Super Bowl LVI: Analyzing This Year’s Team Matchup

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Photo by Adrian Curiel from Unsplash

I don’t think it’s news to anybody that on Feb. 13, the largest North American sporting event is returning yet again. The Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon, towering over finals for other major American sports like the World Series, the NBA Championship and even the Stanley Cup. In addition to being the glorious culmination of the NFL season, companies attempt to put the best possible commercial out there hoping to catch residual attention. I remember having a friend from elementary through high school who had no interest in sports but was always eager to check out the new commercials every year.

This year’s Super Bowl matchup features perhaps the most refreshing set of teams in recent memory. The Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals have overcome various dynasties of the last decade to give fans something different.

The Rams almost certainly are viewed as the underdogs here. Despite being only three years removed from their last Super Bowl, they shocked the league when they emerged as the NFC West champions this year. However, they’ve brought a fresh new look to the playoffs this year under the leadership of long-time Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford was traded for the Rams’ previous quarterback Jared Goff before the season started and it is the talking point about this team. Stafford suffered for many years under awful Lions leadership and never got to see any semblance of postseason success, despite being a great quarterback. Now, along with Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald and Von Miller, the Rams are looking to be the second team in two years (and second in NFL history) to win a Super Bowl at home.

There is no denying the talent that this team brings to the table. They obliterated the Arizona Cardinals in the first round, 34-11 behind excellence on both sides of the football. A week later, they engaged in a shootout with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where a field goal with time expiring gave the Rams a 30-27 victory. Their final matchup had them unseating the San Francisco 49ers who were fresh off a massive upset over the top-seeded Green Bay Packers. A field goal with under two minutes left put the Rams up 20-17 which held until the end.

However, all eyes are on the Bengals. Joe Burrow has become the first quarterback to be drafted first overall and make the Super Bowl in his second season. He was joined this year by his college teammate, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who put up a franchise rookie record of 1,455 receiving yards. Another exciting breakout has been in the kicking position. Evan McPherson was drafted in the fifth round this year and went 28-33 in field goals, including 9-11 from 50 or more yards. Those nine successful field goals from that distance already set an all-time franchise record. In these playoffs, he has gone 12-12 (3-3 from 50 plus), with two of them being game-winners over the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs. Their other opponent, the Las Vegas Raiders, took them down to the wire in the first round before inevitably falling short 26-19.

Burrow is set to establish the Bengals as a dynasty after making their first Super Bowl in 33 years. Stafford is proving that he is among the elite quarterbacks from the last decade. Both of these teams rose above the top competition from their league and deserve this chance on the biggest stage. I’m inclined to believe the Bengals have the edge offensively. Their run game, headlined by Joe Mixon’s 1,200 yards this season, is clearly a few steps above the Rams who lost Cam Akers against the 49ers. However, the Rams have a better defensive front that can abuse the clearly lackluster offensive line of Cincinnati. Burrow was sacked nine times against Tennessee and that issue will only be exacerbated against the best defensive player of our generation in Donald. It will be a close one, and both teams are capable of putting up explosive numbers, but the Rams seem better prepared to win through their ability to abuse a quarterback.