by Sean O’Donnell | staff writer
Feb. 10, 2022
In a game that features two teams with drastically different paths, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams will face off at SoFi Stadium – the Rams’ home stadium — in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday evening.
A relevant storyline in the game, at least for Pittsburghers, is the fact that Aaron Donald and Tyler Boyd – former college teammates at the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 – will square off against one another. Donald is from nearby Penn Hills, Pa., while Boyd hails from Clairton, Pa.
For the Bengals, led by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, the script has finally been flipped. Prior to this year, Cincinnati had not won a postseason game since 1990 and hadn’t been to a Super Bowl since 1989.
Cincinnati was heavily doubted, even before the season started. In an AFC North division that returned three postseason teams from 2020, the outlook for the Bengals was bleak.
They managed to secure the AFC North crown at 10-7 and win three postseason games in as many weeks during their run. Cincinnati has adopted an “underdog” mentality.
That underdog narrative was on full display in the AFC Championship Game, when the Bengals trailed the Kansas City Chiefs 21-3 at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. Cincinnati found a way to lock in and limit the Chiefs to just one field goal the rest of the way, ultimately winning 27-24 in overtime.
After years of frustration, the franchise will look to win its first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
On the Rams’ side of things, success has become an expectation.
Los Angeles has made the postseason in four of the last five seasons, making it as far as the Super Bowl in February 2019, where it lost to the New England Patriots.
At the end of last season, the Rams decided a change was in order. They swung a franchise-altering trade, acquiring quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions. In 12 years in Detroit, Stafford had regular-season success but was never able to win a postseason game.
After a 7-1 start to the season, the Rams failed to win a game in November. However, the team responded to win five-straight games before falling to the San Francisco 49ers in the final regular-season game.
Los Angeles still managed to secure the NFC West crown. It went on to handle the Arizona Cardinals and upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before a rematch with the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Despite trailing 17-7, Los Angeles responded, scoring 13 unanswered points en route to a 20-17 comeback victory.
For Cincinnati to win, it will have to depend on the connection between Burrow and rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The two won a college football national title together while at LSU in 2020 and reunited after a year apart.
Burrow, who tore his ACL and MCL in November 2020, bounced back strong. He finished the regular season with 4,611 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. He isn’t just throwing for a lot of yards; he’s doing it with great accuracy. Burrow finished the regular season as the league’s completion-percentage leader among qualifying quarterbacks (70.4%).
The connection between Burrow and Chase didn’t miss a beat. Chase finished the regular season with 81 catches, 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. In three postseason games, Chase has hauled in an additional 279 yards. Keep an eye on this connection.
On Los Angeles’ side of things, it has its own bond between quarterback and star wide receiver. Stafford, who finished the regular season with almost 4,900 passing yards and 41 touchdowns, can rely heavily on Cooper Kupp. The receiver led the league in catches (145), receiving yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16) during the regular season.
That connection hasn’t stopped in the postseason. In three games, Kupp has caught 25 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns. In the Rams’ win over Tampa Bay, the two connected for a 44-yard completion with just seconds left that was directly followed by a game-ending field goal. If Los Angeles is going to win, expect to see a heavy dose of Kupp.
In a game abundant with storylines, this contest will cap off what’s been an unforgettable regular season and postseason for the league.