The Super Bowl LVI matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals features multiple feel-good storylines, most notably at the quarterback position.
Let's start with the Bengals, who have improbably made it to the NFL's ultimate stage just one year after winning four games. Much of Cincinnati's success this season has to do with the emergence of Joe Burrow, who has blossomed into one of the league's elite young talents at the quarterback position. One year after tearing his ACL and MCL, Burrow knocked off Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs
For the Rams, quarterback Matt Stafford is headed to his first Super Bowl in Year 13 of his career. The No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford spent 12 seasons filling up the stat sheet in Detroit, only for the Lions to never win a playoff game with Stafford under center. On the one-year anniversary of Stafford's trade to Los Angeles, the 33-year-old led the Rams to a double-digit fourth-quarter comeback over division rival San Francisco to send LA to the Super Bowl.
For many Washington Football Team fans sitting at home watching Sunday's excellent slate of football, the only thought going through their heads was "what if."
In 2019, Washington finished the year with just three wins -- the second-worst record in the NFL. The Burgundy and Gold's three victories that season came over Miami (who was winless at the time), the Lions (who finished 3-12-1), and the Panthers, who fired their head coach two days after the game. Had one of those games gone in the opponent's favor, Washington would have finished with just two wins and the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
If Washington had the No. 1 overall pick, there's a strong chance Burrow would have been the choice. The former LSU star was coming off a Heisman Trophy, record-breaking season and a national championship. Washington's QB room was murky at best at the time, as the team was still trying to figure out what it had in Dwayne Haskins.
Before Washington hosted the Bengals in November of 2020, head coach Ron Rivera said that the only player Washington would have selected besides pass rusher Chase Young at No. 2 overall was Burrow. Of course, they didn't get that option.
"We think Joe is the full package. We really do. We think Chase [Young] is the full package. Depending on what Cincinnati did, that's what we were going to do, the opposite," Rivera said to Cincinnati reporters in November of 2020. "We didn’t think we would lose out either way. We really didn’t. We think both players are going to be great players and have great careers and we’re fired up that we have Chase."
While Young had a strong rookie season and still has All-Pro level potential, even the best pass rushers in the NFL can't impact a franchise the way a standout QB can. Just look what Burrow has done in Cincinnati, turning a two-win team in 2019 to a Super Bowl-bound club in 2021. If Burrow had been available during the draft, he's who Washington would have selected.
The reality is, though, that Washington's path to landing Burrow requires a lot more "ifs" than anything. Once Cincinnati got the No. 1 pick, the choice was clear. The Bengals reportedly even turned down three first-round picks from Miami -- including the No. 5 overall pick in the draft that year -- for the No.1 overall selection. Cinci was going to get their guy.
With Stafford, Washington had a much more legit chance of landing him -- until the Rams got in the mix. Washington reportedly offered a first- and third-round pick to Detroit for Stafford, a strong package nonetheless. However, once the Rams offered Detroit two firsts, a third-rounder and quarterback Jared Goff in return, Washington's offer was no longer realistic.
The lure of playing under head coach Sean McVay in LA also appealed to Stafford, as the Rams quickly became his top choice once they entered the sweepstakes. Detroit wanted to do right by its franchise QB, so the Lions worked out a deal that sent Stafford to the team he wanted to play for.
In Stafford's first year with the Rams (and away from Detroit), he tied a career-high of 41 touchdown passes and threw for over 4,800 yards. Stafford has stepped up big for the Rams during the postseason, throwing for 905 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception during the three-game winning streak. After never winning a postseason game over the first 12 years of his career, Stafford is now headed to his first Super Bowl.
Of course, there's no guarantee that Washington would be in either the Rams or Bengals position had they landed Stafford or Burrow. While having a franchise quarterback is the most important piece to winning consistently in the NFL, there are plenty of other factors that come into play.
Consider this: Aaron Rodgers has been a top-3 QB for over a decade and has just one Super Bowl. Patrick Mahomes has just one ring despite four straight AFC Championship appearances. Russell Wilson only has one title. Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott have never been to a Super Bowl. And, if Tom Brady does end up retiring, only one active QB in the NFL, Jimmy Garoppolo, will have multiple rings. Both came as a backup to Brady in New England.
It's hard to win in the NFL, even if you have a franchise quarterback. But, as history shows, it's a lot easier to win when you do have a standout under center.
So, when Stafford's Rams and Burrow's Bengals face one another at SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13, expect high-quality football from both quarterbacks. While it's fair for Washington fans to think "what if" when watching both quarterbacks in the big game, it should also amplify the pressure for Washington to find that franchise signal-caller this offseason.