I’m not sure when a more surprising team than this year’s Cincinnati Bengals made the Super Bowl. Maybe the Arizona Cardinals in 2009, or the Tennessee Titans in 2000, when they pulled off the Music City Miracle. The preseason odds on the Bengals to make it to the Super Bowl were 75-1, and more than 125-1 to win it.
Even until late in the season, the Bengals were no sure thing to make the playoffs, then when they got there, they had to survive a last-second pass in the end zone by the Raiders, needed an interception in overtime to set up the winning field goal over Tennessee, and then somehow overcame the coin flip and picked off Patrick Mahomes in overtime in Kansas City.
But here they are, and with Joe Burrow playing like an absolute magician, they have a legitimate chance to win it.
The Rams came on strong down the stretch of the regular season, looking like they might be the best team in the league for a few weeks, then with a chance to win the division, lost at home to the 49ers. For the first game and a half in the playoffs, they looked like the team that steamrolled through the last third of the regular season, but then nearly collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Buccs. They were thoroughly outplayed by the 49ers for most of the NFC Championship game, except for their dominant defensive line, which is what ultimately enabled them to come back from a 17-7 deficit in the fourth quarter.
It's that defensive line that I think is the difference in this game. Burrow was sacked nine times by the Titans and seven times by the Chiefs, and the Rams’ pass rush is superior to both of them, and even more importantly, the Rams’ pressure comes from up the middle, where Aaron Donald is the best interior rusher in the game. He sometimes lines up outside, or loops around the end on stunts, but for a team that struggles to protect the QB, the Bengals are going to have a hard time protecting Burrow.
However, among other things, he is elite at keeping his eyes downfield while he shuffles through the pocket, and he has the best wide receiver trio in the game to throw to.
Outside of their passing game, the Bengals are ordinary in most other aspects of the game. But the NFL is a passing league, and Burrow can connect on big plays and keep drives moving with his feet.
These are two teams with quick-strike abilities, and both teams are likely to attack if they have the ball late in the first half. I expect this game to be a battle, and I’ll take Bengals +4 and over the 49ers.
As for the litany of props, if the game is tight, then there is the value there will be a lead change in the 4th quarter (+250).
I see Matt Stafford as Jimmy Garoppolo with a bigger arm, meaning he makes several head-scratching decisions per game. He’s thrown at least one interception in 12 games this season, and he’s thrown multiple interceptions five times, so I’ll lay -140 on him to throw at least one interception in the Super Bowl.
The line on the number of passes Stafford will throw is 35, which he has exceeded 11 times this season, But I think the Rams can run the ball on the Bengals, so I’ll take the +135 on under 35 pass attempts by Stafford.
Because of the Rams’ pass rush, I think the Bengals will counter by trying to use the running backs on screens and check-downs, so I’ll take Joe Mixon over 25.5 yards and Semaje Perine over 11.5.
Also, if the game is close and goes over the total, then that means the Bengals will have gone over their team total of 21.5, so I’ll lay -115 on that as well.