Super Bowl LVI: AFC Champion Preview – Cincinnati Bengals

By Steve Tsilimos | Posted 2 years ago

“Who dey! Who dey! Who dey think gonna beat dem BengalsNooo-body!”


Two seasons ago was the first season for the Bengals under new head coach Zac Taylor. The Bengals only won two games, which earned them the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2020. Heisman Trophy-winning QB Joe Burrow was an easy choice after he dominated college football and led the LSU Tigers to a National Championship. 


Behind a bad offensive line, Burrow was beat-up on a weekly basis and struggled in his rookie season. Eventually, the constant pressure was too much and the rookie went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 11. The Bengals went on to win four games in 2020-21 – but there was some buzz around Cincinnati because Burrow showed flashes of his greatness. 


Before this season the Bengals had not won a playoff game in 33 years. Though there were signs they would be better, the expectations stayed pretty low for Cincinnati. Like most people, I thought the Bengals would be competitive this year but I did not think they would be able to win their division, let alone make it all the way to the Super Bowl. It is one of the quickest-craziest turnarounds to ever happen in the NFL. 


Super Bowl LVI Basic Info

L.A. Rams (15-5) vs. Cincinnati (13-7)

Date and Time: Sunday, February 13 – 6:30 p.m. ET (NBC)

Location: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)

Odds: Rams -4

What makes the Bengals Special? How they can win Super Bowl LVI?

The Bengals are young, especially on offense, and are full of free-agent acquisitions on defense. But this young-scrappy bunch has a leader they all believe in and they have proven they can win in many different ways. In the Divisional Round against the Titans, Burrow was sacked nine times. The defense held the Titans in check long enough for the Bengals to gain the lead. The Bengals' defense came up big for the second week in a row late in the fourth quarter to seal their second playoff victory.

• That brings me to the first reason the Bengals will win Super Bowl LVI – the scrappy defense. The Bengals have allowed 19.6 points per game in their three playoff games. That number is impressively low considering they faced two of the highest-scoring offenses in the league (Titans and Chiefs). Most of the talk on the defensive side of the ball will be about the stars on the Rams' defense – Jalen RamseyAaron Donald and Von Miller. 


Cincinnati’s defense has players who may not have the same star power (yet), but they are just as capable at impacting games as the big names for the Rams. DE Trey Hendrickson’s 14 sacks are 1.5 more than Donald’s 12.5, while cornerback Chidobe Awukie allowed fewer yards per target (5.4) than Ramsey did at 6.4 yards. Hendrickson and Awukie will need to make some key plays to keep the Rams’ offense in check. 

• Burrow’s play and leadership has everyone on his sideline believing they can win it all. Burrow and the Bengals were down 18 points at Arrowhead Stadium against the two-time defending AFC champs. The second-year QB did not flinch and rose to the occasion once again – this time getting the best of Patrick MahomesThe big question will be if the Bengals front can keep pressure off of Burrow and how he performs when pressured.


Burrow is the first QB tor lead the league in sacks (51) and make it to the Super Bowl. He was sacked on 26% of the drop-backs he was pressured on, which is somewhat his responsibility. Being pressured on nearly every drop back is not his fault though. When provided time Burrow has proven he is one of the best at delivering the ball downfield – 1,610 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions on downfield passes. That rate ranked him second among 30 quarterbacks with at least 50 downfield passes this season.


• The Bengals’ receivers are better than the Rams' secondary. Jalen Ramsey is a fantastic football player but he cannot cover all of the Bengals' receivers. Ramsey will probably be assigned to stop rookie-phenom Ja’Marr Chase for most of the game. That means that Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd will have many one-on-one opportunities to exploit the Rams' weak secondary. All three of the Bengals receivers are matchup problems and had good campaigns this season. Chase and Higgins both eclipsed 1,000 yards on the year while Boyd only trailed Cooper Kupp in yards from a slot receiver.


Burrow trusts in all three of his guys to win 50/50 balls and will throw it up to his receivers when the offense needs a play. If all three of the Bengals’ WRs continually are making plays throughout the game then the Bengals will be in line to hoist the Lombardi Trophy once the clock hits zero. 

Key Players that need to step up for the Bengals to win

The right side of the Bengals' line, which has been a huge weakness, will need to play above expectations for the Bengals to win on Super Bowl Sunday. Guard Hakeem Adeniji tackle Isaiah Prince each rank in the bottom 10 in pressure rate allowed at their respective positions. The two mentioned above plus rookie G Jackson Carmanwho has been rotating in, must find a way to slow down the Rams pass rush. If the right side of the line can come together and perform well, then the Bengals have the pieces to put up points on the Rams secondary and win the biggest game of their lives. 

Why the Bengals may Fall Short in Super Bowl LVI?

The reasons that the Bengals may take a loss in the Super Bowl are very similar to the reasons that the AFC’s Champion Chiefs fell short last season. 

• The Bengals’ offensive line will not be able to handle the front-seven of the Rams. If you watched the Super Bowl last year then you saw what happens when a defensive front absolutely dominates a game. Mahomes may be Superman but he could not do much but run for his life against the Bucs. That story may be the same for the AFC’s QB come Sunday. Kyler MurrayTom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo all faced the third-highest or higher pressure rate in a single game in their individual careers against Los Angeles in these playoffs. 


Donald who is biologically designed to wreck offensive linemen alone would be a huge problem for the Bengals front five, but he is coming with a gang of help. Edge rushers Von Miller, a previous Super Bowl MVP, and Leonard Floyd could turn the game into a competition of who can get to Burrow first. 

• Super Bowl LVI is essentially a home game for the Rams. For the second time in as many years, there is a team playing in their home stadium for the Super Bowl – never happened in the previous 54 years of the Super Bowl era. Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay is where the Buccaneers call home and it was the site they dominated the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. 



• The Rams' experience and star power are too much for the Bengals. Three years ago the Rams lost in the Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the Patriots. Many of the same players were on the roster for that loss. The big change that happened on the roster since then is at QB. The Rams traded for Stafford this offseason because they believed he is the piece to put them over the top. 


Stafford is 33, Miller and Donald are 32 and 30, respectively. Odell Beckham Jr. and Kupp are 29 and 28. These guys are all playing for the legacy and know they may not have another chance like their young Cincinnati counterparts. Los Angeles has done everything in its power to win now and the roster is full of talent at every position – just like the Bucs last year. 

Key Players the Bengals must stop

Stop is a relative term in this case – the key number is 125. The Rams are 8-0 in contests that Kupp eclipses 125 receiving yards and 7-5 in games he does not. The Bengals will need to keep Kupp from dominating the game and make it tough for Stafford to get him the ball. Getting pressure on Stafford without blitzing will be the key in stopping Kupp and the Rams. Stafford has been elite at beating the blitz but he also has shown a very bad version of himself when teams can get pressure without blitzing.


Super Bowl LVI Prediction

I expect Burrow to get beat up and sacked during the game and it may look like all hope is lost come the third quarter. But the Bengals will scrap and keep it close with good defense and special teams. Things will start to shift as they find some big plays in the second half. Boyd will have a huge second half and is the key to a close victory for the Bengals. The Brady era is over and now the NFL is entering the era of Burrow.

Final Score: Bengals 27 - Rams 24

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