The finale of the NFL season is upon us and let’s just say, it’s probably not the championship game many expected but that’s the beauty of sports. Preseason predictions only go so far. You have to play the games and that is exactly what the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams did to get to this point. It’s time for Super Bowl 56 where anything can and likely will happen (6.30pm ET Sunday; SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California, USA; TV: Live on NBC).
The road to Super Bowl 56 was paved in two very different ways for these teams. Read on for our SB predictions, full preview and betting picks. We’ll start with the Rams. Returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in the last five seasons, LA was one of the preseason favorites to win a championship. It would be the Rams’ first title win in 22 years. While LA boasted a strong squad before, the team was missing something they needed in order to win a Super Bowl. So last offseason, the Rams went and traded for what they believed was the missing piece: a really good quarterback. And as this season proved, the Rams may well have been just a quarterback away.
Prior to this season, Matthew Stafford spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions. He made the playoffs once, and never won a postseason game. All this despite being a good and sometimes great QB most of his 13+ seasons in the league. Stafford was always an underrated signal caller and being on the Lions didn’t help people appreciate his talents. But this season, that all changed.
Stafford continued his gun slinging ways, throwing for over 4,800 yards and 41 touchdowns, both of which were top three in the league. He also helped usher in history as Stafford was the QB behind the greatest receiving season ever. Cooper Kupp won the WR triple crown, leading the NFL in touchdowns, receptions, and yards. His 1,947 yards were historic as Kupp passed Calvin Johnson for most of all time. And who was throwing to Johnson when he set the record? None other than Stafford.
Beyond Stafford and Kupp though, the Rams have an incredibly well-rounded team. On defense, the unit led by Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, was one of the NFL’s best. The Rams finished the regular season ranked third in sacks with 50 and was top 10 in takeaways with 25. They performed the way many expected them to. Simply put, the Rams were a team many believed had a chance to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. The Bengals, not so much.
Most preseason predictions did not have the Bengals making the Super Bowl. In fact, none of them did. Cincinnati wasn’t even expected to make the playoffs according to the majority of predictions. Most had the Bengals hovering between six and eight wins. But Joe Burrow and Jamarr Chase had other ideas.
Expected to be the Bengals quarterback of the future, a devastating knee injury derailed Burrow’s rookie season in 2020 and well could have derailed his entire career. Burrow tore his MCL and ACL, and suffered partial tears to his meniscus and PCL. It ended Burrow’s season before it even really began. But it certainly wasn’t going to be the last time we saw the guy affectionately named, Joe Shiesty. A confident, calm, and collected signal caller, Burrow returned for the 2021 season and pretty much guaranteed himself comeback player of the year.
Burrow threw for 34 touchdowns and over 4,600 yards, both marks which were good enough for top eight among all QBs. But most importantly, he led the Bengals to a 10-win season, their first winning season since 2015. In a year where the AFC North struggled, 10 wins was good enough to win the division. And while 10 wins doesn’t sound all that impressive as it was the lowest of any division winner, it was the next three that really told the story for the underdog Bengals.
Cincinnati had an incredibly tough road to reach the Super Bowl. After defeating the Las Vegas Raiders in the wildcard game, the Bengals had to beat both the AFC’s top-seeded Tennessee Titans and then the defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs game was especially important in the growth of Burrow. Down a healthy margin entering the half, Burrow led the Bengals on one of their greatest comebacks ever. They tied the game in regulation and forced overtime, where Burrow led the drive that resulted in the game-winning score. And he did all of this in his first-ever NFL postseason
Our Preview’s Super Bowl Predictions & Betting Tips Verdict
When thinking about keys to this game, there are many to consider. For starters, home field advantage. The Rams lost three games at SoFi Stadium this year, which isn’t insignificant. They certainly weren’t unbeatable at home. But there is something to be said about being able to play a championship game in front of nearly 100,000 of your fans. There is added energy and excitement.
No doubt, the Rams want this ring, but to be able to win and share it with the city of LA is just a cherry on top of what would already be a sweet sundae. As for the Bengals, they don’t have home field advantage and Cincinnati is quite the journey to LA for fans to travel. But consider this. They haven’t had home field advantage since week one of the playoffs and yet they still defeated the Titans and Chiefs.
Beyond home field advantage, all eyes will be on the matchups. Burrow is one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the NFL. The Bengals line allowed a season-high 51 sacks to their franchise star in the regular season and completely failed to protect him in the playoffs giving up nine sacks in just one game. But part of Burrow’s growing legend is his toughness. Through it all, he has still managed to make big plays when needed. However, Donald and co have to be salivating at the opportunity to ground Burrow the way the Titans did.
Another matchup to pay close attention to is how the Bengals will guard, or rather attempt to guard Kupp. There isn’t one single guy in their backfield who can match Kupp’s speed and agility. And even with double coverage, Kupp is a master at getting open. The Bengals also have to worry about the rest of LA’s offense, which includes Van Jefferson and Robert Woods. Those two may not be as good as Kupp but they are still incredibly capable of making game changing plays.
If the recent playoff games are any indication, this game will come down to the wire. Both Stafford and Burrow are hungry for this moment and both have shown they can shine under bright lights and big opportunities. This is a tough call. The Rams are favored -4 points on the spread with the top USA-friendly sportsbooks with the total points likely to be scored in this game sitting at 48.5. The Bengals have won their last two games as underdogs which is noteworthy and it is behind our pick and Super Bowl predictions for this preview. These are the advised picks at best betting odds:
- Take Cincinnati to cover the spread but if betting straight up, we’re backing Stafford to have his Hollywood movie moment. So back the Bengals +4pts @ odds of -110 with Bovada, BetOnline or EveryGame sportsbooks.
- We also like the over 48.5 total points at -110 with BetOnline or EveryGame. It is -115 with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.