Super Bowl LVI features two teams that entered the season with severely different outlooks. The Cincinnati Bengals wanted to prove their ability to compete with divisional heavyweights as they continued to build their roster while the Los Angeles Rams went all-in on winning a Super Bowl.
And yet, this Super Bowl features this unlikely pairing. The Bengals ascended to the top of the AFC thanks to the rapid development of Joe Burrow, and a young but solid defense. The Rams hit their own stride in December and used their star power to overwhelm a tough NFC pathway.
We're breaking this game down from the Bengals' point of view, and providing three reasons they can win as underdogs. This is the most bet on event of the year, so we'll be relying on trends and personnel matchups for our picks.
Bengals Own the QB Advantage
Matthew Stafford has been excellent throughout the Rams' playoff run. He silenced critics who wondered whether he could step up when it matters most and did so with some spectacular throws in key moments. But the quarterback advantage still favors the Bengals.
Joe Burrow has elevated his game to an elite level in this year's playoffs. He's been drawing comparisons to Tom Brady in the wake of the GOAT's retirement thanks to his otherworldly pocket management ability. Few players in NFL history can ever boast the ability to overcome such a porous offensive line like Burrow can.
The Bengals' unlikely run isn't all on Burrow's gifted right arm, of course. He has elite playmakers all over the field, including receivers Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, and rusher Joe Mixon. No one could argue there's a better young quartet across the league.
Burrow maximizes this group in a way that Stafford can only do while at his best. It's possible Stafford plays to the best of his excellent abilities, but Burrow's consistency and tendency to transcend the system and situation he's in is what makes him special. It's not often the best quarterback doesn't win the Super Bowl outright. And Burrow is the better quarterback in this game.
Cincy's Underrated Defense
As much love as Burrow deserves, the reason the Bengals made it this far was their defense. Their second-half destruction of the Chiefs was shocking. It's not as if the defending AFC Champions haven't played well against Cover 2 defenses this year, but the Bengals perfected their methods as they closed passing windows and still stifled the run enough to win.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has done an excellent job with secondaries throughout his career. But he's grabbed the opportunity to help a talented unit ascend to a tough group that bends without breaking. He's also helped journeymen such as Eli Apple play their best in the biggest moments.
The Bengals will have their hands full with Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. shagging balls from Stafford. They can replicate much of what worked against the Chiefs against the Rams, though. Using their safeties to close passing windows and still rely on their front seven to stymie the Rams' weak rushing game should slow the Rams significantly.
More of the Same
The focus of this matchup will be their offensive line against All-Pro caliber pass rushers. It hasn't mattered. And it won't again even though the tandem of Von Miller and Aaron Donald are the best duo the Bengals have faced yet.
The Bengals will continue to chip block Miller like they did Maxx Crosby, Harold Landry, and Melvin Ingram. They'll slide protection so Donald doesn't get single-teamed. And Burrow will still be pressured and sacked a ton, but the Bengals' offense will overcome through chunk plays.
The discrepancy has more of an effect on the total. This will be a lower-scoring affair as both defenses key into tendencies. Considering Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is a protege of Rams head coach Sean McVay, we can safely presume both will have an idea what the other will look to accomplish.
Pick: Bengals +4 (-110) and Under 48.5 (-110) at DraftKings Sportsbook
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