The Super Bowl is a sporting spectacle unlike any other, a football game that has become a cultural phenomenon. This year’s game is expected to be viewed by over 100 million people in the U.S. alone, with up to 50 million more watching around the globe. Multi-million dollar advertisements, political protests, corporate messaging, celebrity weirdness, an overwrought halftime show… the Super Bowl has it all, and oh by the way there’s football to be played and some sporting immortality to sort out. These moments are what players dream about their whole lives. This is the mountaintop.

Both the Rams and Bengals have had stretches this season when a Super Bowl run seemed highly unlikely, and both teams have survived some scares in this thrilling postseason. The matchup is compelling: LA is a team of mercenaries quarterbacked by a grizzled vet who has never quite lived up to the sky-high expectations that have followed him around but can now rewrite the script of his career, while the Bengals are the young up-and-comers led by a bulletproof young QB with ice in his veins and high-end weapons at his disposal. The coaches are young and innovative, the offenses are exciting and explosive, the defenses are stout… heck, even the kickers are worth the price of admission. This game promises to be the cherry on top of what has been a terrific NFL postseason. Here’s a quick rundown of what we can expect to see, and, of course, a fearless prediction:

Super Bowl LVI

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Los Angeles Rams

Line: Los Angeles -4 (48.5)

Recent Trends (ATS- against the spread)

  • The Bengals are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games away from home
  • The Bengals are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games as an underdog
  • The Bengals are 7-0 ATS in their last 7 games overall
  • The Rams are 20-9 straight up in their last 29 games as betting favorites
  • The Rams are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 playoff games as a betting favorite
  • The Rams are 3-1-1 ATS in the last 5 meetings between these two teams
  • In past Super Bowls the winning team has gone 46-6-2 ATS
  • Underdogs of 3+ points are 5-1 straight up in the last 6 Super Bowls
  • The Over is 9-1 in the last 10 Super Bowls held in the state of California
  • The Under is 7-0 in the Bengals last 7 playoff games
  • The Under is 5-0 in the last 5 meetings between these two teams

When the Bengals have the ball…

While the defense has played well in these playoffs, the offense is the straw that stirs the drink in Cincinnati, forcing opposing defensive coordinators into sickening “pick your poison” decisions on nearly every play. At the center of it all is Joe Burrow, always calm and cool in the midst of the storm, standing tall in the pocket and delivering the ball downfield to the NFL’s top WR trio. Ja’Marr Chase will probably draw most of Jalen Ramsey’s attention in this game, which means Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd will be free to do damage against a collection of Rams DBs that have been exploited quite often. Remember, even with Ramsey patrolling one side of the field LA ranked a mediocre 21st in pass defense success rate this season, and that secondary has been without starting safety and play-caller Jordan Fuller since he injured his ankle in the final game of the regular season. Burrow will have opportunities downfield in this game, for sure. And if the Rams stay in their 2-high safety look all game and leave a light box, Bengals RB Joe Mixon, who can sort of get lost in the shuffle at times despite his prodigious talent, can do some serious damage on the ground.

All that being said, there is one major, unavoidable concern for the Cincinnati offense in this game: how are they going to block Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and the rest of LA’s QB-hungry front seven? The Bengals o-line was atrocious this season, ranking 31st in pass block win rate, while the Rams defense ranked 1st in pass rush win rate. That’s… umm… not good for Cincinnati. We saw Burrow get sacked 9 times (!) in the Divisional Round victory over Tennessee and it’s well-established that he’s one of the NFL’s best QBs against the blitz, but constantly running for your life and getting planted in the turf by Aaron Donald every other play isn’t exactly a recipe for success, and Burrow is staring down the barrel of that exact scenario. This game may come down to how effectively Bengals coach Zac Taylor is able to scheme around his offensive line– will we see more quick passing, and if so, does that mitigate Chase’s impact on the game?

When the Rams have the ball…

Ever since the Rams braintrust made the decision to swap Jared Goff for Matt Stafford this past offseason there’s been a “Super Bowl or bust” attitude in LA. Stafford is the proven gunslinger who served his time in one of the NFL’s dreariest destinations and now has a chance to make it big in Hollywood, but to do so he’ll have to buck his “tin man” reputation and play a good, clean game. If you’re at all familiar with Stafford as a player, you know that’s easier said than done, as he can be over-reliant on his arm strength and careless with the football at times. This unfortunate habit reared its head only occasionally in Los Angeles this season, but in Detroit (and in college, at Georgia) it was essentially Stafford’s defining characteristic. He’s thrown 161 interceptions in his career, one more than the NFL’s poster boy for underachievement and heartlessness, Jay Cutler.

When Stafford is in rhythm and playing well, however, the Rams have one of the league’s most explosive passing attacks. Cooper Kupp rewrote the record books this season at the wide receiver position, Odell Beckham has turned into a reliable second option, and Van Jefferson is very capable as well. Starting tight end Tyler Higbee will miss this game with a knee injury, however, and covering tight ends was something the Cincinnati defense struggled with this season, so Higbee’s absence may prove to be more important than some realize. ┬áThe Bengals are excellent against the run, ranking 5th in the league in rush yards allowed, so if the Rams are going to move the ball, Stafford is going to have to do the heavy lifting. If the Cincy pass rushers can perform like they did in the AFC Championship game, when they consistently harassed Patrick Mahomes and wound up with four sacks, they might be able to rattle Stafford and turn the tide of the game. But if they can’t get home and Stafford is able to play a clean game, the Rams will likely hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Prediction

Despite the quality of the quarterbacks and the explosiveness of the skill-position talent in this game, I kind of get the feeling that the defenses are going to make it hard on the offenses. Joe Burrow is going to have Aaron Donald in his lap all night so I’m sure the Bengals will turn to some sort of dink-and-dunk game plan, while Matt Stafford is not likely to have much help from his running game, meaning he’ll have to take some chances and rise above his reputation of coming up small in big games. I expect a tight, competitive game but not a clean game– we’re likely to see some turnovers and mistakes, so I like all props involving turnovers, defensive touchdowns, etc. There will be some big plays in this game and they won’t all come from the offenses. When it comes down to winning time, though, I want the QB with the ice in his veins, not the one whose default mode is “skittish”.

Bengals 23, Rams 20