep the defense on it's toes.
Lastly, pass rush is a must, this defense has proven that they can get pressure on the quarterback with the talents of Chase Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson. If they can make Stafford uneasy, he's bound to make at least one mistake, and this secondary being lead by Von Bell and Chidobe Awuzie will have a field day on his bad throwing attempts. Despite what you may think the Bengals have a legitimate case to bring a Lombardi Trophy back to Cincinnati for the first time in franchise history.
So we've talked everything out now let's get to the game itself, ladies and gentleman this game will go either two ways, a shootout or the Rams blowing out the Bengals. In all honesty, I don't think we'll see a Super Bowl like last years, the Bengals have been down but have always found a way to creep back in. I expect Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford to combine for at least 500 yards passing, the Rams will get up early however the Bengals will continue to be pesky.
That front seven will keep the Rams up by at least 10 points in the first half, come second half it'll be a whole different ball game. The Bengals defense will cause a lot of pressure on Stafford and force him to make at least one mistake and the Bengals will find themselves in a tied game. It's all going to come down to Matthew Stafford to deliver a strike to either Cooper Kupp or Odell Beckham Jr. and surprisingly OBJ will be the one to push the Rams into field goal range and win the Super Bowl.
The Bengals will come back next season stronger and ready to embark on another Super Bowl run, but this year is the Rams year. The trade that sent Matthew Stafford here will be regarded as one of the top five trades in NFL history and Los Angeles will be victorious!
RAMS 29 BENGALS 28
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