Super Bowl LVI (56): Preview and Bettor’s Guide, Rams vs Bengals
LOS ANGELES — The 2021 National Football League regular season is now in the history books. The postseason action featured some of the best playoff games in NFL history. Nine teams changed head coaches as the professional football carousel spun wild. And the Pro Bowl featured the usual tomfoolery. Now, the playoffs are over. The time has arrived for the king of all sports to crown its annual champion. Super Bowl LVI (56) will conclude one of the best professional football seasons ever as the AFC’s Cincinnati Bengals take on the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams (-4).
Super Bowl LVI takes place this Sunday, February 13, 2022 at Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles. Kickoff time happens at approximately 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. NBC broadcasts the game Sunday, also providing a livestream via the NBC Sports App. fuboTV and DAZN (in Canada) users can also find the game via these services. The AFC’s Cincinnati Bengals take on the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams (-4).
Super Bowl LVI Team Histories
The Bengals have never won the Super Bowl. After reaching the Super Bowl in 1981 and 1988, they were defeated both times by the San Francisco 49ers. The team won a playoff game in 1990. But then the Bengals endured a long and frustrating 31 years until winning their next playoff game.
The Rams have won the Super Bowl. However, the Los Angeles Rams never have. The 1979 Rams reached their first Super Bowl but fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 1999 St. Louis Rams were led by Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf. They won an epic Super Bowl contest over the Tennessee Titans on the final play. That dramatic game finale happened when Mike Jones made “the tackle” at the one-yard line.
Next, on the verge of a dynasty that never was, the heavily favored 2001 Rams lost a shocker to the New England Patriots, then led by coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The 2018 Rams were back in Los Angeles. But was still not enough to beat Belichick and Brady in that Super Bowl.
This Sunday, Coach Sean McVay brings the Rams back to the Big Game for the second time in four years.
How the Bengals got to Super Bowl LVI
Marvin Lewis led the Bengals from 2003 through 2018. Despite seven playoff appearances in 16 seasons, the Bengals never won a playoff game during that span. Zac Taylor took over in 2019 and the Bengals finished an NFL worst 2-14.
But the fortunes of this long-suffering franchise changed finally changed, courtesy of the 2020 NFL Draft. With the top overall pick, the Bengals selected quarterback Joe Burrow out of Louisiana State University. Burrow had just won a national college championship with LSU. Burrow and his new team were showing promise when he suffered a broken leg midway through the season. The Bengals finished 4-11.
This shocking turn of events seemed as if history was repeating itself. Owning the top pick in the 2003 Draft, then rookie head coach Lewis took Carson Palmer out of the University of Southern California. In 2005, the Bengals were on their way to winning a home playoff game against their hated rival, Pittsburgh, when Palmer suffered a fluke knee injury. So when Burrow went down last year, it looked like more of the same tragically bad luck had returned.
Cincinnati’s Comeback Kid
But Burrow came back impressively last fall and exploded in his sophomore season. The Bengals won the AFC North. Then they won three playoff games in cardiac fashion. In the Wildcard matchup, the Las Vegas Raiders trailed 23-16 late in the game. Then, Derek Carr led them to a 1st and goal situation inside the Cincinnati 10 yard line. With Burrow watching helplessly on the sideline, the previously unheralded Cincinnati defense came up with a formidable — and successful — goal-line stand in the waning seconds to preserve the win for the Bengals.
In the Divisional Playoff game at the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, Burrow was battered again and again. The Tennessee defense sacked him nine times. A street fight led by both teams’ defenses meant a tie game with less than one minute left in regulation. But the Cincinnati defense came up big when it mattered most. Their third interception of Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill led to rookie kicker Evan McPherson drilling a 52-yard field goal on the final play of regulation. The result? A gutty 19-16 road win. It was the second straight week McPherson managed to hit on four field-goal attempts.
The AFC Title Game was a comeback contest for the ages. Seeking to appear in their third straight Super Bowl, the Chiefs’ combination of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes hosted the AFC Title Game for the fourth straight year. And in that game, the Chiefs led 21-3. But the Bengals made a valiant comeback, forcing the game into overtime.
One week earlier, the Chiefs had won the overtime coin toss and never gave the ball up. They likewise won the coin toss again prior to the AFC Title contest. But this time Mahomes was intercepted. Kicker Evan McPherson came through again for that stunning 27-24 victory that sent the Bengals to Super Bowl LVI.
How the Rams got to Super Bowl LVI
The Rams were a losing franchise when Sean McVay took over for Jeff Fisher in 2017. While Fisher was a defensive-minded coach, McVay excelled on the offensive side of the ball. Blessed with quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, and the best defensive tackle in the game in Aaron Donald, the Rams reached the Super Bowl in 2018.
But after their Super Bowl loss that season, the Rams regressed. Gurley suffered a knee injury and the Rams traded him away. In the 2021 offseason, McVay made a blockbuster trade with the Detroit Lions. As a result, the Lions got Goff and the Rams got quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Stafford was considered the last piece of the puzzle as the Rams soon became a trendy pre-season Super Bowl favorite.
Yet early in the season, the Rams found themselves shocked at home by the Arizona Cardinals. That led to the front office quickly pulling the trigger on some very big mid-season trades. O’Dell Beckham Jr. was a phenomenally talented receiver who burned bridges with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns. Von Miller was the 2015 Super Bowl MVP with the Denver Broncos but had missed the entire 2020 season injured. But mid-season 2021, Beckham and Miller joined a Rams team already loading up on star players to win it all.
Despite starting 7-1, a midseason slump saw the Rams lose three straight games. Happily, the star players finally began to gel as a team, pulling together just in time to win the NFC West. Even so, the Rams stumbled in their final regular-season game at home. They led the San Francisco 49ers 17-0 before losing 27-24. A Rams win would have given them the number two seed in the playoffs and eliminated the 49ers entirely. Instead, the Rams dropped to the fourth seed and allowed the 49ers to survive.
Turning things around in the NFC playoffs
In the Wildcard game, the Rams ran into a third matchup with the Cardinals. Each team had already won on the road. But this time at home, the Rams won easily 34-11.
The Divisional game saw the Rams traveling to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers, who were now led by the already legendary Tom Brady. The Buccaneers were the defending champions. Had the Rams won their final regular-season game, they would have played the Buccaneers at home. Instead on the road, the Rams jumped to a 27-3 lead before doing everything possible to blow the game. After the Buccaneers tied the game 27-27 with less than one minute in regulation, Stafford definitively demonstrated the reason why LA had brought him in from Detroit. A perfectly thrown Stafford bomb to Cooper Kupp led to the Matt Gay field goal that won the game 30-27 on the final play.
The NFC Title Game was a grudge match in Los Angeles against the 49ers, the latter team having already won two road playoff games in stunning fashion. The 49ers had swept the Rams during the regular season and led 17-7 in the fourth quarter of the Title Game. But that was before the Rams defense took over. Aaron Donald battered Jimmy Garoppolo into an interception that preserved the 20-17 Rams victory.
Super Bowl LVI: The big players in the big game
The Bengals have a ton of swagger. McPherson looked at his teammate at the end of the Divisional playoff game and said, “I guess we’re going to the AFC Title Game.” That was before he made the winning kick. Burrow loves his big cigars and his even bigger JB9 diamond chain around his neck. When a reporter asked if the jewelry was real, Burrow replied, “I make too much money to have fake ones.”
A major security blanket for Burrow is his former LSU teammate, rookie wide receiver JaMarr Chase. Joe Nixon runs hard and gets the tough yards between the tackles. The defense is unheralded but very solid. While nobody expected the Bengals to be in the Super Bowl, Burrow won it all in college and expects to win it all in the pros. He plays like a poised veteran.
The Rams are a different story. They expected to be in the Super Bowl.
Anything less would have made this season a failure. They are the most complete team in the NFL on both sides of the ball. Donald and Miller are twin wrecking balls on the defense. Jalen Ramsey is a superior cornerback. Running back Cam Akers missed almost the entire regular season but is now healthy. Cooper Kupp is the best wide receiver in the league. The Rams are just loaded with talent. Stafford has proven to be an upgrade over Goff. Stafford had never won a playoff game before this season. But has now won three straight postseason games.
To say the Bengals are just happy to be here would be an unfair insult. They won their games the hard way. Burrow is a winner who has changed the losing culture in Cincinnati. However, the Rams were built to win it all right now. Tennessee may have a better overall defensive scheme, but the Rams still have the most dominant individual defensive player in Donald.
Sean McVay is a stud as a play-caller. In successive weeks he finally out-coached Bill Belichick and Kyle Shanahan. The Bengals have the talent and heart to make this a competitive game, but the Rams just have too many weapons to see them get denied. Zac Taylor is studying Bill Belichick’s 2018 Super Bowl game plan that shut down McVay’s offense. But Belichick is unmatched at defensive schemes and game plans.
The Bengals are a good team. The Rams are a great team. The Rams have the Super Bowl experience gained from their 2018 loss. The Bengals are a young team with players who will light up the league for years to come. The Rams are an experienced team with players dominating now. The Rams will fail to cover the point spread. But they will win the Super Bowl 34-31.
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