The final game has arrived. Super Bowl LVI. Rams “at” Bengals. The one for all the marbles. If anyone even knows what marbles are anymore.
For the year, I’m now 182-101-1. MDS is 179-104-1.
Our takes and picks for the last game of the year appear below. We agree on this one. Which makes me even more nervous about my selection.
MDS’s take: It’s tempting to treat Super Bowl LVI as little more than Matthew Stafford vs. Joe Burrow. Both teams’ quarterbacks have such compelling storylines. Stafford was the longtime quarterback in Detroit who could rarely even get to the playoffs, and could never win a playoff game, and now he’s one win from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Burrow was the first overall pick whose rookie season ended with a devastating knee injury, and now he has emerged in his second season as one of the NFL’s brightest young stars.
And yet I think the biggest difference in this game is going to be the contrast between the two teams’ defenses. The Rams have Aaron Donald, football’s best defensive player, as well as a former Super Bowl MVP in Von Miller, a cornerback they paid a fortune for in Jalen Ramsey, and one of the best stories in the NFL in the return of Eric Weddle. I think all four of those players are poised to make a significant impact, and I think Burrow may be in for a rough Sunday as his offensive line struggles to protect him.
The Bengals’ defense can put some pressure on Stafford too, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson will be a factor. But I don’t think the Bengals’ secondary is going to be stop Stafford from hitting Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham.
And so I see this as a game that’s competitive in the first half, but the Rams will pull away in the second as their defense puts pressure on Burrow, while their offense finds receivers open downfield. In the end this one won’t be close.
MDS’s pick: Rams 34, Bengals 20.
Florio’s take: It’s head versus heart. I’d like to see the Bengals win the game. I think the Rams will. After being burned far too many times this season by letting what I’d like to see cloud what I think we’ll see, I decided to rely on my head for this one.
The Rams are the better team. And if they don’t play like they did against the 49ers, they should easily. If they stumble around for most of the game, they’ll give the Bengals an opening -- and quarterback Joe Burrow will be inclined to take it.
L.A. coach Sean McVay surely knows this. He knows the importance of establishing a lead and then building on it. He has the players to make it happen. The offense is great, the defense is better. The pass rush can provide the kind of crippling pressure that we’ve seen plenty of Super Bowl champions generate.
That will be the difference. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, capping his eighth season and second shot at a Super Bowl win, will be relentless. He has the support on defense to get it done.
Then there’s the offense, where quarterback Matthew Stafford finally gets a shot at immortality, and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. caps years of frustration with the championship he has long coveted.
It’s time. It’s happening. The Bengals will have plenty of chances. For the Rams, this may be the lone moment where the planets align. They have. They will. The Rams will host a Lombardi for the second time in franchise history.
Florio’s pick: Rams 30, Bengals 21.