This truly is the most unusual Super Bowl — a West Coast matchup of two teams no one thought would end up here, minimal in-week storylines and the odd setting of Los Angeles, a city largely unaffected by a massive event like what is set to unfold on Sunday.
Where are the storylines? All week long it’s been very low-key chatter from these teams. Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford both ooze quiet confidence, and by all accounts through pool reports from practice, there’s been no injuries nor distractions for either team.
Let’s dissect who we think will win and get to some props as well.
Super Bowl Picks
Latest Odds: Cincinnati Bengals +4
Betting against Burrow feels like a stupid move. The guy just wins and he really just wins when it comes to big moments and big games. But I can’t shake the idea of the Rams dominating in this game. No one “wants it more” when it comes to the Super Bowl, but the Rams landing Von Miller didn’t just inject life into the pass rush. Les Snead and Sean McVay also got Aaron Donald a “championship mentor” of sorts in the former Broncos pass-rusher — as Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic wrote, Miller gave Donald some motivation to inspire his teammates.
Donald and Miller and Leonard Floyd are just a flat-out problem for the Bengals offensive line, by far their biggest weakness. As long as the Rams can protect Stafford — who has for the most part been lights out in the playoffs through three games — Los Angeles should be able to pick apart the Bengals’ secondary with its multitude of weapons.
After being activated on Friday, Darrell Henderson gives Sean McVay three different running backs he can deploy should he get a lead. I expect lots of early runs, maybe a trick play here or there, but a distinct lack of points scored in the first half. Maybe things get cranked up in the third quarter, particularly if the Bengals or Rams are sitting on a double-digit lead and the other team is forced to throw.
Personally I believe that will be the Rams with a lead. McVay has been here before and he only scored three points. I expect him to be aggressive in his pursuit of touchdowns, knowing the pain of being flummoxed by a defense on this huge stage. He won’t be overwhelmed the way he was when he squared off against Bill Belichick. Zac Taylor is the guy we should be worried about when it comes to “the moment being too big” — Burrow won’t be overwhelmed but most of his teammates and coaches don’t have the same level of experience as the Rams.
With a lead, L.A. will be able to pin its ears and go after Burrow. We saw the Titans get Burrow nine times, the Chiefs pressured him plenty and Maxx Crosby was a problem in the first playoff game. It’s simply a bad matchup, and I think the Rams take advantage en route to a fairly easy victory in the Super Bowl.
The pick: Rams 27, Bengals 9
Ja’Marr Chase over rush yards 4.5 — The Bengals will want to use some jet-sweep action to disrupt the pass rush and get the ball into their playmaker’s hands.
Cam Akers under 63.5 rush yards — Henderson is back, which means we should see a more sizable distribution of the touches. Akers’ two fumbles caused McVay to give Sony Michell more work.
Odell Beckham over 5.5 catches — Cooper Kupp is the focal point of the Rams’ offense, obviously, but I think they might target OBJ early knowing the Bengals could be doubling Kupp.
Joe Burrow under 36.5 pass attempts — A low-scoring game with tons of runs from both teams should lead to fewer Burrow dropbacks, even if the game script is potentially concerning.
Matthew Stafford/Von Miller MVP: I think Stafford takes this down if the Rams win in convincing fashion and score more than 25 points. But Miller is worth a sprinkle as a longer shot. He’s won it before, the pass rush is going to be key and he’s the most likely guy to cause a game-flipping fumble when he gets in the pocket.
Best bets: Rams -4, first half under