Black Quarterback — Super Bowl LVI Preview
By Brandon Simmons
Super Bowl LVI will take place under the bright lights of Hollywood, as the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles will face each other in a blockbuster matchup of offensive powerhouses. Neither has problems with scoring, as both sides have weapons all over the place, but their main attraction is the receiving group. Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp led the league in receiving categories such as yards, touchdowns and receptions and almost broke the single-season record for receiving yards. Bengals rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has carved out his record-breaking path this season. Chase set the single season for receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. These 2 receivers are draw most of the attention for themselves, but they are just the tip of the iceberg for their teams.
The Cincinnati Bengals have ruled this playoff habitat as underdogs but they also overcame the odds during the regular season. Cincy won the AFC North, beating out the divisional opponents who were picked to win it over them. However, it wasn’t just Ja’Marr Chase and his historic receiving accolades pushing this team forward. After a knee injury cut his season Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has solidified his spot as the franchise QB and is quickly becoming one of the rising stars in the NFL. As much as fans love his swag, they also love his game. This postseason he has been impressive, including leading Cincy on a comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship. While not much has been said about the Bengals defensively, this is still a unit that can be impactful when needed. In that same conference title game, the Bengals came up with 2 crucial interceptions — 1 in the 3rd quarter and the other in overtime — to set up scores, the latter prompting the game winning field goal. This team might be young, and inexperienced playoff-wise, but they are far from fearful.
The Los Angeles Rams have sort of been expected to host the Super Bowl this season, thanks to a variety of moves during the season, but especially one that happened before last season finished. In January 2021, the Rams traded quarterback Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions in exchange for quarterback Matthew Stafford. It was a rare swap of former number one overall picks that changed the fate of the Rams for the immediate future. But that wasn’t their only pickup this season. At the trade deadline, they acquired linebacker Von Miller from the Denver Broncos; right after that, they claimed wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. off waivers. The in-season additions were added to an already talented group on both sides of the ball. This was demonstrated in their 34–11 Wild Card blowout against the Arizona Cardinals.
The thing that drives this Bengals team is their offense. Joe Burrow has plenty of weapons to spread the ball around to. Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins has become a favorite alternate to Ja’Marr Chase. The dark horse of this unit is running back Joe Mixon. The former Oklahoma Sooner has been solid in the run game, as he is 3rd in the league in rushing. However, Burrow might be the catalyst for any chance of this team’s success. The Bengals have been put in some tough situations in these playoffs, including overcoming an 11 point deficit on the road to the Chiefs. Things are likely going to get tough for the Bengals in this game, considering they will be in the Rams’ home stadium.
It’s no secret that the Rams that the Rams have been all about offense under head coach Sean McVay, but it seems that things have been taken to another level with the addition of Matthew Stafford. Stafford has played some of the best football of his career, including an impressive postseason run which has included him throwing for 6 touchdowns and 1 pick. He has certainly been impressive in the last 2 games, both which include 2 clutch throws to Cooper Kupp in the 4th quarter.
The Los Angeles Rams are going to enjoy a win this Sunday in a shootout against the explosive Cincinnati Bengals. The one factor that is going to be the difference is something that has been glossed over in this post: pass rush. That is where the Rams have the advantage, and also the place where they can potentially smell blood. Burrow has been amazing this year, and in this postseason, but his protection not so much. He got sacked 50 times in the regular season, which was the most in the league, and has taken 12 sacks in the playoffs, including 9 in the divisional round against the Tennessee Titans. When you put that against a Rams team that is 3rd in the league in sacks overall, in addition to featuring the duo of defensive lineman Aaron Donald and linebacker Von Miller, your QB is going to have a long day — likely most of it being on his back. It still will boil down to which QB can not only make the most plays, but the clutch plays and so far, Stafford has demonstrated he can do that. In the game against the Bucs, the Rams were almost a victim of another Tom Brady comeback until Stafford launched a deep pass to Kupp to set up the game winning field goal. The irony in that sentence is that plenty of sports takes have often referred to the Bengals as “not knowing what they’re supposed to know”, implying that they have defied the expectations that are set for an inexperienced team such as themselves, but the same can be applied to Stafford. Stafford has not won a playoff game his entire career before this season, so for him to play the way he has, is defying the expectations set for him and his resume. But you can expect him to add his first championship to that resume.