Super Bowl 56: Los Angeles Rams vs Cincinnati Bengals

The 2021/22 NFL season comes to a close with an unexpected, yet exciting, finale. Neither team were Super Bowl favourites at the start of the league year yet, here we are, with a fascinating matchup.

Two young coaches, two hungry teams, two elite quarterbacks and one Lombardi Trophy. It’s about leaving a legacy and making history, and both sides are hungry for it. It’s Super Bowl 56.

The 2021/22 NFL season comes to a dramatic end as the Cincinnati Bengals prepare to take on the Los Angeles Rams at the Rams’ SoFi Stadium.

The event marks the second time a team has ever ‘hosted’ the Super Bowl, with the first coming last year when the Buccaneers won the grand fixture in their own Raymond James Stadium.

This year’s NFL Playoffs marked the first time the Bengals won a playoff game in 31 years. The franchise has never won a Super Bowl.

Historically, the Rams are not too much more illustrious than their upcoming opponent. They have only ever managed one Super Bowl win, which came in 2000 (Super Bowl 34). The last time they were at the Super Bowl was during the 2018 season, when they lost to the New England Patriots 13-3 in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl fixture ever.

One key headline concerns the quarterback battle between the Bengals’ Joe Burrow and the Rams’ Matthew Stafford. Burrow’s rookie year last year ended early after a season-ending knee injury. This is just his sophomore season in the NFL, but he has played like a seasoned veteran over the course of the playoffs.

Stafford, on the other hand, was traded to the Rams during the offseason, making this his debut season. The 33-year-old former first-round pick had shown elite talent with the Detroit Lions but has finally found his place on a winning roster.

He is accompanied by one of the best coaches currently in the league. Sean McVay is widely considered a football genius, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

It is a similar story for the Bengals, however, as Zac Taylor is one of the frontrunners for the Coach of the Year (COTY) award after a phenomenal season. Indeed, coach Taylor was formerly McVay’s offensive coordinator in LA, providing an intriguing master-student narrative as well as promising an explosive game of offensive football.

The Bengals’ progression over the last couple of years is often overlooked. They had the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, where they selected Joe Burrow. They finished a disappointing 4-11-1 during the 2020/21 season, before their Super Bowl run this year.

For the Bengals, this certainly feels like an underdog story having never won a Super Bowl and being two years removed from the worst record in the league. The Rams, however, have been building towards this Super Bowl for a while now, with quarterback Stafford as the final major acquisition.

“You can’t write the story any better. I’m at a loss for words. I’m just having a blast playing ball with these guys and, shoot, we’ve got one more at the home stadium. Let’s get it done,” said a determined Stafford after his team booked their place in the Super Bowl.

Burrow was equally fired up, saying: “This is something I’ve always wanted”.

Cincinnati Bengals send Super Bowl favourites Kansas City Chiefs packing

Evan McPherson kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime as the Burows-led Bengals dispatched the AFC’s second seed 27-24 in cool fashion.

The Chiefs got off to a lightning start, leading 21-3 by the end of the first half. Patrick Mahomes flexed his dominance by throwing for three touchdowns in his astounding fourth AFC Championship appearance.

It was not enough though, as the Bengals came back in determined fashion to tie the game up at 24-24, sending the affair to overtime.

The Chiefs are often ruthless in these scenarios, as demonstrated in their overtime prowess against the Bills in the previous week, winning 36-42.

They could not deliver this time, though, as momentum swung to the Bengals. Vonn Bell picked Mahomes off allowing the Bengals to clinch the win via a McPherson field goal.

The Chiefs will undoubtedly be disappointed with how their season ended, but there is far from any need to panic. The Mahomes-Reid tandem will serve Chiefs Kingdom for a long time, and they have built an incredibly impressive resume over the first five years.

With one Super Bowl and two AFC Championships under their belt, the Chiefs are certainly looking like they could create a ‘dynasty’, much like the Patriots did with Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

What will be concerning, however, is their sloppiness. Their season started off poorly – the defence was lacklustre and Mahomes was making silly mistakes. This is not unheard of – the Chiefs were often criticised last year of low effort performances.

“You can't let this end what we have here. You have to make sure you continue to battle, continue to get better and try to find ways to win Super Bowls at the end of the day,” said a reflective Mahomes after the game.

Mahomes was full of praise for the Bengals, and rightly so. They have proved the doubters wrong.

Exciting, explosive and entertaining are just a few of the words that can be used to describe Bengal football currently – they found some form towards the end of the regular season, playing dynamic, ‘modern’ football that has allowed their offensive weapons to play to their full potential.

Further, Burrow has proved he can compete with the best, beating the NFL’s golden boy despite an 18-point deficit entering the second half.

His selection proved to be the start of a new era for Cincinnati.

Drafted with the first overall pick in 2020, the former Heisman Trophy winner has proved his worth in the league and has been the key piece that has turned the franchise around.

“It's part of why the NFL is so special, because you can do what Cincinnati did and are doing, if you pick the right guy and put a good team around him,” said NFL analyst, Brian Baldinger.

The Bengals have now provided a blueprint for a successful ‘rebuild’. Two years ago, they were historically bad, but now they have found a lot of success, playing an attractive brand of football with a young quarterback at the helm.

Going from 4-11-1 to 10-7 in back-to-back regular seasons is no mean feat – yet the Bengals have managed that and more, with a Super Bowl now on the line.

“We are a special team that is capable of doing special things. We believed from the get-go, whether people believed us or not, we did. We are not surprised. This is where we are meant to be,” asserted coach Taylor.

LA Rams exorcise demons with dramatic win over the San Francisco 49ers

Travin Howard’s game-sealing pick ensured the 49ers could not mount a comeback this time, as the Rams overcame the 49ers 17-20.

The score entering the fourth quarter was 17-7 to the 49ers, thanks to some stout defensive work. They failed to hold on their 10-point lead, however, as Stafford was able to overcome the odds and led his Rams to a sensational comeback victory against a team that beat them twice in the regular season.

With a three-point lead at 17-20 to the Rams, the 49ers had a chance to level the game with just under two minutes left. Jimmy Garoppolo threw a costly pick, however, sealing his side’s fate and allowing the Rams to progress to the Super Bowl.

This was the first time that the Rams have beaten Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers since 2018.

It was not to be for the 49ers this year, however, as the shortcomings of Garoppolo were shown in full force. The quarterback was unable to seal the game or lead a game-tying drive for his side – something that is so important for elite quarterbacks.

Despite this, San Francisco have an excellent roster filled with a lot of talent. The quarterback position is the only real concern and, with Trey Lance drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft at third overall, expect Lance to become the full-time starter for the 49ers sooner rather than later.

The quarterback situation in LA could not be any more different. The Rams paid a hefty price to trade for Matt Stafford, and they have reaped the rewards so far. Stafford put together a phenomenal season and has been the key piece that has turned the roster from ‘great’ to ‘elite’.

The team-building approach of the Rams is much closer to the ‘super-team’ philosophy that the Buccaneers employed last year as opposed to the traditional method (through the draft), that the Bengals have relied on. Through the season, they added Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller and signed big name receiver Odell Beckham Jr, among other big moves over the last few years.

The amount of money they have put into their current roster means that their window to win a Super Bowl is here, as a rebuild will follow soon. They have been a strong team over the last few seasons but the time to deliver on all that building success is now.

Enroute to making it to the Super Bowl, not only did the Rams break their losing streak to the 49ers, but they also overcame last year’s Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I’m so proud of this group. We’ve had high expectations all year. Done nothing but do everything in our power to meet those. It’s a driven group we have here,” said Stafford.

Key Matchups and Analysis

One interesting fact is that the coach matchup for this game is the youngest one in Super Bowl history. McVay is 36 while Taylor is 38. This shows the way the coaching situation is trending in the NFL, with more younger coaches taking head coaching roles.

Putting this into perspective, both coaches are younger than Tom Brady and Taylor is the same age as Aaron Rodgers. Brady played in the oldest coach matchup in the Super Bowl last year, between Bruce Arians and Andy Reid.

Both coaches’ specialities lie on the offensive side of the ball, so an exciting offensive masterclass can be expected. The Bengals and Rams are aggressive on the ball and will be happy to take risks.

Both sides have big play potential, with elite offensive weapons on both teams. Ja’Marr Chase won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award (OROY) while Cooper Kupp took home the Offensive Player of the Year award (OPOY).

Chase could be in for a tough night though as it is likely that he will be kept in man coverage against one of the league’s best defensive backs, Jalen Ramsey.

It would be impossible to talk about the Rams’ defensive prowess without mentioning Aaron Donald. Donald is arguably the best defensive player in the league currently, and it is inevitable that he will wreak havoc against the Bengals offensive line.

Unfortunately for Burrow, the offensive line is the Bengals’ weakest position group, pointing to Donald and Miller having monster days.

Despite this, the impact of this could be limited due to Burrow’s toughness. Poor offensive line play resulted in him taking an astronomical nine sacks against the Tennessee Titans, yet he went on to win that game.

The Bengals defence should not be downplayed either, after a stout second-half performance against the Chiefs. Safety Jessie Bates is one of the league’s best in his position, and, given Stafford’s inconsistency on deep balls, Bates has the potential to make important plays.

The Rams have also struggled in goal-line situations of late, with Stafford getting picked off by K’Waun Williams in the endzone in the 49ers game. This could be a weakness that the Bengals will look to exploit.

The Boar Sport’s Predictions

Curtis Leung: 27-30 Bengals. McPherson to kick the winning field goal to give the Bengals a historic first Super Bowl!

Sam Matthews Boehmer: 24-27 Bengals. I love an underdog story and, should the Bengals triumph, this will be one of the greatest upsets the NFL has ever seen. Bring it on!

Jack McRae: 23-27 Bengals. Star quarterback Joe Burrows will lead the Bengals to a close victory over the Rams.

Mitchell Ryan 27-34 Rams. The Rams boast arguably the best player in the NFL in Aaron Donald, and I reckon they will put enough pressure on Burrow to nullify him and Cincinnati's chances as they claim victory.

Super Bowl 56 takes place on the 13th of February with kick-off at 23:30 GMT. You can watch the game live on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer, with coverage starting at 23:00 GMT.