The Los Angeles Rams will face the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday. Both teams have vastly different storylines and have taken different paths to get to where they are. Here is your ultimate Super Bowl LVI primer as we get closer to Sunday.
How They Got Here
Los Angeles Rams
If you would have asked most Rams fans at the end of November whether or not the Rams would be playing in the Super Bowl, they likely would have called you crazy. That’s because the Rams went the entire month of November without a win. The team lost back-to-back games to the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers before their bye week. They then lost to the Green Bay Packers to lose three straight.
The Los Angeles Rams started the season hot and ended the season in similar fashion. The Rams came out of the gate firing, starting 7-1. They then finished winning five of their last six and taking the NFC West Crown from the Arizona Cardinals.
In the postseason, the Rams dominated those same Cardinals. Despite giving ups a 27-3 lead to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Matthew Stafford hit Cooper Kupp in the final minute to win 30-27. In the NFC Championship Game, Stafford completed yet another fourth quarter comeback, coming back from 17-7 in the fourth quarter to beat the San Francisco 49ers.
Since trading for Matthew Stafford and Von Miller and signing Odell Beckham Jr., the Rams have been on a mission. Aaron Donald wants a Super Bowl ring and this team is one win away from accomplishing that goal.
Let’s be honest. Nobody expected the Cincinnati Bengals to make it to the Super Bowl. Heck, four years ago, nobody would have expected Joe Burrow to be here. Fast forward and here we are. Within a three-year span, Burrow could become the only player to win a Heisman, a National Championship, the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year, and a Super Bowl. Burrow is being painted as a young Joe Namath.
This season was filled with ups-and-downs for the Bengals. Every time they were on the cusp of something, the Bengals fell short. They came up just short against the Packers early in the season in overtime. After demolishing the Ravens 41-17, they lost to the Jets. The Bengals won three straight but then were blown out 41-22 to the Los Angeles Chargers and lost in overtime to the 49ers.
Still, this is a team to be reckoned with. They’ve come back from 11 points not once, but twice to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. The latest comeback took place at Arrowhead and was as much as 18 points. In the divisional round, they took down a healthy Titans team 19-16 on a last-second field goal to win.
The Bengals defense has stepped up when the needed, despite not having stars. Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase have picked up where they left off at LSU. This team deserves to be here.
Los Angeles Rams: The Offense and Experience
There’s little doubt that the Rams’ biggest strength is their offense. Matthew Stafford is the NFL’s best quarterback this season in terms of EPA/play. Sean McVay anticipated a drop-off on the defense and therefore went out and traded for Stafford to make up for it.
That decision to this point has paid off. Cooper Kupp is having a career year with Stafford and Odell Beckham Jr. has rejuvenated his.
This is a group that was in the Super Bowl just three years ago and there are 10 players remaining from that roster. This team is all business this week. The moment’s not going to be too big. It doesn’t get much bigger than the Super Bowl in Los Angeles, but this group will be ready for it.
Cincinnati Bengals: Confidence
When it comes to the Bengals, by most metrics, they’ve been pretty average this season. In DVOA, they’re just 17th. Their offense ranks 13th in yards and defense ranks just 18th. In EPA per play, the offense and defense rank 11th. In fact, the Bengals are the third worst team in the DVOA era to make the Super Bowl.
However, this is a team that oozes confidence and that starts with Joe Burrow. He’s had comments such as, “I’m tired of the underdog narrative,” he said. “We’re a really really good team. We’re here to make noise,” after beating the Titans. After beating the Raiders, he said, “It was a great win for us, but this is the standard — the bare minimum every year going forward.”
Going into Kansas City, he was quoted saying that it, “Gets way louder in the SEC than in any of these NFL stadiums.”
The Bengals are a confident group. They’ve gone from “Why Not Us” to “It is Us”. A confident team is tough to beat especially when they’re riding high. The Bengals are doing just that.
Los Angeles Rams: Inconsistency
The Rams have been frustratingly inconsistent at times this season even when they’ve been winning. During their three-game stretch, Stafford’s play dropped and it was turnovers and big plays on defense that led to the Rams losing. This is a team that just can’t help but shoot itself in the foot sometimes.
At the end of the season, they found ways to overcome these inconsistencies. They beat the Baltimore Ravens 20-19 despite giving up a pick-six early in the game. Against the Vikings, they overcame three Matthew Stafford turnovers to win 30-23. After playing a pristine first half, they almost gave up a 27-3 lead to the Buccaneers before finding a way at the end. Finally, against the 49ers, turnovers and missed field goals led to the team trailing 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Los Angeles Rams have been inconsistent from quarter to quarter at times this season, but found a way. However, in games that they’ve been able to remain steady, they’ve been almost unbeatable.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line
The Bengals offensive line is one of the worst units in the NFL. Joe Burrow has been sacked a league-high 51 times, including five or more times in six games. In the divisional round against the Titans, he was sacked nine times. Yet, Joe Burrow found a way to win.
Their biggest test this week could come against the Los Angeles Rams. The Bengals had the fifth-highest pressure probability in the NFL at 16.4%. The Bengals rank 30th in pass-block win rate at just 49%. Their offensive line ranks 25th in pass-blocking on Pro Football Focus.
We saw just last year in the Super Bowl how much an offensive line matters when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Not even Patrick Mahomes could overcome a bad offensive line against the Buccaneers. This group will need to step up for Joe Burrow in this Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Rams: Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. had his biggest game of the year in the NFC Championship Game. Beckham had nine catches for 113 yards. Since arriving to Los Angeles, he has five touchdowns. The Cincinnati Bengals are going to be keying in on Cooper Kupp. It’s going to be up to Beckham to becomes a solid number two option especially if Tyler Higbee can’t go.
Whether it’s in the red zone or on third down, the Rams are going to need the best version of Odell Beckham Jr. Everyone knows what he’s capable of and this is his time to shine.
Cincinnati Bengals: Trey Hendrickson
The Cincinnati Bengals are going to need to be able to get to the quarterback. Trey Hendrickson really came onto the scene last year with the New Orleans Saints and signed with the Bengals this offseason. It was thought that they Bengals overpaid. However, that was not the case. Hendrickson has 14 sacks this season to lead the Bengals.
The Bengals are going to need Hendrickson to disrupt Stafford. They need to be able to drop seven and only rush four. It’s going to be impeccable that the Bengals are able to get home with their main four pass rushers and that starts with Hendrickson.