February 10, 2022

Super Bowl LVI: 6 NFL Players With Most to Gain

Super Bowl LVI will be a defining moment for both the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams.

The Rams haven't won the Big Game since the turn of the millennium while the Bengals have never won. These teams were built in starkly different fashions, and either the Bengals will solidify the start of a long-lasting rein, or the Rams will be completely justified in going all-in on their veteran roster

With just a 4.5-point spread, this is expected to be a close battle. The experienced coaching staff and roster for the Rams should be a big asset. However, playmakers step up in the biggest moments once those early-game jitters subside.

Beyond the obvious impact of a Super Bowl win on any player's career, there are six players in this game set to gain the most with a win. While someone like Aaron Donald or Andrew Whitworth has earned the right to be a champion, their careers would only be enhanced by an unlikely MVP award. Young players, to-be free agents, and veterans who have had some turmoil throughout their careers are in line to benefit more.

We're breaking down three players on each team that will gain the most if they were to win Super Bowl LVI. 

Matthew Stafford

No single player has more on the line in Super Bowl LVI than Matthew Stafford.

The Rams traded two first-round picks, a third-rounder, and their former No. 1 overall pick in Jared Goff to land the 33-year-old quarterback in hopes he'd get them over the hump. After enjoying a season remarkably close to what Goff produced in 2018 when the Rams lost the Super Bowl, now is the moment for Stafford to outshine his predecessor. 

A win all but certifies Stafford's Hall-of-Fame bid one day. He's on pace to end his career with more than 64,000 passing yards and 450 touchdowns if he can reasonably play at an above-average clip for the next five years. He'd vault over Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers in any argument because he was able to seal the most important win of his career while they failed. 

It helps that Stafford has been fantastic in the playoffs. His accuracy and decision-making had been concerns after coming up short in the past in Detroit, but he's completing 72% of passes for 905 yards, six scores, and one interception. The only better possible storyline for Stafford was to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

Joe Burrow

Joe Burrow is already staring greatness down despite being in his second season, much like Patrick Mahomes was. Winning a Super Bowl so early is improbable, but the former No. 1 overall pick has quickly established himself as an elite passer. The comparisons to Tom Brady are just already, but for Burrow to overcome a more talented Rams team in the Super Bowl would be an eerie career parallel. 

Maligned as a prospect due to his mediocre arm strength and sudden explosion at LSU as a senior, Burrow has quickly hushed critics who thought Justin Herbert should've been the top overall pick. Herbert is very good already, but Burrow is better, and that "it" factor is clearly there for the swaggy quarterback. It's impossible to not adore Burrow's confidence on and off the field.

It's well known and established Burrow is dealing with a porous offensive line. To overcome that to beat arguably the best pass rush in the NFL would simply be a legendary accomplishment to start his career. He'd be on a rare plane for where his career could go from here.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The career resurrection Odell Beckham Jr. has enjoyed with the Rams has been massive for both Beckham, the Rams, and his upcoming free agent market. After an unsuccessful stint in Cleveland, which featured poor chemistry with Baker Mayfield, injuries, and uncharacteristic drops from Beckham, his future was in question. The Browns chose Mayfield over Beckham, but the star receiver has quickly regained star form in L.A.

Even without his premier speed at 29 years old, Beckham's been fantastic as he's gained experience in Sean McVay's system and chemistry with Stafford. He's accumulated six touchdowns since joining midseason, and has 236 yards on 19 catches in the playoffs. His increased reliability within a scheme, and ability to transcend it, has made potential suitors make Beckham a premier playmaking free agent this offseason.

The Rams would love for Beckham to take less and stay, and they may have a chance to since he badly wanted to end up in Los Angeles for some time. A great Super Bowl appearance may give them no shot, though, with the rival Chargers, Dolphins, Raiders, Patriots, and Chiefs all gearing up to sign a receiver. If Beckham is the star of this game, his reputation and financial future will be massively affected.

Jessie Bates

Another to-be free agent who would massively benefit from a strong Super Bowl LVI performance is Jessie Bates. The Bengals strangely opted against signing the 24-year-old to a long-term deal last offseason, and it's one of few decisions that was the wrong call both at the time and now in hindsight. The star safety has put together four strong seasons and was a key part of the Bengals' defensive identity in 2021-22.

He'll be under the microscope against the Rams' powerful passing attack. With Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham destroying defenses throughout the playoffs, Bates will be put into conflict often. The decisions he makes, and how he can bait Matthew Stafford into certain throws, may determine the outcome of this game. 

The safety market has exploded in recent years and Bates is the latest to cash in. Cincinnati has plenty of money to reward him, and after 408 tackles, 10 interceptions, and 35 pass breakups in four years, they should be. Watch for Jacksonville, Detroit, and Indianapolis to be involved if they don't, though.

Cooper Kupp

What better way could Cooper Kupp end the season after breaking the NFL single-season record for receptions and yards than to win a Super Bowl. He's accumulated 386 yards and four scores on 25 catches so far this postseason. With 2,191 combined receiving yards, he also became the first receiver to eclipse 2,000 combined yards in a season.

Kupp is incredible, and his career journey to becoming this unstoppable slot receiver is nothing short of unprecedented. The Bengals have Mike Hilton, who has had success against Kupp in the past, but it'll be an effort from the entire defense to slow Kupp. Allowing Beckham and others to feast in order to stop Kupp might be worthwhile since Kupp is so good at creating after the catch compared to his peers.

If the Super Bowl MVP isn't going to a quarterback or Aaron Donald, Kupp is likely the best bet to earn it. He'll receive a huge workload regardless of the game plan and has been unguardable all year. He'd cement his name in one of the most legendary receiving seasons in NFL history with an MVP award and Super Bowl ring.

Joe Mixon

The Rams have limited opposing offenses to 92 or fewer rushing yards in 11 of their last 16 games, and under 62 in their last three. They're keying in on running games at the right time, and the Bengals will look to relieve pressure off Joe Burrow by giving Joe Mixon the rock. Mixon, who still draws ire on social media from his ugly assault case while at Oklahoma, could be the lynchpin for a Bengals' victory.

This could be the opportunity for Mixon's on-field redemption on the grandest stage. Always a gifted ball carrier with his unique mixture of powerful drive yet nimble footwork, Mixon has the ability to create big plays out of nothing. He'll have to overcome a terrific Rams' defense to break into 100 total yards and give the Bengals a shot at pulling an upset.

He has excellent vision as a rusher and soft hands as a receiver. He's been undersold as an X-factor playmaker for a loaded Bengals roster. If he emerges as the difference-maker, Mixon will establish himself as an elite on-field back and a reformed young man who changed his life after a bad decision. 

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