By Ethan Herzog
A year ago today, if someone had said to you, “The Cincinnati Bengals are going to the Super Bowl,” you would have called them a mad man. Fast-forward to 2022, and that dream has become a reality. After an impressive, yet stressful stretch through the AFC Wildcard, Divisional, and Conference rounds, Joe Burrow and the Bengals are set to face off against Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams to determine who will be crowned world champion. This upcoming game may be the biggest road challenge yet, with hopes high for diehard fans and the Lombardi Trophy on the line. The defense is going to have to be ready to play just like the previous three playoffs games and the offensive line is going to have to step up big time.
To start off with an obvious key to this game, the Bengals’ offensive line must stand their ground against Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams front seven. The Rams’ defense has held teams to just under 334 yards per game in the regular season, and just under 275 yards per game this postseason. Aaron Donald alone also recorded 12.5 sacks in the regular season, along with 1.5 in the postseason, totaling up to 14 sacks. To say the Rams’ front seven is scary would be an understatement, with other veterans like Von Miller and Marquis Copeland. Cincinnati is going to have to find a way to allow Burrow enough time to make a pass or open a running lane for him to take as he did in the AFC Championship game versus the Chiefs.
Sticking with Bengals’ offensive keys, Burrow is going to have to utilize his other targets, much like the past few games. There is a high chance that there will, once again, be a double team on Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase, with Jalen Ramsey and Eric Weddle most likely being back in coverage. Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins will likely be in the spotlight this game, as will CJ Uzomah, who will most likely have limited playing time after recovering from the sprained MCL he suffered last week. The run game may not be as used on Sunday, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe Mixon find a seam or two up the field occasionally throughout this game. The short passing game will need to be utilized to try and pick apart this Ram’s secondary.
Flipping to the other side of the ball, the Bengals’ defense needs to do three things to succeed in this game. The first of which is forcing pressure on Matthew Stafford. Stafford has really come alive since being traded to the Rams, taking them to their second Super Bowl in four years, while being surrounded by very talented players. However, Stafford is not as mobile as say Patrick Mahomes, and even a simple three or four-man rush may be enough to bring pressure to Stafford. This leads me to my next key: the Bengals secondary is going to have to step up to cover the likes of Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. Dropping the seven or eight-man coverage would more likely than not be beneficial and would allow the pass rush to do what they did against the Chiefs offense. Locking down the receivers will leave Stafford with nowhere to go and would ultimately force sacks and throwaways. The third and possibly most important defensive key would be forcing turnovers. Every single playoff game this year has been decided by a crucial interception late in the game. With the Raiders and the Titans, it was with under a minute left. With the Chiefs, it was thirteen seconds into overtime. I see this game being no different than those matchups. Cincinnati will have to come up with big turnovers, which they lead with the most turnovers in the postseason (5), and would inevitably set up an Evan McPherson kick to win the game.
Final score prediction:
Bengals: 30 Rams: 27