Super Bowl LVI Preview: Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Sloan Martin, Staff Writer

The 2021 National Football League (NFL) season brought a fresh sense of balance and unpredictability, with no clear top-dog in either conference throughout the regular season. Fittingly, Super Bowl LVI results in a matchup that almost no one would have pictured prior to the season: Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals. This Super Bowl LVI preview will provide a refresher of each team’s road to the championship for casual and die-hard fans alike.

 

Los Angeles Rams

After going all-in and trading for quarterback Matthew Stafford – along with other stars like outside linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. – the Los Angeles Rams find themselves heading to Super Bowl LVI at their home field at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

No one can count out quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter. Since Stafford came into the NFL in 2009, he leads the league with 31 fourth-quarter comebacks. The trend continued in the NFC Championship game, where Stafford led three straight fourth-quarter scoring drives to seal the 20-17 win against the San Francisco 49ers, a team that had beaten the Rams twice in the regular season.

In his first season in Los Angeles, Stafford has found playoff success. Before requesting a trade last year, Stafford had a 0-3 record in the postseason during his 12 years with the Detroit Lions.

Now competing with a championship-caliber roster, Stafford said, “I’m just happy and proud to be a part of this group. We’ve had high expectations all year, done nothing but everything in our power to try to meet those. It’s a terrific group we have in there.”

Wide receiver (WR) Cooper Kupp headlines this “terrific group,” entering the Super Bowl with one of the greatest WR seasons ever. Kupp led the league in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947), and receiving touchdowns (16). The fifth-year receiver’s breakout campaign has been an integral part of the Los Angeles Rams’ success. Kupp’s skill has been especially integral to the Rams’ since the loss of wide receiver Robert Woods to a torn ACL in November. No team has quite figured out how to stop Kupp, and he has continued to shine in the playoffs with four touchdowns.

On the defensive side for the Rams, no player is more deserving of a Super Bowl ring than defensive tackle Aaron Donald. A Super Bowl would elevate the unanimous All-Pro team select’s already star-studded resume.

Rams’ defensive coordinator Raheem Morris echoed this sentiment earlier this week, saying, “This building wants to win for Aaron Donald.”

Donald is hungry for his first championship after losing his first opportunity against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII three years ago. Donald should pose a large threat to a weak Bengals offensive line that allowed nine sacks against the Tennessee Titans in the American Football Conference (AFC) Divisional Round.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals finally broke their 31 year streak without a playoff win in their Wild Card game against the Las Vegas Raiders – and now after wins over the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, they have reached their first Super Bowl since 1981.

While the Rams are marked with NFL veterans and expectations as the Super Bowl favorite, the Bengals are a young and unseasoned team. Prior to the season, the Bengals only had 150-1 odds to play in the Super Bowl, which were the same odds as the New York Jets. As ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith mentioned on his show, the Bengals are playing with “house money.”

After suffering a season-ending left knee injury in his rookie year, quarterback Joe “Joe Brrr” Burrow has bounced back in his second season to an extraordinary level. Burrow – in press conferences and on social media – radiates a sense of confidence and swagger that inspires his fans. Burrow won the College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship game and the Heisman Trophy at Louisiana State University (LSU) before being drafted into the NFL as the 2019 first overall pick.

Not to mention, the addition of playmaking rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who earned himself a spot on the Associated Press (AP) All-Pro second team, has been huge for Burrow’s development. Chase played with Burrow in college at LSU, where the two built a chemistry that has continued into the NFL and has helped the Bengals make this miracle run to the Super Bowl.

Chase’s habit for explosive, game-changing plays will be a huge worry for the Rams. During his most notable game came against the Kansas City Chiefs in the regular season, Chase had eleven receptions for 266 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Chase could go off once again in the Super Bowl, though he finds himself in a tough matchup against star corner Jalen Ramsey.

The Bengals’ defense has also exceeded expectations this season. In the pivotal AFC Championship game, the defense came up huge to secure the win. They held superstar Patrick Mahomes to three points in the second-half and forced an interception in overtime. Hopefully, the defense can continue its upward momentum against a great Sean McVay offense.

Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson, who has made five clutch game-winning field goals this season, also deserves much praise. McPherson has not missed a field goal in the playoffs (12-12) and will look to continue his streak in the Super Bowl. Should the game come down to a last-second field goal, Bengals coach Zac Taylor will be confident in his guy.

Regardless of the outcome, this should shape up to be a fantastic matchup for Super Bowl LVI. Should the Cincinnati Bengals leave SoFi Stadium victorious, it would be their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history. For the Rams, a victory would give them their second Super Bowl title, and first since relocating to Los Angeles. History will be on the line Sunday night, and much of the world will be watching.