Imagine being told a year ago that Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow would be facing off in Super Bowl LVI. You probably wouldn’t believe that either of those quarterbacks would make the Super Bowl. After all, Burrow is a second-year player who had his rookie season prematurely ended by a torn ACL, and Stafford at the time was still a member of the lowly Detroit Lions. My, how things can change in a year. That’s why we love sports and that’s why we love the NFL.
This matchup is an odd one for me personally. You see, I picked the Los Angeles Rams to get to this point throughout their playoff journey, taking them to cover and win every single week (3-0 SU, 2-1 ATS). As for the Cincinnati Bengals on the other hand, I’ve faded them every week, and have obviously been wrong. So, should I stick to my guns with the Rams? Or should I wise up and realize the Bengals are not only this year’s Cinderella, but also a much better team than I thought?
Let’s go ahead and jump in. Credit to the CBS Sports research team for providing the information found in this column.
2022 Playoffs ATS: 5-7
2022 Playoffs straight up: 8-4
2021 Top five picks record: 45-45
2021 Overall ATS record: 132-139-1
2021 Straight up record: 171-100-1
Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Trends: Rams: 15-5 SU, 10-10 ATS, Bengals: 13-7 SU, 13-7 ATS
Bengals X factor
It’s been talked about all week and for good reason. Can the Bengals’ offensive line protect Burrow? The second-year signal-caller has been sacked 12 times in the playoffs, including a record-tying nine times against the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round. While Burrow was sacked just once against the Kansas City Chiefs, he spent half the game dodging pass-rushers and pulling off impressive escapes. The Rams have one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL led by one of the best players in the NFL in Aaron Donald. This Rams defense recorded 50 sacks in the regular season, ranked third in the NFL.
Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into a sack-fest. No one wants to relive last year’s Super Bowl, where a talented quarterback couldn’t operate because of the losses suffered in the trenches.
Rams X factor
This Rams’ defense is considered to be one of the best in the league, but the real strength is in the defensive front. The secondary has a star in Jalen Ramsey, but the rest of the depth chart is a bit questionable. L.A. has played this entire postseason without two starters in safeties Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp. The recent addition of Eric Weddle was an outside-the-box idea, but the Rams may be getting Rapp back for the Super Bowl.
This secondary has to contain Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd — not just Chase. Cincy’s wide receiving corps is unselfish, and it wouldn’t shock anyone if any of these three starters led all receivers in yards. Keep an eye on Darious Williams and how he handles his assignments.
Latest Odds: Cincinnati Bengals +3.5
As I stated, I’ve picked the Rams in every round, but have struck out on the Bengals. My lean is to the Rams again, BUT, I’m not betting on them to cover the spread. I’m taking the points with the Bengals +3.5. Out of six games since the divisional round, five have been decided by exactly three points. The only game that was not was the Buffalo Bills vs. Chiefs matchup — and that went to overtime! Why should we not expect a close game in the Super Bowl? I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if the Bengals win, but I’m more comfortable taking the points. Give me a cover, Cinderella.
The pick: Bengals +3.5
Projected score: Rams 27-24