Key Matchups and Things to Watch out for: SBLVI

Sports Editors, Sports Editors

Aaron Donald and Co. vs the Bengals Offensive Line
Although Joe Burrow has shined exceptionally this season and during the playoffs, his offensive line is just downright bad. Burrow has been sacked 51 times this season, the most in the National Football League (NFL), and his offensive line has allowed 55 sacks in 2021, good for third worst in the league. Burrow was sacked nine times against the Tennessee Titans in the American Football Conference (AFC) Divisional matchup. That has only happened twice in the past two regular seasons. On the other side of the ball, the Los Angeles Rams have perhaps the scariest defensive line in the league, led by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Donald had 12.5 sacks this season, good for seventh in the NFL. He helped his Rams get to 50 sacks on the season, third best in the NFL. Donald has help from midseason acquisition Von Miller and Leonard Floyd, who both have 9.5 sacks this season.

To have success in this game, Joe Burrow will have to get the ball out of his hands because once he does, his receivers will do the rest of the work for him. Rookie stud Ja’Marr Chase is third in the NFL in yards after the catch with 645, and the Cincinnati Bengals as a team are fourth in the NFL in yards after the catch with 2423 yards. If “Joe Cool” can get the ball out quick to his receivers, they can take care of the rest, as the Rams are a bottom tier team in defending the pass. But, if Aaron Donald and the Rams can get to Burrow, they could take over the game quickly.

Ja’Marr Chase vs Jalen Ramsey
Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase racked up accolades this year, as he made the Associated Press (AP) All-Pro Second Team, Pro Bowler and will most likely be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has been dominant this season for the Bengals, and some of his best performances have come on the biggest stage. In his first three playoff appearances, he has put together three excellent performances. Against the Las Vegas Raiders in an AFC Wild Card matchup, he had nine total catches for 116 yards. Against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round, he had five for 109 yards. And against the mighty Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, he had six catches, 54 yards, and a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. When the stage has been biggest – Chase has shown up.

With that being said, Chase will face perhaps the best corner in the NFL in Rams’ Jalen Ramsey in the Super Bowl. And while the NFL does not tend to yield true 1 v 1 matchups like the NBA might, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will surely want to have Ramsey stay close to Chase. If Ramsey locks down Chase on the snaps that the two superstars are matched up, the Bengals will have to rely on their other threats (which are not limited).

Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd vs the other Rams Defensive Backs
While all cameras and all eyes in the stadium will be watching the mouthwatering matchup of Chase against Ramsey, the Bengals may have the keys to winning the game lower on their receiver depth chart. Young wide receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd can take the top off of defenses themselves.

Higgins, a national champion at Clemson University, is a six-foot, four-inch monster that can elevate and grab anything thrown in his vicinity. He has five 100-yard receiving games this season and is coming off of two stellar playoff performances. Against the Titans, Higgins had seven catches for 96 yards. He followed that up with six catches for 103 yards in the AFC Championship game against the Chiefs. The dude can ball. And when the defense has all of its attention on Chase, Higgins can find seams and matchups to take advantage of.

Like Higgins, Tyler Boyd is another receiving threat for Cincinnati that flies under the radar when you look at this squad. Less dynamic than Higgins or Chase, Boyd is the third option for the Bengals. But as far as third options go in the NFL, Boyd has to be up there with the best. A near 1,000-yard receiver this season, Boyd is liable to pop off a big gain at any moment.

Sean McVay’s Decision Making
Rams Head Coach Sean McVay made two terrible decisions against the San Francisco 49ers that raised red flags for me (no pun intended). Against the 49ers, McVay burned two of his timeouts on very questionable challenges that both ended up failing. One was on a Matthew Stafford quarterback sneak on fourth down, and the second occurred when he thought 49ers fullback Kyle Juszcyk fumbled the ball, which he did not. I thought McVay’s use of challenges was utterly mindless. In an NFL game, especially a playoff game, you should be holding onto your second half timeouts like a newborn child. McVay is incredibly lucky that the Rams didn’t end up down and in need of these timeouts in the final minutes of this game because it would have bitten him in the behind and a heavy portion of this loss would be placed directly on him.

There are no excuses for clock, timeout and challenge mismanagement in the playoffs if you are a competent NFL head coach. So, that’s what you need to look out for this weekend. Will McVay bring out that challenge flag come Sunday, or will he keep it in his pockets and preserve his timeouts? Be careful Mr. McVay, you don’t want to be the next Super Bowl scapegoat.

Picks ATS:

Cam: Rams (-4.5)
Hunter: Bengals (+4.5)
Karenna: Bengals (+4.5)

Best Prop Bets:

Cam: Will there be a two point conversion? (Yes +160). Odell Beckham Jr. Receptions Over 5.5. Gatorade Color Blue +600
Hunter: Joe Burrow over 36.5 passing attempts, Cooper Kupp Anytime Scorer (-190), National Anthem OVER 98 seconds (-115)
Karenna: Odell Beckham Jr. TD (+112), Cooper Kupp’s longest reception will be over 27.5 yards, Ja’Marr Chase has over 6 receptions (+215)