By: Brandon Silva
The big game has finally arrived after a dreaded week off of football, sorry the pro bowl just doesn’t count. The Bengals and the Rams will clash this Sunday at SoFi stadium. This highly anticipated matchup between the Joe Burrow-led Bengals and the Matthew Stafford-led Rams is expected to be a headbanger. The Rams have been listed as a 4-4.5 point favorite for this game. Is that too much though? I think it is. The Bengals continuously are being placed as the underdog and have been getting overlooked these entire playoffs.
The Bengals have a legitimate shot to win this game and shock the world. The last place projected AFC North team has surprised the league with how fast they have emerged as a contender and will look to get the job done this Sunday. With Joe Burrow under center, they feel extremely confident that he will be able to lead Cincinnati to their first Super Bowl victory. Zac Taylor has done an incredible job transforming this team and getting the best out of his guys. Burrow has emerged as a top 10 quarterback in just his second season in the league. Paired with his old LSU WR Ja’marr Chase they make up the most intriguing duo of QB-WR for years to come. On draft day many thought the “right pick” was OT Penei Sewell based on the abysmal protection the Bengals had the prior season. I think at this point it’s very safe to say the Bengals made the right choice pairing the WR with his old QB. In addition to having Chase, the Bengals also have Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Two very good receivers who have been undervalued due to the stardom of Chase. Higgins and Boyd will end up being the key factors in this game as it’s expected that Ramsey should stay matched up on Chase. Higgins hauled in 6 catches for 103 yards against the Chiefs and had 7 catches for 96 yards against the Titans. I expect Higgins to be the X-Factor in this game and the one who really opens up the passing game. Tyler Boyd’s stats haven’t been anything pretty these playoffs, but he’s still a key contributor to this offense and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Although he is the clear WR3, he will be a crucial part of the Bengals game plan and has always been reliable as a player who makes clutch plays. One key question the Bengals have is will they have their leading receiver at the tight end position, C.J. Uzomah. Uzomah has been critical to this offense in the playoffs bringing in 6+ catches for 60+ yards in both games he was able to complete. He got injured in the KC game and was unable to return. He pulled the legendary move of removing his leg brace to hype up the Cincinnati crowd and is on track to play. The last key to this offense lies in the hands of tailback Joe Mixon. Mixon is in for a tough matchup against the 1st ranked Rams run defense. He may have a rough time pounding the rock, but I look for him to be used in surplus in the passing game. It’s no secret the Bengals' offensive line is no match for the Rams defensive line. Mixon will be featured in the screen and check-down game. Expect for Mixon to have 5+ receptions in this game. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals have been led by edge rusher Trey Hendrickson and Safety Jessie Bates. The Bengals defense has been a turnover machine and will need to do the same thing this week against Matthew Stafford who usually has one bad interception. He’s cleaned it up during the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Bengals get a crucial interception in a key moment. It’d be wrong for me to not mention maybe the most important player on the team right now, Evan “Shooter” McPherson. This 5th round pick has been PERFECT so far in the playoffs making 12/12 of his kicks. The rookie kicker seems to welcome the pressure of the moment and that is something the Bengals will need to embrace in this game. The Bengals have the players to win this game and with the hype surrounding this team, I think they have a real shot.
This Rams roster has been built for this exact game. They went all in and quite frankly their season would be considered a bust if they’re unable to walk away without a victory in their home stadium. Sean McVay has returned to the biggest stage and is looking to avenge his prior Super Bowl loss in which his entire team was lackluster. The Rams traded for Matthew Stafford a little over a year ago and in his first season as LA’s QB he has taken them to the Super Bowl. He never won a playoff game before this season in his career with Detroit, but he has yet to lose as a Ram. Stafford has been exactly what the Rams have needed at the position. It helps when he’s been partnered with the best WR in the league this season Cooper Kupp. Kupp has shattered every record in the books this year and has emerged as a clear top receiver in this league. In this playoffs alone he already has 25 catches for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has been flat-out unguardable due to his quickness and ability to read a defense. Kupp will give the Bengals defense problems all night and their first priority will be attempting to slow him down, which at this rate I’m not too sure is possible. The Rams were able to pair Kupp with OBJ. Odell has been a spotlight in the Rams offense and will need to continue playing like his old self. He had 9 catches for 113 yards in the NFC championship and it appeared that the bond with Stafford has been fully developed. Including Van Jefferson in this, the Rams have a very dangerous trio of their own. Quick shoutout to Robert “Bobby Trees” Woods who would’ve made this offense even more dangerous. The Rams also should get Tyler Higbee back for this one so they should be at full strength. The Rams running game will be a little more complicated between Cam Akers and Sony Michel. Akers has taken over the lead back role since returning from his injury. Akers has received 13+ carries in each game these playoffs and has yet to do anything with them. He is yet to eclipse 55+ yards and hasn't scored yet. Sony was great during the regular season but has also struggled during the postseason. They will need to get the running game going. The Rams' defense is where they have the best chance to win this game. I expect them to get to the quarterback early and often. The more pressure they can create the better their chances are. This effort will be headlined by Aaron Donald and Von Miller. Donald may be the best player in the entire league and has certainly been treated like it by the opposition. He’s been double-teamed 66% of the time this season. What’s even more amazing is that he’s won 26% of those matchups. Starting safety Taylor Rapp is expected to return and share the field with Eric Weddle. The Rams will be the away team in their own building but have still been marked as the favorite to win this game. If their defense can perform the way it has all year and the moment isn’t too big for Matthew Stafford, then they should come out victorious.
This will be a memorable game that is played this Sunday. The kid phenom is looking to lead the team to the promised land. Stafford is looking to win his first Super Bowl. As I previously mentioned the Rams have been marked as a 4-4.5 point favorite in this game and understandably so. I think the hype surrounding the Bengals is legit and that this is simply too many points. The safe bet is to take the Bengals +4.5, but I predict that they will win this game outright by a score of 34-31 on a Mcpherson field goal. That’s been the story of this playoffs and I expect more of the same. #WHODEY