This year’s Super Bowl matchup has taught us two things. One, quarterbacks are very important for winning in the National Football League (NFL). Two, making a good NFL team is super complex and sometimes makes no sense.
In Super Bowl 56, the Los Angeles Rams will face the Cincinnati Bengals on Feb. 13. These two teams faced tough roads to make it the biggest game of the year. The Bengals went through the American Football Conference (AFC) and had to beat the number one seeded Tennessee Titans in the first round and the number two seeded Kansas City Chiefs during their run. In the National Football Conference (NFC), the Rams had to beat Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers who beat them twice during the regular season.
The Bengals are led by quarterback Joe Burrow. In 2020, the Bengals drafted Joe Burrow with the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. Burrow had just completed one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time at Louisiana State University (LSU). Last year Burrow tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) after a promising start to his rookie season. This year he has only gotten better as the season has gone on. According to Pro-football Reference, Burrow had over 4500 passing yards and led the NFL in completion percentage. Part of this incredible offensive masterclass came due to the addition of Ja’Marr Chase, who was one of Burrow’s teammates on LSU. Chase had one of the greatest wide receiver seasons from a rookie ever. He had over 1000 yards receiving and was named to the All-Pro second team. This offensive dynamic duo is supplemented with wide receiver Tee Higgins and running back Joe Mixon. Higgins also had over 1000 yards receiving and Mixon had over 1200 yards rushing. These four players were part of one of the most dynamic offenses this season and could go toe-to-toe with any offense in the NFL. Just look at how they beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
The Rams aren’t slacking on offense either. Their quarterback Matthew Stafford was traded by the Detroit Lions to the Rams before the 2021-2022 season. This trade proved to be very good for the Rams as Stafford threw for almost 5000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. The Rams also have their own Chase. Rams’ wide receiver Cooper Kupp led the NFL in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and receptions. He also almost broke the single season record for receiving yards in a single season. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was signed out of free agency during the season, and he has had a career resurgence with the Rams. Beckham Jr. has had six touchdowns in 11 games with the Rams and he has only gotten better as the playoffs have progressed.
So, both teams have a good offense. Are their defenses at the same level? The Rams did not have the best statistical team defensively, but their defense is full of superstars that can easily take over a game. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald is possibly the best player in the NFL. Edge rusher Von Miller is going to go to the Hall of Fame as one of the best defensive players of all time. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey is the best cornerback in the NFL. Although the Rams defense may not be good, each of these players can instantly change the game and cause the opposition to have to completely change their game plan. The Bengals are very different but also very similar defensively. Cincinnati does not have as many superstars on defense compared to the Rams, however their team does play well as a whole. According to Pro-football Reference, edge rusher Trey Hendrickson led their team in sacks with 14. The rest of the defensive line is filled with solid players such as Sam Hubabrd and Larry Ogunjobi (however he is out for the season). Their secondary is led by free safety Jessie Bates, who was on the All-Pro second team in 2021. Overall, both teams do not have the best defense, however they both have the potential to cause high levels of disruption for the opposing offenses.
Although these two teams are very good overall, they both have very glaring weaknesses. The Bengals had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL this season. This was very evident against the Titans when Burrow was sacked nine times, which tied the playoff record for sacks in a game. Somehow, the Bengals won that game, however having your quarterback sacked that many times in a game is not a recipe for success. This is especially true as they must go against Miller and Donald who are some of the best pass rushers in the league. The Rams big weakness is also a strength. Stafford was very good to start the season, however down the stretch he started turning the ball over more. His lack of consistency recently may hurt the Rams if they go down big early.
These two teams are actually very similar as they have gone against normal ways of building a roster. The Bengals signed many players to moderately large contracts in free agency. Players like Hendrickson, cornerback Mike Hilton, Ogunjobi and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie have all made huge impacts on the team. Just two years ago, the Bengals were the worst team in the NFL and now they are one of the best. Even though the free agency signings were big, the addition of a full season of Burrow was what made the difference. As soon as Burrow played a full season, the offense was instantly one of the best in the league. He showed the importance of a good quarterback on a team. Stafford on the Rams also showed that. The Rams added big pieces to their roster via trade. They traded multiple draft picks for Miller and multiple first round draft picks for Stafford. These two trades alone have made big differences in how the Rams have functioned this season. The addition of Stafford made their passing offense one of the best in the league like Burrow’s situation. Teams normally do not get this good this quickly. Although the Rams have been good for multiple years, this year they appear to have all the star power they need to finally win a Super Bowl.
The last time the Rams won the Super Bowl was in 2000. Their most recent Super Bowl appearance was against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 53. The Bengals on the other hand have never won a Super Bowl. Before this year, the Bengals hadn’t won a playoff game in 31 years. Both teams are looking to make history and turn the tides for their franchise. Like every year, the players have something to fight for, but this year the Bengals are fighting for something bigger. More specifically, the Bengals are fighting for Harambe.
“That’s our guy, that’s our hero. We’re doing this for him,” said Hubbard when talking about Harambe.