NFL Tips & Preview – Super Bowl LVI

It all comes down to this: Cincinnati Bengals versus Los Angeles Rams, Joe Burrow versus Matt Stafford and a fascinating Super Bowl LVI showdown in LA. 

10:30 (AEDT), Mon 14th Feb @ SoFi Stadium, Inglewood

History: Played 14: Bengals 8 V Rams 6

Last meeting: October 27, 2019: Rams 24 d Bengals 10 at L.A. Memorial Coliseum

Final Thoughts: One of the greatest post-seasons in NFL history has delivered a Super Bowl match-up few predicted when the playoffs got underway.

Cincinnati Bengals and LA Rams both made it to the big dance on the back of consecutive pulsating, gritty and highlight-laden three-point victories in the Divisional Playoffs and Conference Championships.

Chasing their maiden Lombardi Trophy triumph, the Bengals are in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season. The Rams are into their second Super Bowl in four seasons (and five campaigns under Sean McVay), shooting for the franchise’s first title since St Louis Rams beat Tennessee Titans 22 years ago.

The Rams, giving up a 4.5-point start, have been backed into $1.48 to end the Bengals’ fairytale. Veteran quarterback Matt Stafford – in his first season steering around the Rams – is the hot Super Bowl MVP favourite at $2.00, followed by unflappable second-year Bengals counterpart Joe Burrow ($3.25).

Giant-killing Bengals on cusp of history

The Bengals snared the AFC North title with a modest 10-7 record before going on a remarkable charge. A 26-19 Wild Card win over the Raiders was the franchise first in the post-season in 31 years. The top-seeded Titans were upset 19-16 on the back of hard-nosed defensive effort and a last-second field goal.

Cincinnati’s run looked certain to end at 21-3 down to the title-favourite Chiefs in the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game. Cue a comeback led by the ice-cool Burrow – who finished with 250 passing yards and 2 TDs – and a secondary that forced two interceptions from Patrick Mahomes and restricted the Chiefs to just three points in the second half.

Running back Joe Mixon (88 yards on 20 carries) was a workhorse, Tee Higgins chalked up 103 yards and six receptions and fellow WR Ja’Marr Chase picked up the 13th touchdown of his rookie season. Trey Heendrickson and Sam Hubbard were among the heroes on defence.

Rams, Stafford step up in the clutch

The Rams’ path to Super Bowl Sunday has arguably been even more of a rollercoaster. After dominating the Cardinals 34-11 on Wild Card Weekend, the NFC West champs almost blew a 27-3 lead against Tom Brady’s Buccaneers.

It was a familiar collapse as Tampa Bay drew level and appeared certain to put away psychologically scarred Matt Stafford and the Rams. But Stafford and Cooper Kupp brilliantly connected for two big gains on consecutive plays before Matt Gay buried the match-winning field goal as time expired.

The Rams then rallied from 17-7 down at the start of the fourth quarter to beat the 49ers in the NFC Conference Championship Game. Their defence stymied the 49ers’ go-to run game and put increasing pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo, while Stafford again came up trumps on multiple drives – linking astutely with Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr – to allow Gay to put them in front.

Defensive stud Aaron Donald effectively sealed the victory when he pressured Garoppolo into a pass that was intercepted.

Scene set for Super Bowl LVI classic

The teams have clashed just 14 times after first meeting in 1972 – and only once in the past six seasons. The Rams chalked up a 24-10 home win during 2019, with Kupp notching a touchdown and 220 yards on seven receptions.

The Rams become just the second team to play a Super Bowl at their home stadium – just 12 months after the champion Buccaneers became the first. They are 7-3 at SoFi Stadium this season. The Bengals are an impressive 7-3 on the road, however, and are galvanised by nerve-shredding wins in front of hostile Nashville and Kansas City crowds.

Six of the last eight Super Bowls have been decided by 8+ margins – but after the playoffs we’ve witnessed, it seems inevitable this will go down to the wire.

In Super Bowl history, 18 underdogs have got up to win – including eight of the last 14. And the Bengals are among the more compelling outsiders in recent times given their respective formlines and attributes. It’s worth noting that only six favourites have won the Super Bowl without covering the line.

The Rams’ secondary is a significant advantage on paper, but the Bengals’ less-heralded defence has stood tall in the playoffs. The 34-year-old Stafford has answered some critics in recent weeks – and his receiving corps is on fire – but doubts persist. Burrow and Bengals have refused to be overawed despite being dragged out into some deep waters in this post-season.

Tip: Result – Bengals @ $2.65

Same Game Multi: Total – Over 48.5; Margin – Bengals 1-5; Anytime Touchdown Scorer – Cooper Kupp; Anytime Touchdown Scorer – Ja’Marr Chase @ $27.37