OSN Column: Super Bowl LVI – Previewing The Biggest Game Of The Year With Fun Facts And Betting Odds
By: Casey Mabbott/Oregon Sports News
This Sunday afternoon, the Super Bowl of 2022 finally arrives. And what a game it should be. While it’s not exactly the story of David vs. Goliath you might be expecting, the host city’s team is definitely better on paper. But teams on paper rarely play the way they’re supposed to when you throw real-life circumstances at them.
With the Super Bowl taking place in the home of the LA Rams, for the second consecutive season, the Super Bowl will be played in the home stadium of one of the two teams left at the very top of the NFL mountain. Tampa Bay hosted and played in the Super Bowl last year, marking the first time in the history of the league’s greatest game that the host city’s team played in the game. 2017 gave us the first version of the Super Bowl with overtime; who knows what we will see next. Overtime during a game being played between two teams, and one of them calls the stadium home? We can only hope.
This is not the first time the Super Bowl has been played in the Los Angeles area the same year the Rams made it to the Super Bowl. In the 1979 Super Bowl (played in 1980), the Rose Bowl was host to the Super Bowl, and at the time, the Rams played their home games less than 15 miles away at LA Memorial Coliseum.
Los Angeles makes their return to the Super Bowl after a three-year absence and are favored by 3.5 points, with the over-under set at 48.5 points. In their most recent appearance, they narrowly lost to New England and QB Tom Brady 13-3.
Cincinnati makes their triumphant return to the big game 33 years after their last appearance in the 1988 Super Bowl (played in 1989). Bengals QB Joe Burrow wasn’t born for another nine years; his current head coach was only five years old at the time. Between the two teams, only five players were alive the last time the Bengals made it to the Super Bowl, narrowly losing to San Francisco and QB Joe Montana 20-16.
This year’s halftime performers will be Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J Blige, and Kendrick Lamar. The last time the Rams were in the Super Bowl, the halftime performers were Maroon 5, Travis Scott, and Big Boi. When the Bengals were in the Super Bowl, the halftime performer was an Elvis impersonator known as Elvis Presto.
The LA Rams are making their third trip to the Super Bowl and have yet to earn a victory while located in LA (they won a title as the St. Louis Rams in 1999). This will be the third trip to the Super Bowl for Cincinnati as well, and they lost their two previous trips, both to San Francisco. The city either team calls home will earn their first Super Bowl championship no matter what. With the Rams losing to Terry Bradshaw in 1979 and Tom Brady in 2018, and the Bengals losing to Joe Montana in 1981 and 1988, it’s fair to say the winning QB of this game will be in the hall of fame one day.
To get here, both teams had to go through hell to prove they were battle-tested. Here is the road to the Super Bowl for both sides.
Cincinnati opened the season with moderate expectations, with second-year QB Joe Burrow recovering from reconstructive knee surgery and working behind a patchwork offensive line. RB Joe Mixon had questions about his health as he has been banged up throughout his career, and no one knew if rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase would pan out in the NFL. With a 5-4 record going into their bye week, it wasn’t even clear if they would make the playoffs.
The doubts about Burrow’s knee or Mixon’s overall health as well as Chase’s ability had evaporated as they developed into one of the best QB-RB-WR “triplets” in the league. The NFL was paying attention, although no one legitimately thought of them as title contenders. They were a neat team with a nice little story, but it’s one we’ve heard before.
Over the second half of the season, Cincinnati established themselves as legitimate contenders, winning five of their final eight games, winning their first division title since 2015, and earning the #4 seed in the AFC playoff bracket.
They hosted their first playoff game against Las Vegas, defeating the Raiders for their first playoff victory since 1990. In the next round, they faced the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, who were getting back RB Derrick Henry. The Bengals played tough and won on a last-second field goal to advance to the conference championship for the first time since 1988. They traveled to Kansas City, and despite falling behind 21-3, they rallied and played some of their best football in the second half. The Bengals forced overtime, and after picking off Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, they easily drove into field goal range and kicked their way to the Super Bowl.
With an offense that isn’t afraid of anyone and a defense that can play up to their competition, the Bengals aren’t just happy to be here. They are here to prove that the third time really is the charm, and the only way it could get any sweeter is if they could get revenge for their 1980’s losses by defeating the team coached by the grandson of the GM of those teams, but more on that later.
We’ve seen many things from Cincinnati this year, but we still don’t know how good they are. To borrow a quote from former NHL player Ken Dryden (a commentator for the Miracle On Ice) – “It’s really discovery time. It’s one thing to be young and promising. It’s quite another to be good.” The Bengals remind me a lot of the 2019 Chiefs, who could fall flat on their face and go down multiple scores in the first half, only to claw back against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Perhaps no team this season better personified the big play on offense better than Cincinnati, but you wish they didn’t need it quite as often. Still, it’s pretty impressive when the best defenders on the planet know what’s coming and still cannot stop it. Rams QB Jalen Ramsey is among the best cover corners in the NFL, and it will be very interesting to see if he can lock up Chase for an entire game. The rookie receiver is bound to make some mistakes, but don’t be surprised if he manages to get a step on Ramsey and haul in a deep pass with the entire country watching.
Los Angeles Rams
If not for one blockbuster deal before the season to acquire Matthew Stafford from Detroit and two trades made during the season for LB Von Miller and WR Odell Beckham Jr, we might be looking at a very different Rams team, and they might not be here at all. The Rams looked like they were ready to set the league on fire in their first eight games, as new QB Matthew Stafford and WR Cooper Kupp established an instant connection, and they stormed out to a 7-1 record with a big-play offense and a defense that stifled the opposition. They lost three consecutive games by double digits, which started to raise eyebrows, but they quickly corrected things and went 5-1 in their final six games to enter the playoffs as the #2 seed, being viewed as a legitimate contender that knew how to dust themselves off when the chips were down.
LA was a very modest 6-4 at home this year, so the familiar setting may not be as welcoming as it would be in other years. That record includes their two home playoff wins, so they are at least 2-0 at home since the postseason began. Cincinnati is 2-0 on the road in the playoffs, so one could argue the stadium is still neutral even if it does host the Rams during the regular season. The stadium itself has only been open for less than two years, so there is still that new car smell and a lack of tradition and mystique built into the walls.
Beyond Kupp, this offense has a bevy of weapons. RBs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson can move the sticks, get into the open field, and run routes as receivers. Beckham Jr is big and tough enough to catch over the middle passes, but he can also get vertical in a hurry. WR Van Jefferson is a human blur when he turns on the jets and might be the only player on the field Sunday that can match Chase in a foot race.
On defense, they are led by perennial all-pro defenders Aaron Donald and Ramsey, as well as Miller and a host of other guys who are human wrecking balls against the offense. They are well coached, well prepared, and do their jobs when it counts. They can rush the passer, stuff the run, and defend the pass, and they can do it all on a given play. They don’t have a weakness that is easy to spot, so hopefully Burrow and his teammates are with the coaches watching a lot of film finding some ways to attack them.
The Rams worked and worked and worked to earn their way back here, and it’s not likely they will leave without one hell of a fight. They know how close they were three years ago, and they can taste their first modern title in LA.
Sunday’s game will feature the youngest combined ages of two coaches in the Super Bowl. LA coach Sean McVay is just 36, and Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor is just 38. If McVay wins, he will be the youngest ever to win the game, the record currently held by Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was only five years old the last time his team appeared in the Super Bowl. His counterpart Sean McVay was just about to celebrate his 3rd birthday. When Cincinnati played in the Super Bowl on January 22nd, 1989, McVay’s family lived just an hour north in nearby Dayton, where they celebrated his 3rd birthday two days later. The family was not cheering on the Bengals, however, as McVay’s grandfather John was the GM of the 49ers at the time. John just celebrated his 91st birthday last month.
Taylor was an assistant under McVay the last time LA made it to the Super Bowl. This is not the first time the Bengals coach has been to the Super Bowl facing his former boss. The last time the Bengals were here, their coach was Sam Wyche, who had been an assistant coach in San Francisco under Bill Walsh before being hired by Cincinnati.
Stafford (2009) and Burrow (2020) were both number one overall picks, becoming the second pair of QBs taken first overall to duel in the Super Bowl. The first occurrence was in 2015 when 1998 #1 overall selection Peyton Manning faced 2011 #1 overall selection Cam Newton. Manning won that matchup, so the team with the older number one pick is 1-0 so far in the series.
Joe Burrow last competed for a championship in his senior season at LSU, leading the Tigers to the NCAA National Championship. Stafford last competed for a title in his senior year in high school, leading Highland Park High School to the Texas 4A championship.
Old Timers vs. Young Guns
The age gap between QBs on Sunday will not go unnoticed. Stafford is nine years older than Burrow, representing the same number both wear on the field. Going back to Super Bowl II, there have been 13 matchups between starting QBs at least 8 years apart in age. If Stafford wins, he’ll get win number nine for the old-timers. So far, the veterans hold the advantage over the young guns 8-6, with an average margin of victory of 11 points. The young guns also average 11 points per win, although that number is heavily inflated due to the 2013 Super Bowl Denver lost by 35 points. If you exclude that game, their average margin shrinks to just 6.2 points per victory. The average age gap over those thirteen contests is 11 years, while Tom Brady’s 18-year gap in age over Patrick Mahomes in last year’s Super Bowl is the record.
Where things get interesting is that the favored QB is only 5-6 in these matchups, so you can’t just bet on the favorite. The largest spread a team has had to cover is 13.5 points in Super Bowl II, which Green Bay covered. The last time the Rams were in the Super Bowl, the spread was 2.5 in favor of the Patriots. The last time the Bengals were in the Super Bowl, they were the underdogs by seven points, and they beat the spread.
In thirteen previous matchups between QBs at least 8 years apart, only three times has the veteran QB been on the favored team and won (Bart Starr in 1967, Johnny Unitas in 1970, and Tom Brady in 2018). The favored team is 5-7 in this series overall, and only four teams have covered the spread, so if things go bad, they tend to go very badly for the favored teams. Ben Roethlisberger is the only QB to win a duel against a QB 8 or more years his senior in the Super Bowl and not cover the spread.
How The Teams Match Up Compared To Their Last Visit
The last time the Bengals made it to the Super Bowl, they were the underdogs despite running the league’s best offense. It stands to reason that many expected the more experienced and more balanced 49ers to win by a touchdown, but the Bengals kept it closer than Vegas expected, losing by four points. Compared to their 2021 counterparts, they had a top-heavy team that put a lot of pressure on their defense by scoring quickly in their revolutionary no-huddle offense. The current version of the Bengals can score quickly, but they can also operate methodically when needed. They can do it all, and they can do it well.
The 2021 Rams are a very balanced vehicle that can do a lot of things well but doesn’t explode on impact either. Their 2018 version was a high-end sports car that just wanted to go fast, but they blew up when the road got slick. They also put pressure on their defense by scoring too quickly, and it often left their own teammates exhausted rather than their opponent. The 2021 Rams know how to apply pressure to their opponent and do their best to keep their defense fresh. We’ve seen historic offenses sputter in the playoffs against good defenses, so hopefully, the Rams learned their lesson and truly believe in a more balanced approach this time around.
How Cincinnati And Los Angeles Match Up Against Each Other
The biggest question going into this game is how these teams will play each other. They would both love to drain some clock with the running game and throw some deep passes to electrify a national audience, but it’s not likely going to be that simple. There will be some big plays, but most of this game will be won or lost in the trenches. Both of these teams field top-10 units on offense, but the Bengals give up a ton of sacks while the Rams have one of the most aggressive pass rushes. Both teams struggle running the ball, but they are good at stopping it. Both teams can pass, but they struggle to stop it.
The margin of victory and turnover differential is nearly identical, and both QBs have led their team on game-winning drives four times this season. It’s going to come down to who wants it more with the game on the line, and it would not surprise me in the least if this game is decided on the final play.
This is going to be a very good and very close game won on the final possession. The Rams will jump out to an early lead, but Cincinnati will fight their way back, and it will be a one-possession game or closer until midway through the 4th quarter. Stafford will hit Kupp for the game-winning touchdown, and a panic-inducing drive by Cincinnati in the final two minutes will come up just short. The Rams and their fans will catch their breath and then celebrate their first modern championship in LA.
The game will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, February 13th, and available to stream on Peacock, with kickoff scheduled for 3:30 pm Pacific Time.