The stars land in LA: what you should know and expect for a historic Super Bowl LVI

Lucas Quick, Assistant Sports Editor

The stage is set. We have suddenly come to the final turn of the 2021-22 NFL season, which has already been a historic and arguably one of the best seasons of football we have seen in a long time. Now the champion will be determined between the Los Angeles Rams or the Cincinnati Bengals, which is totally not the Super Bowl we predicted kicking off the season. 

Super Bowl 56 already has some history to its name, as it’s the first Super Bowl to not have a team in either conference to not have a team who is a top 3 seed. We’ve seen one underdog or a wildcard team make it but we’ve never seen anything like this. The Bengals and the Rams were both fourth seeds in the playoffs. 

In a much highly anticipated Super Bowl, and the first Super Bowl without Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady in it for the first time in a very long time. The last time we saw this was back in 2016 when the Carolina Panthers faced the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. So yes, it’s been quite a while since we’ve had a breath of fresh air, although NFL legend Peyton Manning did play in that Super Bowl. But leading to all of that, let’s take a look at how each team made it to where they currently are.

 

The road to victory — how both teams got here:

The Rams were arguably one of the most anticipated teams going into this season, as they dealt in a blockbuster trade to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions, giving away multiple future first round picks. It was fairly obvious that the Rams put all their cards in this season, undoubtedly a Super Bowl or bust season for them, as they won’t have a first round until 2024. 

It was an up and down season for the Rams, as they opened the season arguably looking like the best team in the NFL, and were the Super Bowl favorite for a time being as well, with Stafford playing like an MVP during the first half of the season, as they went 7-1 to begin the season. Just as the Rams looked like an unstoppable force, as they had just traded for Denver Broncos pro bowl outside linebacker in Von Miller, the Rams suddenly had a dry spell for a few parts of the season, as Matthew Stafford began turning the ball over, and not producing that top tier offense like what we saw from them off the bat. 

Just after starting 7-1, the Rams hosted the Tennessee Titans on Sunday Night Football, who were decimated in the running back core, as they just lost their best player in Derrick Henry. Not only did the Rams lose that game, but the offense got humiliated by the Titans defense, as they lost 28-16 in a huge upset put on by the Titans. 

The Rams would eventually struggle for the majority of the second half of the season, as they got swept by the 49ers, and dropped a game against Green Bay. So although the Rams finished 12-5, there were still questions on whether how far the Rams can actually go in the playoffs. Right as that first quarter began in the Wildcard round, as the Rams would host the Arizona Cardinals, it looked like the Rams suddenly regained their identity, as Matthew Stafford put up a great performance, with the help of his favorite receiver, Cooper Kupp, and that defense looked dominant in their 34-11 blowout victory. 

The Rams finally got back to how strong they were performing in the first half of the season, yet they had a tough matchup against Brady and the Buccaneers. The Rams held to their true dominance, just as they did against the Cardinals, erupting to a 27-3 lead heading all the way til the third quarter. Although Tom Brady did his Tom Brady things, to tie the game up Matthew Stafford led the Rams to a quick game winning drive to set up Matt Gay to hit the game winning field goal, with a deep shot that was caught by Cooper Kupp in what seemed like broken coverage or a poorly called cover zero by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. 

As the Rams punched a ticket to the NFC championship with a 30-27 victor in a thriller against the Bucs, as they would host the San Francisco 49ers, whom they haven’t managed to beat since 2018. The Niners defense managed to stop the Rams offense, even with the offense not producing a lot of points, but the Niners held a 17-7 lead heading to the fourth quarter. But yet again, here come the Rams, where they rallied back by both good offensive and defensive performances, to win 20-17. 

The Rams will be playing in their home stadium for the Super Bowl, which is the second consecutive year where a team who made the Super Bowl played in their home stadium, which is kind of ironic because every oher Super Bowl before last season, it had never happened. The Rams with their star-studded roster, got to where they needed to be, in a definitely Super Bowl or bust season. 

Now let’s take a much different look at the Cincinnati Bengals, as their road to the Super Bowl has been one of the most unexpected journeys made by any NFL team in history. The Bengals had struggled in the recent time, as they finished dead last in the league two seasons ago at 2-14, and then made progress last year, but lost Joe Burrow to a torn ACL late in the season, as they finished last in their division at 4-11-1. So heading into the opening game, the Bengals had no potential to even be in the playoffs. In fact, their Super Bowl odds were +2000, being a bottom four team expected to make it here. 

But the Bengals had such a major glow up, as Joe Burrow proved to be their lead guy from now into the future, along with a young and talented offense, with the blowup of Joe Mixon that’s been long awaited, finally happened, along with arguably one of the best trio of receivers, with Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and their star-studded rookie receiver, and former LSU teammate of Joe Burrow’s, Jamarr Chase. They also struck gold in arguably the best signing in all of free agency, signing former Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who was a force on the defense, recording a career high 14 sacks. 

To open the season, there was almost zero expectation of the Bengals going far this season, but they opened up their first five games off pretty impressively, starting with a 3-2 record, with a dominant defensive performance against the Steelers and nearly pulling the huge upset against the Packers but falling short in overtime, the Bengals slowly became more eye-catching, but yet not fully convincing. 

I personally started giving the Bengals more attention and putting them more under the spotlight during their week seven match, facing the Baltimore Ravens on the road. The game was close for the first half, until the Bengals blew the door open, outscoring the Ravens 28-7 as Joe Burrow was firing at all cylinders, finishing the game with 416 passing yards and three touchdowns. Also not to mention an astonishing game by Jamarr Chase, with over 200 receiving yards and a touchdown. 

Although the Bengals became a team to look at as being a playoff contender, it wasn’t always a straight path heading into the playoffs, as they dropped a couple of games, including a shocking loss against the Jets. After their week seven win over Baltimore, the Bengals would then drop four of their next six, as their chances of clinching the playoffs decreased. Then after winning back to back games, they would face their toughest opponent all year against the Kansas City Chiefs, including the division title on the line. 

The Bengals found themselves down early in the first half, but yet again, the Joe Burrow and Jamarr Chase show stole the spotlight for the rest of the game, as Joe Burrow and Chase put up video game numbers, as Burrow threw for 440 passing yards and four touchdown passes, while Jamarr Chase torched the Chiefs secondary, and breaking the NFL rookie record for most receiving yards in a game, with 266 receiving yards. With the help of a Evan McPherson game-winner, what seemed like a dream became real, the Cincinnati Bengals were heading to the playoffs.

All three playoff games came down to the wire for Cincinnati, as they would beat the Raiders, in what was a closer game in the second half, but was a controversial game due to the officiating, but the Bengals would run away with a 26-19 victory, their first playoff win in 31 years. Their next stop was at Tennessee to face the number one seed Titans. A game that was more of a defensive game, as both teams would only have a combined three touchdowns for the whole game. In the last two minutes, which looked like the possible end of the road for the Bengals, as the Titans were marching down the field, close to field goal range, until Ryan Tannehill would throw a costly interception. The Bengals would run away to the AFC championship, as Evan McPherson would kick the game winning field goal.

A Super Bowl spot would be on the line for the Bengals, as they would head to Kansas City to play the Chiefs one last time. The Bengals again found themselves behind, but by a lot more this time, as they were down 21-3 at one point. But with a huge stop on the defense in the last play of the first half, as they stopped the Chiefs from scoring, would eventually give all momentum to the Bengals, who would rally back to force overtime. 

What seemed hard to pull off as the Chiefs would receive the ball first in overtime, yet again, the Bengals defense came in clutch, picking off Mahomes. The offense would finish the job, and yet again, a familiar name in Evan McPherson would kick the Bengals to the Super Bowl, an unbelievable journey, and one of the all time great Cinderella stories you’ll ever hear in sports.

 

What to look at during the game:

Setting that long recap aside, it’s time to dive into the big game. There’s a lot of takeaways for this game but I think the main thing to look at is the matchup this Bengals offensive line is going to face with a star-studded, strong Rams defensive line. We’ve seen it a lot throughout the whole season, especially in the playoffs, and it’s the weakness the Bengals have on protecting Joe Burrow, as they luckily found a way to get Burrow going in that second half against the Chiefs. But this offensive line has seriously been struggling, as they allowed 9 sacks back in that divisional game against the Titans, which obviously is something you don’t want to see on the statline. 

I’m very confident we’ll see Burrow get out of the pocket a lot, which was really the solution he found to start rolling in the second half against the Chiefs. This is such a huge key for Cincinnati’s success, because that offensive line will most likely have a long game trying to stop Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, and Von Miller. If that o-line can manage to protect Burrow thoroughly well, this can be a huge opportunity for Burrow to take. However, if it’s the other way around, it can be a long day for Joe Burrow and that offense, and can be a dominant defensive performance for the Rams. 

Speaking more on the Rams defense, the matchup between Jalen Ramsey, a all-pro, and one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, faces off Jamarr Chase, the young rookie receiver who’s taken the league by storm. I’m highly expecting to not just see Ramsey cover on Chase, and more believe the Rams will continue to push double coverage on Chase, as where it was the Chiefs solution during that first half in the conference game. 

But we can’t only talk about this matchup, because the Rams secondary have more than just Chase on that Bengals offense, as Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd have both been threats, especially Tee Higgins in the ending of the season and the conference game. A main issue however, on the idea of adding pressure on Chase, can lead to the blowout of one of these two. I do believe that we’ll see another 100 yard performance by Tee Higgins, who’s been on a roll the past couple of weeks, and has seen a better opportunity over the postseason. 

Going back to the that defensive end on the Rams, then we’ll look at the offensive perspective on the Rams next, but the run game for the Bengals hasn’t been very consistent in the playoffs, as Joe Mixon hasn’t seemed to be that top five running back we saw him put up over the regular season, as again not only due to the struggling o-line, but also I feel like Zac Taylor has been more focused on the pass game, which is reasonable since a lot of their game have gone down to the wire, but if they can try to run the ball early and if Mixon and Perine can get going early, and simply get four to five yards a carry, it can really give the Bengals offense an extra identity and threat to the Rams defense, as well as giving Burrow a lower workload. 

Turning to now the Rams on the offense, we not how dynamic Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp has been all season long, and it’s going to be a interesting task for that Bengals secondary to face, who had a relatively hard time stopping both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, but the Rams have had such a huge impact on the passing game with the help of Odell Beckham Jr, who’s had a spectacular playoff season during his revenge tour with the Rams, and just coming from a 100 yard performance against the niners. 

We already know that Cooper Kupp is expected to have a big game for the Super Bowl, but I really believe Odell Beckham Jr can really put a show, we can also see a impact from Tyler Higbee, who’s became a reliable target for Matthew Stafford, and has been racking up catches in his previous games when he was healthy. And although we haven’t seen Van Jefferson’s name called out too much in the postseason, he’s always a deep threat and can make a big play at any moment during this game, I wouldn’t prefer to leave his name out, this game can be a possible shootout, Jefferson can be that unsung hero for the Rams.

Another thing the Rams haven’t been able to do well lately, just like the Bengals, is having a stable run game. They did have a nice game put by Sony Michel and Cam Akers in the Wild Card against the Cardinals in a clinic, but in the divisional and the NFC championship, it’s been relatively ugly, as Akers has averaged less than four yards a carry his previous two games, and Sony Michel, who was hardly incorporated in the divisional game, only averaged 1.9 yards per carry in the NFC championship. 

If either team can possibly get the run game going, it can really give a huge favor to them. I feel like the run game has really been outshadowed for the playoffs for most teams, but if any team in this game can get something going in the backfield, it could be a reason on who wins a game. 

Super Bowl 56 should be a really exciting game, as both teams seem matched evenly. I truly believe this game will be one of the ages, and will be remembered for a long time. With two of the starting quarterbacks having a great journey or it’s been waiting a while, it’s expected for both Stafford and Burrow to have great performances. I hope and believe it will be a high scoring game. Although the Rams have the best looking team in the league, I can’t go against a Bengals team who’s been the underdog all season. I think it’s been a long time waiting for the Lombardi trophy to land in Cincinnati, I think this is their time to complete the Cinderella season.

Score prediction: Bengals 31, Rams 27