It's the Super Bowl. The pinnacle of the NFL season, it will be the most-watched show of the year in the states with around 90m people expected to be tuning in, an event so big that companies pay $5m for a 30-second advert during it, and a night where the yanks devour an estimated 1.42BILLION Chicken wings. Admittedly I'll be adding to that number on this side of the pond on Sunday night as well, you just can't beat Buffalo Wings.
It's not exactly the matchup we had all expected at the start of the season as the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. It is the first time since the 1970 merger that none of the top 3 seeds in the conferences have made it to this weekend with both the AFC and NFC 4th seeds facing each other here. The Bengals were listed at 150/1 before the season started making them the joint-highest odds to reach the Superbowl, tied, ironically, with the '99 Rams who went on to beat the Titans. The Rams went all-in this year, trading away picks to acquire talent and that may well pay off for them.
Despite the game taking place in LA, the Rams are officially the road team here. It doesn't mean a whole lot, just that the Bengals got to choose their uniform first (they went with Black, White, Orange) and the Rams get to call the coin toss before the game. I believe they'll call tails (which you can bet on) – I definitely like the winner of the toss to defer the kick, the Bengals and Rams have done that every time they've won the toss this year, so despite it being 1/5 (on Skybet), that price should actually represent good value.
I'll go about the preview a little differently this time around, concentrating on comparing the position groups to give my opinion on who has the better at each spot. – Although I try and be as neutral as possible, it is worth me mentioning I am a Bengals fan, although I did think they'd struggle to 7 wins this year and I definitely didn't think they'd beat the Chiefs last week, so it's safe to say I'm a realist as well.
LA Rams -4/4.5 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 48.5
Starting at the top, on the surface there's an obvious gap in coaching acumen between Sean McVay and Zac Taylor who served under him at the Rams for a few years before joining the Bengals a couple of years ago, but the achievements of the two this year aren't too far apart.
McVay is appearing in his second Super Bowl as head coach having flopped in his first appearance, a defensive slogfest against the Patriots just 3 years ago when Taylor was on his staff as the QB coach. His record as Rams coach sits at a pleasant 61-29, a near 68% winning percentage, which is up there with the best in the league, he's a highly touted and well-respected coach and has shown that this year.
Taylor on the other hand hasn't been quite as successful, a mere 19-32 record having won just 6 games in two seasons before this year. What you can applaud though is the team building and the ethic he's brought into Paul Brown stadium recruiting guys who were captains and winners in college and bringing in players from winning franchises in free agency, that has shone through this year. The half-time adjustments from Zac and his team have been phenomenal from not being able to stop the Chiefs at all to limiting them to just 3 second half points in the Championship game was incredibly impressive.
I do worry about McVay “turtling” when his team get in front as he has done quite a few times this year and his time management is fairly terrible as well, but he's still the better coach here until it's proven otherwise although I don't think it's as wide a margin as most do; Best Coach; Rams
This is where things get a little more difficult as the two signal-callers who are taking the field this weekend are extremely closely matched. Both are former #1 overall picks although at very different points in their career. Matthew Stafford is here in his 13th season, the longest a #1 picked QB has taken to reach the summit of the game while Joe Burrow is here in his second year, the quickest someone of that pedigree has made the Super Bowl.
The numbers support Stafford being the better of the two and through his career I've liked his style despite him being on a terrible Detroit Lions team for 12 years. He's got a strong arm, can shrug off hits and plays through any pain. This year he got his rewards on the field finishing with 41 TDs (2nd), 4,886 yards (3rd) and a QBR of 63.8 (4th). It's hard to suggest that wasn't a good season, but there were cracks in his work as he ended the season with 8 interceptions in their final 4 games.
That's something he's had to deal with through his career and realistically he should have cost them their spot last week as he floated up a ball that Jacquiski Tartt inexplicably dropped for the 49ers. If that goes the other way it would have effectively ended the game.
He has though been very good through the playoffs as you can see below, thanks to Next Gen Stats for the comparison.
This is where I get a bit “homer-ish” – It's not just the stats. Joe Burrow has “IT”. In just his second year and recovering from a multi-ligament knee injury he's improved as the season has gone along. His numbers aren't as high through the season (6th in yards, 8th in TDs and 12th in QBR) but from Week 8 onwards he was lights out with a 500 yard game against the Ravens in that period.
He shows a level of command of his team that's rare in such an inexperienced player, this is just his 30th professional game, but the confidence he oozes is infectious and no-one on this Bengals team believe they will lose. He's taken more sacks than any player in the league this year and that continued into the post-season, but he doesn't care. He just bounces straight back up and carries on. I'm sure the team would prefer him to take fewer hits but hanging in the pocket is a big part of his game. Best QB? – It's very, very close, but there's only one QB I trust here to not be over-awed by the occasion and it's not the veteran – It's Burrow for me.
This one is a little easier, Joe Mixon is the best running back taking the field this weekend. He finished the season with 16 total TDs, finishing 3rd in rushing yards and doing that behind what is considered one of the worst offensive lines in the league. His yards per carry might not look impressive but his vision and ability to break big runs is up there with the best, he's also very good in the passing game and has been targeted frequently in the playoffs. Behind him on the Bengals roster is Samaje Perine who had a big TD against the Chiefs last weekend, he's shown up well when they've needed to give Mixon a rest and will have some part in this weeks game.
On the other side of the field it looks like Cam Akers will get the bulk of the carries after returning from his Achilles injury. He's been loaded up with touches but not done a whole lot with them, averaging around 3 yards per carry. It might be that he was re-gaining help and he has looked explosive but the numbers don't promise much, he is adept in the passing game too, he and Mixon are very alike. Sony Michel and Perine are quite alike too as bigger backs who can chip in when required and both have done all right with heavier workloads when called upon. Best Group – Bengals
This group isn't cut and shut either, on one side you've got the triple crown winner this year, Cooper Kupp finished as the leader in receptions, yards and TDs in the regular season and with the playoffs has gone on to set the season-long record for receptions as well. Doing that in the regular season was impressive, but he's carried that form on in the post-season as well, leading the receiving yards by 87 yards and having scored a TD in each of their 3 games, making it 9 of his last 10 matches with a score. He's been the best WR in the league this year and he does it in different ways, he's not just a deep threat, not a slot guy, he plays everywhere and does it well.
WR2 for the Rams is Odell Beckham, maybe not the player he once was, or at least that many in the league thought he was, but he's been very good since joining the Rams halfway through the season scoring in 6 of his 11 games with the team and having his first 100 yard game against the 49ers last week. WR3 is usually Van Jefferson who's done all right in spells, has had some deep bomb TDs, usually around 3 receptions per game, but he's officially listed as questionable for this one with a knee injury. If he does miss out then it's probably Ben Skowronek who it's safe to say isn't a household name with just 1 target in the playoffs, which he dropped, it would have been a TD.
If you're counting the WR group as the full three players then the Bengals win this contest. Ja'Marr Chase set all kinds of rookie records this season including TDs in the regular season as he finished with 13, three behind Kupp. He has had a relatively quiet post-season sitting over 100 yards behind his Rams counterpart, but he is capable of out-running anyone from anywhere, explosivity that can't be taught. Despite lesser numbers, he's had at least 5 receptions in each of their postseason matches.
If Chase gets covered then the ball will go to either Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd, whichever is free. Burrow tends to find the free man. Higgins was the man against the Chiefs finishing with over 100 yards, the 5th game in his last 9 that he's topped 100 to finish out the season, he would have had a TD last week too had he not had his arm held by the Chiefs defender. Boyd hasn't had to be the man this year but he's had some big receptions for TDs and as a third target on an offense is up there with the best in the league. – It may seem like bias, but as a “three-some” the Bengals win this for me.
Well, we don't really know who's going to be playing this week. It looks like Tyler Higbee will be out for the Rams so Kendall Blanton probably steps in, while on the Bengals side CJ Uzomah suffered an MCL sprain as well, he has said he'll be playing but I don't know at what level so it could be Drew Sample v Kendall Blanton. The studs of the side. Void
It's not often, or maybe ever, you get people rating the kickers in a game, but this is the Super Bowl, and it gives me a chance to give another tick to the Bengals. Rookie Evan McPherson has been “MONEY” this year, especially in the post-season where he's 12-12 on Field goals and 4-4 on Extra points.
Matt Gay has converted all 7 of his XP attempts, but after suffering a strain before the Bucs 3 weeks ago has missed a couple of field goals including coming up short on a 40-something yard attempt which is unheard of in the game these days. Best Kicker; It's McFearless, KickPherson, Money Mac.
Defensive line v Offensive line.
While I do feel the Bengals D-Line is being overlooked it's impossible to ignore arguably the best player, at any position, in the league in Aaron Donald who should have a field day against a poor Bengals offensive line. A line that is especially weak on the interior where Donald plays most of the time. He didn't officially get a sack last week but got the pressure that caused Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the game-losing interception. He'll probably be double (or tripled) team for a lot of the game but he'll invariably get through them, I was hoping for 20/1, so 16/1 for Donald is a touch short for me. They added Von Miller on the edge towards the end of the season and that allowed him to get sacks in 6 of his last 7 games, he'll be looking to get his second Super Bowl MVP award, 45/1 for that to happen isn't terrible. Leonard Floyd as the 3rd rusher with 9.5 regular season sacks can't be discounted either.
The Bengals can get pass rush as well with Trey Hendrickson who had at least half a sack in all but 2 of his 17 games this season, proving that he wasn't a one-season wonder after coming in from the Saints. Team him up with Sam Hubbard and it's not the level of Donald and Miller but they'll get pressure and should be able to get the better of the Rams offensive line on a few occasions. They also mix up their packages which seems to get results as well. Add to that one of the best run-stoppers in the league in DJ Reader and it's an under-appreciated group. Best group – The Rams.
I'll admit I'm not exactly a tape-jockey when it comes to these things and having not watched a whole lot of the Rams this year I've had to take others words for it, but Troy Reeder having a career year with 94 tackles seems to be the highlight for the Rams LB group, although Von Miller and Leonard Floyd are officially listed as LBs, they work more in pass rush than anything else so are included above.
But I don know about Logan Wilson and the Bengals LBs. Wilson led the team with 100 tackles in just 13 games and added 4 interceptions to them as well, he's been brilliant this year. Germaine Pratt had the game-sealing interception against the Raiders and has been very good with or without Wilson as well. Bengals win here.
The Rams have Jalen Ramsey who is one of the best CBs in the league, there's no doubt of that as he was on the all-pro team once more, but beyond him there's not a whole lot of talent according to PFF. They should welcome Taylor Rapp back at safety although Weddle has done well since coming in off the street. It should be worth noting that Jalen Ramsey generally doesn't follow one man all game, he does increase his man coverage against the top guys, but they do move him around the field as well, so the Bengals may well just avoid Ramsey for most of the night, it seems like the sensible thing to do.
The Bengals don't have the names but they have been a good unit this year with Chidobe Awuzie coming in from the Cowboys and earning high ratings. Mike Hilton has done well in the spot and even Eli Apple has shown up in big spots. Von Bell and Jessie Bates are one of the best safety duos in the league as well, especially in the post-season where Bates has shown his form of last season. It's the Bengals.
So there you have it, a look at every group in the game, as unbiased as I could possibly be!
I have the Bengals as the stronger team in most groups, QB could go either way. Secondary could probably go either way, and possibly the WR groups. But it's a lot closer than most people seem to think.
Now, you have to consider the weighting of these rankings as well.
Keys to the game.
- It goes without saying that the ability to slow Aaron Donald and Von Miller will probably be the key to the game for the Bengals, although Joe Burrow is used to being under pressure and the talent of those two on the other side of the ball isn't exactly an unknown. If the Bengals can scheme away from those rushers then they should be able to find the easier coverage in the secondary.
- Slowing down Cooper Kupp will be important on the other side of the ball, the Bengals have shown they can do that as they did against the Chiefs, but Kupp is different gravy this year. It's not an easy task.
- Stafford and Burrow both need to keep things tidy. They threw 17 and 14 interceptions respectively in the regular season and 1 and 2 in the post-season, so far. It could have been more for both so they've got away with things to a certain extent as well.
This could well come down to whoever has the ball at the end of the game as it has done for a lot of the playoff games this season.
I have read and heard a lot about the DL dominance meaning that the Rams could win this by a margin, but I don't agree with that, I don't see either team winning by a large amount.
Again. I am a Bengals fan. I do consider myself a pessimistic one, but the way this season has gone… 27-24 to the Bengals. So, Bengals cover and over the total.
Thanks for reading this very long post. Of course, you are here for bets and not just my ramble on the game. I should be getting a stupid punts post out this week as well, Pre-game, Half-time and the likes, all a bit of fun.
- Joe Mixon o3.5 receptions – 1.74 (365)
- Highest scoring half – 2nd half – 1.86 (365)
- Bengals o10.5 second-half points – 2.05 (Redzone) (1o on Paddypower at 1.57)
- Rams o3 sacks – 1.67 (WilliamHill)
Good luck if you're betting on it, good luck to my Bengals #WHODEY – Enjoy the game, it should be a cracker.