by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
Julian: Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals will take place Sunday, February 13 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., which happens to be the Rams home stadium. Both teams were the no. 4 seed in their respective conferences this postseason and according to the books the Rams are a 4.5 favorite. Let’s go position-by-position, Eric, and see which team has the advantage before we make our predictions. Let’s start with quarterback. Is it Matthew Stafford or Joe Borrow and why?
Eric: Both Stafford and Burrow are playing in their first Super Bowl. I feel like the advantage goes to Burrow because the bigger the games are, the cooler and calmer under pressure he is. While at LSU in 2019, he won big games on the road, at Texas and at Alabama and then in the playoff games, he turned it up a notch. Look at what he has done this year and during the playoff run win big games, won playoff games on the road. So, the biggest game of the season will not faze him. Stafford is good too but he is under big pressure because if the Rams, this might be the best and only shot to winning it all.
Julian: Joe Burrow sure does seem cool under pressure in the big games going back to his college days. He's also the most talented of the two QBs in this big game and he’ll wind up having the best career of the two. But, for this Super Bowl I'm giving the advantage to Matthew Stafford and he's the guy I'd want under center. There are two main reasons I'm giving Stafford the advantage: 1) his veteran leadership. Burrow may be cool under pressure, but I still want the vet in the Super Bowl. I could find out come Sunday night that I was completely wrong about this, but I feel like Stafford will be the less frazzled of the two. My second reason is truly the big reason I'd rather have Stafford over Burrow and that's the Bengals offensive line. All season long people were talking about how bad the Bengals O-Line was and how it's amazing Burrow wasn't getting hurt. Now that same O-Line is being tasked with stopping the best defensive player in the league in Aaron Donald, as well as Von Miller and Leonard Floyd. Good luck with that!
Julian: Let's look at the running games now. Joe Mixon carries most of the load for the Bengals, while the Rams have been using Cam Akers and Sony Michel with Darrell Henderson injured. Which team has the advantage here?
Eric: Rams. They have a good running game. Neither of their guys will rush for over a 100 yards each but with the Rams having a decent offensive line, they can rush the ball when they need to. While I like Mixon, he doesn't have the offensive line the Rams have so I am taking L.A for the running attack.
Julian: Even though I acknowledged the Bengals have a rough O-Line I was thinking Joe Mixon as a no-brainer for running back just based on overall numbers and talent. I had to rethink things a bit and Cam Akers and Sony Michael combined do have more rushing yards this postseason than Mixon, but it’s not by a large margin. I think I’m going to stick with Mixon here and give Cincy the advantage.
Julian: On to the receiving corps. The Rams have Cooper Kupp, who’s likely to get some MVP votes this season. They added Odell Beckham Jr. mid-season and he’s played well for them. They also will have either Tyler Higbee or Kendall Blanton at high end spending on Higbee’s injury status. Cincinnati has Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and CJ Uzomah. I think I know where this is going, but who has the advantage here.
Eric: Receiving is very close. I mean it is extremely difficult to choose because both corps are very good, very talented. Even though the Rams do not have Robert Woods, they are still great. But the loss of Woods hurts a little. The Bengals group is young and they will only get better. It is crazy to think Cincinnati let A.J Green go and still got better in the receiving position. Tough choice but I am going with the Rams because of Kupp and the rejuvenate OBJ.
Julian: I've got to give the nod to the Rams too. Cooper Kupp has had one of the all-time greatest receiving seasons in NFL history and if I had an MVP vote I would give it to him. The addition of Beckham, who some people thought was done when in Cleveland, has been terrific. He's shown he still has it. Ja'Marr Chase for the Bengals is an exciting receiver and I wouldn't be surprised to see some highlights from him in the big game, but I just can't look past Kupp and Beckman for L.A.
Julian: Do we even really need to discuss the better offensive line of these two teams as much as we've already talked about the Bengals O-Line? Am I being too hard on them, Eric?
Eric: You were fair for this. Joe Burrow was sacked nine times against Tennessee in the divisional playoffs. And he is over a year removed from a bad knee injury. The Bengals definitely need to upgrade their offensive line during the off-season and try to keep Burrow as close to clean as possible. It is already going to be tough for them to defend great defensive players such as Aaron Donald and Von Miller. I don't like the matchup for the Bengals in the trenches.
Julian: You mentioned two future Hall of Famers for the Rams in Aaron Donald and Von Miller. It’s time to discuss which team has the advantage when it comes to defense. Which team are you taking?
Eric: Rams. I know late in the season they had some tough games. But when you have the names of Donald, Miller, Ramsey, and Leonard Floyd. I don't know how the Bengals offensive line will hold against their interior rush. It will not be easy for Burrow and the Bengals offense to make plays. I think the Rams defensively will give Cincinnati problems.
Julian: The Rams defense gave up 21 points per game this season, which was 10th best in the league. Surprisingly the Bengals only gave up about 22 points per game, so there’s not a wide gap between the two. This could be why the Rams are only a four-point favorite. But those guys you named Donald, Miller, Jalen Ramsey, Floyd are just scarier than the opposition. I have to give the edge to the Rams here too.
Julian: Who has the special teams advantage?
Eric: Evan McPherson has kicked two game winning field goals in back to back games. He has ice water in his leg veins. He has come clutch for the Bengals all season. Matt Gay for the Rams is a decent kicker too. I feel both teams are confident in their kickers, but I am giving the advantage to Cincinnati in this one. It could come down to a kick for both teams.
Julian: Yes, it’s amazing to have so much confidence in a rookie kicker, but McPherson has proven his worth to Cincy this year. If I had to take one of these guys in a last second field goal attempt it would be McPherson.
Julian: Which team has the advantage when it comes to coaching? Rams with Sean McVay, who has been to the big game before, or the Bengals with Zac Taylor?
Eric: Zac Taylor was under Sean McVay with the Rams before becoming Bengals head coach. So, this will be student vs. pupil matchup. I have to give it to McVay. This will his second Super Bowl as a head coach. I believe he will do things differently than his first. I really think when McVay wins the Super Bowl, he is going to be in that top list of A coaches. He already is because his players love playing for him, but now all he needs is that Super Bowl title much like Andy Reid a couple of years ago.
Julian: So, we’ve given the Rams more advantages in the positional head to head matchups than the Bengals, does that mean the Rams are going to win the Super Bowl?
Eric: I believe the Rams will win the game but I think it will be close throughout. I don't want to bet against Joe Burrow, but the Rams are a better team overall than the Bengals. I will say the Rams defense will create a key turnover in the game that will the turning point in the game. Rams win 28-24.
Julian: I think you're pretty spot on with your prediction. I think the Rams will win Super Bowl LVI in a close, one possession game. It should be a fun game that goes down to the final minutes, if not seconds.