It’s Super Bowl Week, with the countdown beginning for Sunday’s kickoff of Super Bowl 56 in a game that pits the scampish underdog Cincinnati Bengals against the glamorous but annoying Los Angeles Rams.
Most Bengal fans will be watching the game in Cincinnati and various parts of Ohio, including Joe Burrow’s home town — part of an area known as “The Plains.”
The second largest hive of enthusiastic pro-Bengal fandom can be found in the state of Louisiana, especially Baton Rouge.
What’s next? My sincere guess: No. 3 on the GO BENGALS! list of cities is St. Louis, Missouri. But San Francisco is right there, too.
That’s the local storyline … and I’m sticking to it.
Now I’ll take a look at Super Bowl storylines – including a few selections that you may not like because the LA Rams are mentioned. It’ll be OK.
1) Will The Underdog Do It Again? The Rams are a 4.5-point favorite, and that may not be a good thing for Team Inglewood. The underdog teams are 14-6 against the spread in the last 20 Super Bowls – with a 10-4 mark ATS in the last 14 Supers. The Bengals have been one of the NFL’s top dogs this season, going 8-3 against the spread and 5-0 when listed as the underdog by three to six points.
2) The Pressure On Matthew Stafford: In 12 hard years with the Detroit Lions, Stafford didn’t have much to show for his career except 45,100 bulk passing yards with a bunch of touchdown passes. Though it wasn’t his fault, Stafford had a 74-90-1 record as a starter for the Lions, and went 0-3 in the postseason. The trade to Los Angeles gave Stafford a chance to show the nation that all he needed was a good supporting cast to show that he’s a talented winner. He’s 3-0 this postseason with a set of fantastic stats. And if Stafford can engineer a Super Bowl victory, his reputation will change dramatically. He’ll enter the discussion as a candidate for The Pro Football Hall of Fame. A loss – especially if he performs poorly – will be a formidable setback for Stafford.
3) Can Joe Burrow Pull Off An Amazing Trifecta? If the Bengals spring the upset, their quarterback will achieve something that’s never been done by an NFL quarterback:
– Win the NCAA Championship and Heisman Trophy as the starting QB at LSU in 2019.
– Become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
– Win the Super Bowl to end the 2021 season. If he can get it done Sunday, Burrow would join Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson as quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in their second NFL season.
And if Burrow and his team beat the Rams, we’d have to ask this question: even with the knee injury that wrecked Joe’s rookie season, is it possible for a young QB to have three better years in a row?
4) Aaron Donald’s Burning Hunger For A Super Bowl Title: St. Louis Rams fans can appreciate being there to witness Donald’s first two NFL seasons. In 2014 he was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was named to the Pro Bowl. In his second St. Louis season Donald made first–team All-Pro, finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, and made another Pro Bowl team. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year already has earned seven first-team All Pro honors and is one of the greatest defensive tackles in NFL history … and the best defensive player of his generation … and he’s only 30 years old.
If Donald retired after this Super Bowl he’d be a lock for the Hall of Fame. He’s done it all during his career – well, everything except win a Super Bowl. This is his second chance – and arguably his best chance. Donald’s first crack at a Super Bowl ring ended in a 13-3 loss to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots, but the Rams will likely score more points for him this time around.
5) The Tormented Odell Beckham Jr. Is A Star Again: The New York writers are already pounding this angle to the point of tedium, but I can’t deny it’s a legitimate story. After being a pariah for multiple seasons with the Giants and Browns, Beckham whined his way out of Cleveland and was traded to LA during the 2021 regular season. Beckham has been an excellent complement to the league’s best receiver, Cooper Kupp. In three NFC postseason games Beckham has 19 catches for 236 yards for 13 first downs and a touchdown. He also threw a 40-yard completion to running back Cam Akers in the wild-card romp over Arizona. Like him or not, Beckham is making big plays again and should be a dangerous factor in this Super Bowl.
6) It’s A Quarterback Nation: The Stafford vs. Burrow QB matchup features two former No. 1 overall draft picks for only the second time in Super Bowl history. The only other time this happened was six years ago, when Peyton Manning and Denver defeated Cam Newton and Carolina. During the Super Bowl Era, quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall have combined to win 15 Super Bowls: Terry Bradshaw (4), Troy Aikman (3), Jim Plunkett (2), John Elway (2), Peyton Manning (2) and Eli Manning (2). Two others – Newton and Jared Goff – made it to one Super Bowl and lost.
7) Can Cooper Kupp Complete The Best-Ever Season By An NFL Wide Receiver? Well, it would be arguably the best-ever season, especially if Kupp and the Rams win the Super Bowl. The former third-round draft choice is having a season for the ages. During the regular season Kupp led the league in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and touchdown catches (16.) The 1,947 yards set an NFL single-season record, and the 145 grabs rank second all-time in an NFL season.
In three postseason games en route to the Super Bowl, he’s rolled up 25 catches, 129 receiving yards per game, and four touchdowns with 14 first downs. Including the postseason Kupp has been targeted 223 times by his quarterback and 76 percent of the attempts have resulted in a reception. If Kupp can amass 161 receiving yards in Sunday’s game, he’ll set an NFL record for most receiving yards in a single postseason. Larry Fitzgerald holds the record with 525.
8) Will The Rams Smash Cincinnati’s Offensive Line Into Pie Filling? Metaphorically speaking, of course. But the Bengal offensive line really struggles in pass protection, ranking 30th this season in ESPN’s pass-blocking metric. Burrow has been sacked a league-high 61 times this season (including playoffs) for 464 yards in losses. His O-line is in for a brutal assignment.
Donald, former Super Bowl MVP and future Hall of Famer Von Miller, edge rusher Leonard Floyd and defensive tackle Greg Gaines have combined for 36.5 sacks (playoffs included) and countless pressures this season. With that group hunting quarterback the Rams are No. 1 in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate.
9) Can Ja’Marr Chase Upstage Kupp? You can’t rule it out. Including the playoffs, the 21-year-old rookie from LSU has plucked 101 catches for 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns. Burrow to Chase is a beautiful thing.
10) The Teacher vs. The Student: I’m already bored by this one, but it will be a storyline – so prepare accordingly. (Ignore it.) OK, Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor worked as an offensive assistant in LA for Rams head coach Sean McVay. But this is a forced storyline. The real story is the Mike Shanahan Coaching Tree from his time as HC coach in Washington. Mike Shanahan’s staff included Kyle Shanahan, McVay, and Matt LaFleur. In 13 combined seasons as head coaches the three young coaches have a .630 winning percentage with nine playoff berths. Where does Zac Taylor fit in? He didn’t directly work for Shanahan … but both Shanahans touted Taylor when McVay asked for a scouting report when putting together his first coaching staff. Yeah, technically this is Teacher vs. Student … but calm down, media. There’s much more to it than that. Hell, Taylor is three years older than McVay.
11) Lou Anarumo, Secret Weapon. Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator has a rep for making smart defensive adjustments, and we saw that when the Bengals flummoxed the KC Chiefs in the second half and overtime to win the AFC Championship. Anarumo set a trap for Patrick Mahomes by dropping eight men into coverage, and the Chiefs fell apart offensively. What does Anarumo have in store for Stafford and the Rams?
12) Rams, Blah Blah Blah: Did you know that the Rams went “all-in” this season? Did you know that the master plan was to go “all-in” for 2021 with the goal of hosting Super Bowl 56 at SoFi Stadium at the Rams’ home in Inglewood? Did you know that this will be a “home” game for the Rams? Did you know that Stan Kroenke’s dream season is being realized? Well, if you didn’t know any of that you’ll hear and read about it a zillion times this week. Unless, of course, you tune it all out. Probably a good idea. The stadium won’t be filled with Rams fans; far from it. We’ll see how many Bengal fans make it to Inglewood for the big game.
Thanks for reading …
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