This Sunday’s Super Bowl at SoFi stadium in Los Angeles will be the first in which neither Tom Brady nor Patrick Mahomes has featured in the past five years. Instead, this championship game will feature the matchup between two former No. 1 draft picks in the Rams’ Matthew Stafford and the Bengals’ Joe Burrow, only the second time in the Super Bowl era that this has happened.
The Bengals’ journey to the Bowl has not been easy. Most bookmakers had them as the underdog in all three of their playoff matchups. They were impressive against Derek Carr and the Raiders and then advanced to the AFC conference championship by defeating the top-seeded Titans with a walk-off field goal. Against Mahomes and the star-studded Chiefs, the Bengals incredibly overcame an 18-point deficit at halftime with an elite second half performance from Burrows and the Bengals’ defence. A clutch field goal from Evan McPherson in OT sent them to the Super Bowl.
Coming into the season, the Rams were certainly considered favourites amongst the league to reach the Super Bowl, but nevertheless the way they did so was not any less impressive than the Bengals’ championship push. Give credit to the Rams’ management and Les Snead for his ambition towards assembling a super-team to go out and win a championship. Initially, the decision to forgo valuable future drafts for established but ageing players such as OBJ and Von Miller seemed risky, however the payoff has been significant, and the Rams’ have fielded a top five offense and defence across the regular season. Their playoff run has demonstrated their resilience as a team: they crushed the Cardinals in the wildcard round and survived close games against the Bucs and the 49ers to reach their second Super Bowl in the past five years.
As a neutral, the prospect of Stafford vs. Burrows is extremely enticing. Both players are extremely likeable and there are players in both organisations who I would love to see win a ring. Whilst a Super Bowl would elevate Burrows’ status to one of the most elite QBs in the game, Stafford certainly deserves his shot after thirteen years in the league.
What to Look Out For
1. Burrows vs. Stafford:
Despite a devastating ACL suffered by Burrows during his rookie season, he has done precisely what the organisation had envisioned in the 2020 draft by taking the Bengals to their first playoffs in the last 31 years. He enjoyed great success as LSU’s talismanic Heisman Trophy winner and led them to an undefeated season in 2019. This has foreshadowed his sophomore season. His confidence and leadership have been lauded by teammates and he has evolved into one of the most likeable players in the NFL. Matt Stafford has been through the ringer during his years in Detroit, going 0-3 in his previous playoff appearances, but his 3-0 performance so far this season has shown that he is as formidable of a quarterback as any one of his peers. Whilst some might cite the variety of weapons that he has at his disposal as the root of his success, his leadership in the locker-room and on the field, as well as his obvious chemistry with the likes of Kupp and OBJ, have shown that he is capable of being a game changer. If Burrows can maintain his level of consistency and Stafford can limit cheap turnovers, this Super Bowl should showcase two talented QBs playing the best football of their lives.
2. Tee Higgins vs. Rams’ secondary:
The Rams will match Jalen Ramsey with Ja’Marr Chase leaving 6”4 WR Tee Higgins to the likes of Darius Williams and the rest of the Rams’ secondary who have struggled to prevent deep plays and defend against checkdown routes. The size mismatch is notable, and Higgins will be a significant source of chunk plays for Burrows to target.
3. Rams’ defensive line vs. Bengals’ offensive line:
Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd constitute one of the more fearsome pass rushes in recent years. The Bengals will be tired of the narrative of their maligned OL, but the fact remains that they allowed 51 sacks this season. Burrows’ scrambling ability has revealed itself throughout the season, but his OL will need to step up against LA to allow their QB to make the necessary plays.
4. Rams’ weapons vs. Bengals’ secondary:
Kupp will line up with Hilton, and McVay will look to play reduced formations to work the ball to his record-breaking receiver in the slot. Thereafter, Bengals’ CBs Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple (who struggled against the pace of Hill against the Chiefs) will be tasked to cover OBJ and Van Jefferson. All three of the Rams’ elite WRs can be deployed in a variety of routes so the Bengals will look to lock off the backfield with their safeties and keep Stafford guessing by mixing up coverages. Whilst Lou Anarumo (Bengals’ defensive coordinator) successfully adapted the Bengals’ defence to the weaknesses of Mahomes in the Conference Championship, it remains to be seen how he will fare against the dynamic offense of the Rams.
Prediction: Bengals 30-26 Rams