From the Bleachers: Super Bowl Edition
Baily Deeter gives a Super Bowl preview and picks Los Angeles to take home the Lombardi
Today is Feb. 10, which normally marks a sad time in the lives of people who spend way too much time watching football. Normally, the Super Bowl takes place during the first week of February, which leaves us scrambling to develop friendships, hobbies and goals to pass the time until Week 1 finally rolls around in September.
But luckily, thanks to the NFL’s genius (financially, at least) idea to add an extra week to the season, we now have an extra week before we have to get our lives in order. Super Bowl LVI will mark many firsts. It will be the first time an NFL game has been played past February 7. It will mark the first time the Cincinnati Bengals and Matthew Stafford have played February football. It will mark the first time either the Cincinnati Bengals or the Los Angeles Rams (the franchise’s only championship came in St. Louis) wins a Super Bowl. And it will mark the first time I win my Super Bowl prop bet pool, but not the last.
We have a lot to look forward to this coming Sunday. We may not have seen this Super Bowl coming in September, December, or even on championship Sunday. But somehow, the Bengals and Rams are here. Either Joe Burrow, who finished last season with a 4-11-1 record and a torn ACL, or Matthew Stafford, who won zero playoff games in his first 12 seasons in the league, will hold the Lombardi Trophy for the first time on Sunday.
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Cincinnati get blown out by Kansas City last weekend. When the Bengals fell behind 21-3, I started brainstorming productive activities I could do during the second half of what was destined to be a blowout. Instead, Cincinnati shocked the world, and I accomplished nothing during the second half — or in the few days after the game, as I poured through YouTube highlights.
It really didn’t make sense to me that Cincinnati won that game. Seven reputable NFL power ranking metrics all have the Bengals in the league’s upper-middle tier, but nowhere near the top; the average ranking for the Bengals in these rankings is 11.0. The NFL’s 11th-best team snuck out of the AFC, winning two road playoff games and beating Patrick Mahomes in the process.
But the Bengals aren’t winning these games on paper. They've won each of their three playoff games by a combined 13 points, thanks to clutch quarterback play and defense. I would say clutch kicking, but that doesn’t do Evan McPherson justice. The rookie, who is just eight months older than I am, has hit a remarkable 12 field goals this postseason, four in each playoff game. Three of those came from 50 or more yards, including buzzer-beaters in both the Divisional Round and the AFC Championship. Most importantly, he hasn’t missed. McPherson is a perfect example of why I am going to train my kids to become exceptional kickers, punters and long snappers from a young age so that I can have a Super Bowl ring in my family.
Cincinnati may not have the best roster on paper, but it has the Cinderella story that propelled teams like the 2007/2011 New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers to championship glory. It also has a quarterback who has proven to be clutch time and time again, and who proudly admits that he watches SpongeBob as an adult. That sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Its opponent, however, will present its greatest challenge yet. Kansas City had a formidable offense and quarterback, but its defense had nowhere near the starpower that the Rams have. Burrow was sacked nine times by the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round, but Kansas City’s anemic pass rush only brought him down once. Super Bowl L MVP Von Miller and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald might not take it so easy on Joe Shiesty.
On offense, Stafford has enjoyed a career renaissance in Sean McVay’s offense. Stafford has always been a good quarterback, but with Cooper Kupp suddenly becoming the best receiver in the league and Odell Beckham Jr. emerging as of late, the pieces are there for him to win his first ring. The Rams are a more talented team, the betting favorite, and a safe pick on Sunday.
So what should we expect on Super Sunday? We should expect the national anthem to go long, because it’s the Super Bowl and because SoFi Stadium gets loud. We should expect the coin toss to be heads, which is pretty obvious. We should expect Kendall Blanton to score a touchdown. Eminem will open the halftime show with “Without Me,” Drake will rep the Rams, and there will be a defensive touchdown. Book it.
As for the game itself, I’m taking the Rams to win 30-23. The Bengals have had an incredible run, but the Rams are the first team they’ve faced with both a great pass rush and a great passing game. The Rams have experience from making it to the big game three years ago, and that will serve McVay and company well down the stretch. Plus, it would only be fair for the five diehard Los Angeles Rams fans to finally win a ring after five long years of waiting.
Then, after the Rams clinch their second Lombardi Trophy, they’ll dump blue Gatorade on McVay. Book it.