The end of the longest season ever is upon us as Super Bowl LVI arrives. Can the Bengals win their first-ever title or will the Rams capitalise on home-field advantage? Paul Higham previews the action.
It’s finally here! After the longest and one of the most exciting NFL seasons on record we’re down to the final two teams who will fight it out in Super Bowl LVI, and it’s a match-up nobody expected.
The Los Angeles Rams were among the NFC front-runners from the start after trading for QB Matthew Stafford last year to take them to the next level – and they then added Odell Beckham Jr and Von Miller to their team of expensive all-stars.
Nobody saw these Cincinnati Bengals coming though as this season they’ve gone from worst to first in a remarkable underdog story, but can they give their fairytale a Hollywood ending in Los Angeles? At a general 125-1 pre-season they’re the biggest priced team to reach the Super Bowl since 1999.
Or will the star-studded Rams make it back-to-back home Super Bowl victories after Tampa Bay won on home turf last year? If the rest of this season is anything to go by, it should be fun finding out.
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) February 8, 2022
Rams favourites to land home glory
Spread: Rams (-4.5pts) 5/6 | Bengals (+4.5pts) 37/40
The Rams have more than a few things going for them as favourites – they’re playing at home at SoFi Stadium, they’ve got a team loaded with big-name studs on both sides of the ball and they’ve got a load more Super Bowl experience in the bank.
They’ve got 10 players with Super Bowl experience and the Bengals have one – and they’ve got 38 total Pro Bowl selections to Cincinnati’s seven. Sean McVay’s men made the Super Bowl three years ago and a return was expected, while Cincy hadn’t even won a play-off game for 31 years until this season.
And it is a true turnaround story – in fact, no team has ever made the Super Bowl having lost more games in the two previous seasons than the Bengals. Coach Zac Taylor had won just six games in his first two seasons before then leading them to the big game.
It’s astonishing, and although the big worry is that his young side may freeze or just be happy to be there the leadership from second-year QB Joe Burrow is exceptional. He’s won big game after big game during his college career and he’s already spoken of being ready to win on the biggest stage of them all.
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) February 7, 2022
And while the Bengals are playing with house money, the Rams have all the pressure on them after their plan of bringing in big-name signing after big-name signing. Winning the Super Bowl really is the only option.
How will the Super Bowl be won?
There’s always plenty of reasons for a Super Bowl to be won and lost, but if you remember last year a brilliantly talented young QB in Patrick Mahomes was gobbled up by a fearsome Tampa Bay defence as the Bucs won the Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium.
A repeat is definitely a possibility as the Rams possess an elite pass-rushing unit led by Aaron Donald, one of the best defensive disruptors we’ve ever seen in the NFL. And on the flip side, the Bengals have been one of the worst at protecting their QB, with Burrow being sacked more than anyone else in the regular season.
Burrow was sacked nine times against the Titans in the play-offs but still managed to pull off the win – he won’t be able to do that against the Rams so if LA are to win this one it could well be a blowout.
And yet, in a close game, you’d probably fancy the Bengals. They are the first team to win three play-off games by just one score to make the Super Bowl after producing an epic comeback to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Last week, they beat the number one seed in the AFC.
This week, they came from 18 points down to beat the number two seed.
— BetVictor (@BetVictor) January 30, 2022
Ja’Marr Chase put together the best rookie receiving season ever and even coming up against Jalen Ramsey you’d still give him a chance of putting on a show. And the Bengals defence has been just good enough in the play-offs – restricting Mahomes to just three second-half points and grabbing the vital interception in overtime to set up the win.
Stafford is no stranger to costly interceptions so the Bengals do have a great chance here and would be a fabulous story, but the old saying goes “defence wins championships” and this Rams defence is a problem. After watching the way last year’s Super Bowl went down, although the heart says Cincy can do it, the Rams are the sensible pick.
Bet: Rams -3.5pts at 5/6
Who will land the MVP award?
You’re always looking at the quarterbacks, the stars of the show, to claim this, as they have done predominantly throughout Super Bowl history and in nine of the last 12, so we’ve got Stafford as 11/10 favourite and Burrow at 9/4.
The thing to do here is to find an angle for how you think the game will go and back your man accordingly, and in alternative options there’s definitely more choice on the Rams than the Bengals – who will need a huge game from Burrow to win.
Six years ago today, @VonMiller won Super Bowl 50 MVP.
He's got another shot at a ring in 6 days. 💍👀
— NFL (@NFL) February 7, 2022
A wide receiver has won it four times in the last 20 years – the most behind the QBs, and we’ve got two of the best in the business here in Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase, who have both had huge games and huge seasons.
They’re also both terrific runners once they get the ball in hand, meaning they can shine, score touchdowns and get plenty of yards without their QBs necessarily getting all the credit.
Chase is 20/1 while Kupp is 6/1 and must have a real chance as he was already in the regular season MVP conversation after a stellar campaign saw him finish top the receiving charts for catches, yards and touchdowns.
The other live candidates are on the Rams defence, most notably pass rushers Aaron Donald and Von Miller. Donald could ruin the game for the Bengals on his own and his skills are already widely recognised, which is important here, so 14/1 may seem big if he has a big game in a low-scoring affair.
If the Bengals try too hard to shot Donald, then 66/1 shot Miller could also do damage, and he’s already won a Super Bowl MVP while with Denver and has been getting better and better during the play-offs.
It’s probably worth splitting stakes on two Rams almost certain to have big games.
Who will score the touchdowns?
Cooper Kupp is odds on to find the end zone, as he has done four times in three play-off games, and he really is a guy who just can’t be covered at times. He’s got speed out of the blocks and a change of pace and direction that make him a nightmare.
Kupp has wonderful chemistry with Matthew Stafford, which also helps, and his QB sends so many passes his way it’s unthinkable that he doesn’t score here. Stafford looks for Kupp at crucial times so he’ll be targeted both early on and if the game’s on the line, so he’s worth a look to score either first or last.
The accolades keep stacking up for @CooperKupp 📈
— NFL (@NFL) February 7, 2022
We also have to mention Odell Beckham Jr here as he’s been growing into this Rams team since his big move to LA, with six TD catches so far, and it’d be just like him to score a touchdown here at 6/5.
Joe Mixon has been a TD machine for the Bengals this season with 16, but the Bengals haven’t been overly prolific with just five TDs in their three play-off games, and against this Rams defence, evens on anyone to score looks a bit too short.
Ja’Marr Chase is 11/10 to score his second play-off TD but he’ll have plenty of attention from the Rams secondary, so it may pay to look at Tee Higgins (13/8) or Tyler Boyd (5/2) who both scored five TDs this season.
Samaje Perine scored a crucial TD against the Chiefs and 11/2 is a big price given the Bengals won’t be scared to deploy him again when they need a score.
Best bets of the rest
Under 48.5 total points at 20/23
The last three Super Bowls have gone under the points total, as have the last four Bengals games and with both coaches Sean McVay and Zac Taylor proving to be rather conservative, at least to start games, then we’re looking on the low side again.
Over 3.5 field goals at 5/4
Cincinnati have been field goal specialists in the play-offs with their rookie kicker Evan McPherson converting all 12 of his efforts over three games. The Bengals could kick four themselves but even the Rams have shown they’re willing to take three points rather than risk converting fourth downs, especially early.
Over 5.5 sacks at 17/20
Joe Burrow was sacked nine (9) times against the Titans, and although they’ve got a good pass rush it’s not the Rams. Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller will be living in the Bengals backfield but also don’t forget about Trey Hendrickson on the other side, who will be getting up close and personal with Matthew Stafford.