I love this Bengals team and this improbable Bengals fairytale. I’ve witnessed their two Super Bowl defeats. It’s OK that we don’t get to swoon over Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, or shake our heads in amazement again at Tom Brady. Joe Burrow will do.
Good for the Bengals, Bungles no more.
I bet Pete Rose will be taking the points.
It was Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson who summed up precisely why Who Dey Nation will be carrying a “Ya Gotta Believe” banner painted orange and black into SoFi Stadium on Super Sunday:
“With a quarterback like that,” Hendrickson said, “we’ve always got a shot.”
Yup, they’ve got a better shot than Broadway Joe and the Super Bowl III AFL Jets were thought to have against the NFL Baltimore Colts, a better shot than East Rutherford Eli and the Giants were thought to have in Super Bowl XLII against Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Perfect Patriots.
These irrepressible young Bengals don’t know what they don’t know, which emboldens a fan base starving for its first Super Bowl championship into rallying around the notion that there will be no stagefright on the biggest and brightest stage. Stagefright? Joe Brrr? Ha!
But sorry, Underdog America.
Sorry, fans of “Rocky” and “Rudy” and “Hoosiers.”
I hope this won’t ban me from the chance to dig into the Steak Burrow — 16-ounce blackened prime ribeye with Creole crawfish sauce, $65 at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, $70 including my tip — but I’m picking the Rams.
A ring at last for Aaron Donald.
A ring at last for Matthew Stafford.
A ring at last for Odell Beckham Jr.
A ring at last for Andrew Whitworth.
Let’s start with the matchup between the irresistible force versus the immovable object:
Swaggy elite young franchise quarterback versus Defense Wins Championships.
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Swaggy elite young franchise quarterback prevailed over Defense Wins Championships two years ago, when Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs over the 49ers.
But what if Kyle Shanahan’s quarterback in the fourth quarter had been, say, Stafford instead of Jimmy Garoppolo?
Edge: Defense Wins Championships.
The Bengals have an opportunistic defense, with a dangerous defensive coordinator, Lou Anarumo.
The Rams have a predatory defense.
I’m not expecting the Rams to sack Burrow nine times, the way the Titans did in the AFC divisional round, and he’d probably light up a cigar between QB hits anyway.
But I keep having flashbacks of Donald lighting a fire under his defense on the sidelines down 10 to the 49ers in the NFC Championship, and I keep hearing how his band of brothers is inspired by making sure that he gets that elusive first ring he so richly deserves. And Von Miller, his main partner in crime, who has been a terror in the postseason, knows what it takes to win a Super Bowl.
Burrow’s offensive line will be under great stress, and the spectre of Jalen Ramsey shadowing Ja’Marr Chase will serve as a chunk of kryptonite on a day when the Bengals will need Joey Franchise to be a 60-minute Superman. Graybeard safety Eric Weddle, off his couch for one last hurrah, is likely to flummox Burrow at inopportune times.
Memo to Bengals: Do not fall behind early.
“If we get behind early, we’re not gonna panic,” Burrow said, “so maybe a comeback’s gonna be necessary, but we’d like to jump out early and kinda control the game.”
Of course Burrow will have his moments, and on those occasions when his protection holds up, or he needs to throw hot in the face of the blitz, he should look early and often to 6-foot-4 Tee Higgins, who will have a 7-inch height advantage on cornerback Darious Williams.
I don’t see the Bengals establishing a Ground and Pound, so look for Burrow to try to move the chains by targeting Joe Mixon (six catches, 51 yards against the Titans) out of the backfield. Burrow will also be asked to make some plays with his own legs as well, which he can.
The Bengals boasted the fifth-best run defense during the regular season, so even with the Rams’ three-headed monster at running back, with Miracle Man Cam Akers averaging only 2.8 yards per rushing attempt in the postseason and linebackers Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt always around the ball, Stafford shouldn’t count on any lethal running game.
But Cooper Kupp, a helpless spectator three years ago in Super Bowl LIII, is unguardable, and when Anarumo doubles him, OBJ is primed to do major damage, and Van Jefferson is a threat to go over the top of the Bengals’ defense at any given moment.
And 40-year-old Whitworth, the Rams’ left tackle, seizing the moment against his former team, will do a good job of keeping the relentless Hendrickson off Stafford.
Another reason why the Rams will win: A vast edge in experience (Donald, Miller, Kupp, Beckham, Whitworth, Rob Havenstein, Weddle, Johnny Hekker, Sony Michel and Stafford).
And it at starts at head coach. An elite playcaller like Sean McVay learned the error of his ways against Belichick three years ago and is driven to redeem himself and become the youngest coach to win the Super Bowl. And this time, he brings Stafford with him instead of Jared Goff. Bengals coach Zac Taylor was McVay’s quarterbacks coach in Super Bowl LIII. Teacher over pupil.
The Rams haven’t been a dominant home team, but sleeping in their own beds and staying in their daily routine should have their bodies rested.
I can’t discount the possibility of a Stafford interception with ball-hawking Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell thirsting for one.
“Ball security’s gonna be a huge thing in this game,” Stafford said.
Stafford has gotten the Big Game playoff monkey off his back (he was 0-3 as a Lion) and appears liberated and embracing the opportunity to win the Biggest One.
One of sports analyst and handicapper Danny Sheridan’s Super Bowl rules is when two perceived offensive juggernauts meet, bet the Under. And with Taylor implicitly trusting rookie Evan McPherson and McVay implicitly trusting Pro Bowler Matt Gay, don’t be surprised to see some kind of field goal shootout.
To sum up: The Rams hold advantages in the trenches on both sides of the ball and in battle-hardened experience.
The Bengals were 150/1 preseason long-shots to win the Super Bowl, potentially an awful lot of Skyline chili for the brave Who Dey souls who dared to make that wager. They want to believe the Bengals are a Team of Destiny who will play loosey-goosey with nothing to lose one last time.
Except they have a Super Bowl to lose.
A Hollywood ending: Rams 26, Bengals 20.