The Cincinnati Bengals vs. the Los Angeles Rams. I’m digging this matchup for Super Bowl 56. Part of that has to do with the two starting quarterbacks, but it’s more about the desperation factor.

I’ll simplify the narratives:

1) All of the pressure is on LA quarterback Matthew Stafford because he’s 34, the Rams gave up a bundle of draft picks for him, and he left Detroit with California Dreaming in his mind. After absorbing so many beatdowns in 12 hard seasons with the Lions, this is Stafford’s career opportunity to show he’s a big-game quarterback and not just a stats compiler. He’ll never have a better chance than right now, and his team will go into this biggie as the betting choice.

As for Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow: he’s the breakout star of the season, he’s taken his team from a 4-11-1 record in 2020 to the Super Bowl stage in one year, and his best and brightest days are in front of him. Burrow is 25, and life is good. He’ll feel pressure to win, yes. But Stafford is trying to redefine his legacy as his career winds down; Burrow is here to build onto an early career that’s filled with promise and hope. Including the postseason, Super Bowl 56 will be the 30th start of Burrow’s NFL career. He’s at the age of innocence, when everything is possible.

Then again …

Ask Dan Marino about all of that.

2) As for the teams: The Bengals would love to win the Super Bowl. It would be so much fun and so cool and Cincinnati would go wild, and the parade would be awesome. But if the Bengals lose? Hey, no worries, it was a GREAT season and remember that no one picked the Bengals to do a dang thing this season except lose too many football games. Girls will like us! The bartenders will pick up our tabs! We can eat all the bone-in ribeyes we want and wash it down with Cristal! And the best is yet to come!

The Rams? Lobsters staring at a boiling pot. They have to win this one. They put everything into 2022 and a chance to win the biggest game of ‘em all and in the world’s largest football disco built at a cost of $5.5 billion in suburban Inglewood. The Rams never flinched in trading draft choices that will leave them shorthanded; to acquire Stafford, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and others, they have leveraged the future in the lust to win the Super Bowl RIGHT NOW … and won’t draft in the first round in 2024. And if the Rams lose the Super Bowl for the second time in four seasons – and this one being in LA, more or less – it will be a humbling comedown into heartache for GM Les Snead, head coach Sean McVay, the owner Jed Clampett, and his half-wit son, Kevin.

Oh, and the Rams have to develop an actual fan base that’s loyal and buys tickets to home games and everything. The local paper wrote a story this week, reporting findings of a commissioned survey that revealed the Rams are the favorite NFL team of 26 percent of the local citizenry. Six years into their stay in LA, with a very good team, and 74 percent of the peoples like another team more? Absolutely hysterical. Hey, win the Super Bowl and maybe 30 percent of the fans will like you next season.

The matchup is unusual for a couple of reasons…

This is the first Super Bowl that has two teams seeded fourth or lower in the postseason. Plus the Rams and Bengals combined for a 22-12 record during the regular season; that’s the poorest both-teams record in Super Bowl history.

Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty.

THE LINE: It’s been moving. After being stuck at Rams minus 4.5 points for the last 10 days or so, the line has been adjusted because of the late flow of investment money coming in on the underdog Bengals. As I write this the Rams are a 4-point favorite, and at Caesar’s that’s even lower at Rams minus 3.5. The total is 48.5 points. So you can bet the over – 49 or more points combined in this game – or go with the under and hope that the Bengals and Rams finish with 48 combined points or fewer.


– The Bengals are a lively, frisky and reliable underdog. They win in a way that charms fans, being the first team to get to the Super Bowl by winning three consecutive one-possession games in the conference playoffs. According to Football Outsiders, if the Bengals win the Super Bowl they’d be the lowest-rated champion since 1983 based on the site’s all-encompassing season metrics. And if you love underdogs, the Bengals are waving at you. They’re 13-7 overall against the spread this season, 8-2 ATS in road–neutral games, 6-1 ATS as road dogs, 5-1 ATS when the line comes in between +2.5 and +5.5 points, and are 8-1 ATS against opponents that won at least 55% of their games during the season. (As the Rams have done.) The Rams have not fared well when going in as the favorite, with a 7-10 record against the spread.


And I have to take the emotion out of it. Of course I’d be delighted by a Cincinnati triumph. But if I’m going to try and pick the winner, I have to play it straight instead of acting like a 7-year-old.

Like many of you, I’ve spent a lotta time conjuring up ways how the Bengals will win Super Bowl 56. And obviously they can do it, especially if they do a couple of obvious things: intercept Stafford two-plus times, and do a solid job of protecting Burrow from the LA pass rush, which is ranked first in the NFL. Burrow needs time to launch those deep passes, and Cincinnati ranks 30th in pass protection. But Burrow can make plays and win even when he’s being tossed around by opponent defenses. So even if the Rams harass him, it doesn’t mean that a defeat is inevitable for the Bengals.

But the Rams have been better than the Bengals this season from start to finish, and in some ways this looms as a mismatch. The Rams have the better offensive line, the better defensive line, and the most unstoppable receiver in this game in Cooper Kupp.

If you believe in momentum, the Bengals have had the better passing game in recent weeks, but the Rams have had the superior and more consistent passing attack all season.

The Cincinnati offensive line has allowed more than 60 sacks (including postseason), and their most difficult challenge comes on Sunday. This Los Angeles front seven is demonic. Not literally, of course. But you just can’t block Aaron Donald, and he’s bringing all of his pass-rush friends, and the Bengals don’t have an O-line to stop them.

Cincinnati has gotten off to slow starts this postseason, and that can’t happen on Sunday. If the Rams go up early by 10+ points, the hounds will come for Burrow. On the other hand, Burrow and the Bengals can set up in a shotgun formation, spread the field, and hit the Rams in their weakest area of the defense: stopping passes to the short missile. And this fellow named Mike Hilton, a slot defensive back, may surprise everyone by slowing Cooper Kupp; Hilton did exactly that when he played for the Steelers in a game against the Rams. And Hilton was praised for his coverage on Hunter Renfrow (Vegas) and Tyreek Hill (KC) earlier in the postseason.

I just think the Rams have too much on both sides of the ball, and I don’t know if Cincinnati can come up with an effective counter strategy by running the ball with muscle. My expectation is that Burrow will sit up in that shotgun and hurl short passes that beat the pass-rush invasion. If Ramsey can put a lid on Ja’Marr Chase deep, it’ll be up to Burrow to strike – early and often – with completions to Tee Higgins and slot receiver Tyler Boyd.

No, the superior team doesn’t always win – especially in the Super Bowl. But unless Stafford and the Rams cough up this game by gasping for air under pressure, they should prevail in this one. It should be a fun game … if not a fun trophy presentation.

THE PICK: Rams 24, Bengals 23.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz