Previewing Super Bowl LVI

Joe DeBari
Sports Writer

When the NFL season began in September, many people had their predictions for who was going to make the Super Bowl and potential matchups for the big game. Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a popular pick to make it back to the Super Bowl after winning the championship in February 2021 at their home stadium in Tampa Bay. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs won the AFC last year and were a popular pick to be the AFC champion with Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills another team who was favored to break through to the Super Bowl after falling in the AFC Championship last season. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were another popular team to make the Super Bowl even with their string of recent playoff losses.

All four of those favorites made the playoffs with Rodgers and his Packers getting a first-round bye in the NFC. Brady and the Buccaneers took care of business in the Wild Card round at home against sophomore year quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles while Allen and the Bills dominated their division rivals the New England Patriots and rookie quarterback Mac Jones. Mahomes and the Chiefs beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home in what would be Ben Roethlisberger’s final game of his career. All four teams played in the divisional round but other strong teams from the regular season were also there. Derrick Henry had been the best player in the league until his injury at the end of the October and Tennessee’s defense had been heavily underrated. The Los Angeles Rams were considered a contender heading into the season especially with their acquisition of quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions and midseason acquisitions of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr and linebacker Von Miller from the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos, respectively. The Cincinnati Bengals were the upstart team of the season with sophomore year quarterback Joe Burrow returning from injury and joined by his college teammate at LSU, rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

The divisional round of this year’s NFL playoffs was one of the most exciting weekends of NFL playoff history with three of the four games ending on game winning kicks and the fourth going to overtime. The first game saw Burrow and the Bengals defeat Henry and the Titans in Henry’s first game in his return from the foot injury he suffered in October. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson made the game winning kick to send the Bengals to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1989. Rodgers and the Packers suffered yet another early exit from the playoffs when the San Francisco 49ers upset the Packers in freezing temperatures at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. The Rams played Brady and the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay in what ended up being an excellent game. The Rams were up 27-3 early in the third quarter but Brady led the Bucs to a miraculous comeback reminiscent of the Patriots comeback in Super Bowl LI when Brady and the Patriots were down 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons in the second half but Brady led them to a comeback to win the game in overtime. However, Stafford and the Rams did not let Brady and the Buccaneers complete their comeback when Stafford found Pro Bowl wide receiver Cooper Kupp for a 44-yard catch to set up Matt Gay’s winning kick, which would send the Rams to the NFC Championship and end Brady’s illustrious NFL career as he retired a few weeks later. The Bills and Chiefs played each other in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game from the previous season. Allen and Mahomes matched each other step for step but when Mahomes and the Chiefs won the coin toss in overtime, Mahomes found Travis Kelce for the game winning touchdown, not giving Allen the chance to try to get the Bills back to the AFC Championship Game.

When the Bengals played the Chiefs in Kansas City for the AFC Championship Game, Burrow and the Bengals were massive underdogs as many expected Mahomes to lead the Chiefs to their third straight Super Bowl. That seemed even more likely when Kansas City was up 21-3 at halftime. But Burrow and the Bengals erased the deficit for another game winning kick by McPherson sending the improbable Bengals to the Super Bowl in Burrow’s only second year in the NFL. The Rams took care of business against the 49ers in Los Angeles even though there were more 49ers fans in the stands than Rams fans, making the game feel like a 49ers home game. Jimmy Garoppolo tried to lead the Niners to a game tying drive late in the fourth, but Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Miller led the excellent Rams defense to the stop they needed sending them to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years.

Sophomore Quarterback Joe Burrow (pictured) is no stranger to big games, winning a National Championship with his alma mater, LSU (Photo courtesy of Google Images)

The Super Bowl will be between the Bengals and the Rams at SoFi Stadium in LA. Some people thought the Rams had a chance to make the Super Bowl after their acquisition of Stafford last offseason and even more thought so after the acquisitions of Miller and Beckham midseason. The Bengals were expected to still be rebuilding with Burrow and Chase as key pieces for the future, not a Super Bowl run as early as this year. The Bengals earned their way to the Super Bowl by winning the difficult AFC North in a year where Lamar Jackson and his Baltimore Ravens, Beckham and the Browns, and Roethlisberger and the Steelers were all expected to have better chances at winning the division. The Bengals then beat Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders, as well as the Titans and the Chiefs to win the AFC. Burrow is now playing in the big game with a chance to win a Super Bowl and he has an excellent offensive unit to work with. Chase lived up to the hype that Bengals fans had when Cincinnati reunited Chase with his college quarterback at LSU even when many expected the Bengals to strengthen their weak offensive line with offensive lineup Penei Sewell who ended being drafted by Detroit. Burrow also has two dynamic other young receivers in Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins who had injury problems in previous seasons but were able to stay healthy this season to give Burrow the support he needed. Running back Joe Mixon and tight end CJ Uzomah are also key pieces of the Bengals offense. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson who Cincinnati signed away from the New Orleans Saints last offseason leads an underrated Bengals defense.

The Rams defense may be even stronger than the Bengals though. Donald, Ramsey, Miller, and linebacker Leonard Floyd leads the Rams strong defense. The Bengals offensive line continued to be a weakness for the Bengals with Burrow constantly having to scramble to not get sacked, highlighted by the game against the Titans where he was sacked nine times. That will be a problem for the Bengals in the Super Bowl against the Rams stout defensive line. Ramsey will have a tougher time as he should have to cover Chase in what could be the biggest individual matchup of the Super Bowl between a premier cornerback and an excellent receiver. If Ramsey is able to cover Chase well, Burrow may have to focus on getting the ball to Higgins and Boyd instead. The Bengals will have a tough task with the Rams offense as well. Covering Cooper Kupp has been a problem for all NFL teams this year as he has been the best receiver in football. Beckham Jr has been an excellent addition to the Rams offense as well. Stafford also uses running backs Cam Akers, Sony Michel, and Darrell Henderson, wide receiver Van Jefferson, and tight end Tyler Higbee.

This will be the second straight year that a team has hosted the Super Bowl with the game being in LA at the home stadium of the Rams. Brady and the Buccaneers also played the Super Bowl in their home stadium in Tampa Bay last year when they defeated Mahomes and the Chiefs. Super Bowl host stadiums are usually decided years in advance. The Super Bowl in 2023 will be in Arizona, followed by Las Vegas in 2024, and New Orleans in 2025. The Super Bowl had never had the home city have their team in the Super Bowl until the Buccaneers did it last year, making it even more crazy that it is now happening in back-to-back years. But will the Rams be able to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium like Tampa Bay did last year? Or will Burrow and Cincinnati complete their miraculous season with a Super Bowl victory? It will be decided in LA on February 13th (the latest Super Bowl in NFL history since the NFL regular season was expanded to 18 weeks this year for the first time). Regardless of who wins, this has been one of the most exciting NFL seasons in recent memory and one of these teams will be able to finish what they started.


Contact Joe at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest