It’s the team that did everything in their power to get here against the team that nobody expected to be here.
The Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals will face off in Super Bowl LVI on February 13th and it is just the 15th time in history, plus only the second time since Sean McVay was hired in 2017. That day, McVay beat his former quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor 24-10 and Cooper Kupp set a career-high with 220 receiving yards. The Bengals started 0-11 that season and finished with the worst record in the NFL, which brought the gift of Joe Burrow in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Rams’ 2019 season also went worse than expected and it remains the only time that McVay has failed to lead the team to the postseason. Perhaps it was also the beginning of the end for Jared Goff, that one game against his former position coach notwithstanding, and not soon after Los Angeles traded for Matthew Stafford.
Both franchises had to take a step back before they could take two steps forward. Both teams came from behind in the second half of their conference championship games and will play for the Lombardi trophy in two weeks. There will be a lot covered between now and then, this is a starting plate for what to expect.
Sean McVay vs Zac Taylor
Zac Taylor couldn’t parlay his career as the quarterback at Nebraska into a career as an NFL player, but he paid some dues as an assistant at Texas A&M for four years before being hired by the Miami Dolphins as a quarterbacks coach in 2012. He was an offensive coordinator for the Dolphins by 2015, when he was just 32, and hired with Sean McVay’s first Rams staff in 2017.
With only just five games under his belt as an offensive coordinator total, Taylor was hired to be the head coach of the Bengals in 2019. He went 6-25-1 in his first two seasons but Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has proven to not be afraid of commitment and now Taylor has won three playoff games in his third season at the helm. Marvin Lewis spent 16 seasons as the head coach of the Bengals and went 0-7 in the playoffs.
Jared Goff went to the Super Bowl in his one season with Taylor as his quarterbacks coach and now Joe Burrow is in the Super Bowl in his second pro campaign. Taylor is doing something right.
Joe Burrow “vs” Matthew Stafford
They’ll be measured up against each other every day until the Super Bowl — and many more after that — so get used to the comparisons.
Burrow completed 366-of-520 passes (70%) for 4,611 yards, 34 TD, 14 INT, 8.9 Y/A, 108.3 rating
Stafford completed 404-of-601 passes (67%) for 4,886 yards, 41 TD, 17 INT, 8.1 Y/A, 102.9 rating
Picked first overall but 11 years apart, both Burrow and Stafford won their first career playoff game this postseason. Burrow went 23-of-38 for 250 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship. He is 75-of-109 in the playoffs for 842 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked nine times against the Titans in the divisional round.
Joe Burrow vs Matthew Stafford gotta be one of the most likable QB matchups in Super Bowl history.— Chris Castellani (@Castellani2014) January 31, 2022
Stafford went 31-of-45 for 337 yards, two touchdowns, one interception against the 49ers. He is now 72-of-100 for 905 yards, six touchdowns, one interception in the playoffs.
Jalen Ramsey against Ja’Marr Chase
The NFL’s best all-around defensive back against the best rookie receiver in NFL history.
Jalen Ramsey vs. Ja'Marr Chase will be a HELL of a matchup in the Super Bowl— Anthony Duckett (@a_duckett) January 31, 2022
Chase didn’t play football in 2020 but he had 101 yards in his NFL debut. Then 159 yards a month later. Then 201 yards two weeks after that. And he had 266 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Chiefs in the regular season. He scored another touchdown against Kansas City on Sunday, tying the game 21-21.
Chase had 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns in the regular season, and has 279 yards in his first three playoff games.
Jalen Ramsey is playing in his first career Super Bowl and he’s been lights out for most of the season, though there have been a few plays over the last two games that he’d like to have back. Cincinnati has three exceptional receivers with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd also starting for Taylor, so in reality the matchups will run much deeper than Chase vs. Ramsey.
Rams defensive line vs Bengals offensive line
Nine sacks allowed against the Titans.
Aaron Donald has the best case of anyone on the Rams for why this team is going to their second Super Bowl in four years. He finished the game against the 49ers and he’s putting together the best resume of any defensive player of at least the last couple of generations.
The Chiefs only sacked Burrow one time on Sunday, just the fourth time all year that he was sacked one or zero times. The Rams have a rather intimidating pass rush with Donald, Von Miller, Leonard Floyd, and Greg Gaines, but didn’t get to Jimmy Garoppolo in the NFC Championship.
Donald didn’t get a sack in his first Super Bowl. I can’t imagine that happening again.
Rams at SoFi Stadium
With one more important piece left to go, the 2021 Rams are no less doing a lot to be this year’s 2020 Buccaneers.
Go out and get the veteran quarterback; add a veteran star wide receiver midseason; go into the playoffs with a star-studded but overlooked roster; beat a division rival that had swept them in the regular season; reach the Super Bowl in the same year that the home stadium is hosting it.
#Rams dream was build the stadium and play in the first Super Bowl at SoFi. Mission accomplished. Rams are in the Super Bowl.— Fred Roggin (@FredNBCLA) January 31, 2022
The comparisons go on from there but it all culminates in the Los Angeles Rams fulfilling their dream of playing in the SoFi Super Bowl, Super Bowl LVI, Super Bowl 56, the 2022 Super Bowl of 2022. Now they need to win one more.
Odell Beckham Jr., Von Miller escape AFC for greener pastures and the Super Bowl
When the Rams traded for Von Miller, it seemed like people were comparing it more to a J.J. Watt-level acquisition. Miller had not played in 2020, which is easy to forget given how impactful he’s been in the postseason for the Rams.
Odell Beckham Jr was released by the Browns and bypassed on waivers by every team. Including a few that would have loved to have him in the playoffs this year, including against the Rams.
It will be Miller’s third Super Bowl appearance, a number that few former All-Pro and Super Bowl MVP players claim. It will be OBJ’s first appearance in the Super Bowl and coming off of his best all-around game in three years, he can ride this wave into the most unexpected free agency campaign of 2022.
Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr were classified as “all-in moves” but if the Rams win the next game that’s a) not a bad all-in and b) a good reason to consider staying.
Andrew Whitworth’s final game?
Imagine that Andrew Whitworth’s career, spanning the most snaps by a college player in NCAA history during a four-year run with LSU, followed by getting drafted by the Bengals in 2006 and ranking as one of their top-10 players of all-time, joins the Rams in 2017 and helps lead them to a Super Bowl appearance in year two, ranks 26th all-time in games played, finishes with a Super Bowl against Cincinnati.
Andrew Whitworth should go into the Hall of Fame one day, he shouldn’t be punished for not getting Pro Bowl votes while playing for the Bengals, and now he has a chance to add a Super Bowl ring at 40.