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NFL: 'Joe Chill' can swing NFL Championship

Only eight quarterbacks taken number one overall in NFL drafts have ever won a Championship but on Sunday a new name will join the elite list.

Article originally published on 08/02/2022

In 2009, the Detroit Lions used the first pick to select Matthew Stafford, with Joe Burrow taking the same route to the Cincinnati Bengals 11 years later.

Both were recognised as special talents at the time of their entries to the NFL and while it has taken Stafford far longer to get to the top of the mountain than Burrow after years of being held back by the Lions, the NFL showpiece is set to be a high-quality showdown from a quarterback perspective.

Stafford is 1/1 to end the night as the NFL Championship MVP, with Burrow a 9/4 chance to continue the long tradition of quarterbacks collecting the individual honour.

The performances of the quarterbacks will make or break the Championship hopes of the Rams and Bengals organisations, so what can we expect from Stafford and Burrow on the biggest stage of them all?

'Joe Chill' can stand the heat

Many a quarterback has tried and failed to turn around the fortunes of the Cincinnati Bengals since they last reached the world championship game in 1988. But only Burrow has had the desired effect, transforming the team from a 4-11-1 also-rans in his debut season to the best team in the AFC.

Burrow's maiden year in the NFL was cut short by a serious knee injury but you wouldn't know it to watch him play in 2021.

He finished the regular season with the highest pass completion percentage in the league (70.1) and has thrown 38 touchdowns to 16 interceptions across the entire campaign.

Burrow's ability to complete passes at such a high rate is all the more impressive given how little protection he gets from his offensive line - he was sacked nine times in the playoff win over the Tennessee Titans.

With so much heat from opposition defences coming at him all the time, it's no wonder he's earned the nickname 'Joe Chill' for his calmness under pressure.

He has stood tall when it really mattered this year and that's continued in the playoffs, leading two game-winning drives in the victories over the Titans and Kansas City Chiefs.

There's not much Burrow can't do but where he inevitably falls down against Stafford is his lack of experience having only played in 26 NFL games compared to Stafford's 188 starts.

Stafford finally getting the attention he deserves

Stafford has performed at a very high level in the majority of those starts but being on a Lions team that only made the playoffs three times in 11 years saw him often overlooked when discussing the NFL's top quarterbacks.

A move to the Los Angeles Rams last off-season changed all that as he finally joined a winning franchise, and he's thrived in his new surroundings.

Stafford has put his arm strength to good use this year, throwing 47 touchdowns in total and nearly 6,000 yards across the regular season and playoffs.

Stafford has slotted in seamlessly into head coach Sean McVay's system and has brought the best out of wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who leads the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns.

Stafford, like Burrow, has proven he can be counted on when the game is on the line too, leading 42 game-winning drives in his career and 34 fourth-quarter comebacks, the latest of which came in the NFC Championship game.

Stafford is a cool customer but his occasional habit of throwing interceptions - he has 18 on the year - and coughing up fumbles at the mostly costly moments make him difficult to trust completely.

His other flaw is his mobility or lack thereof. While Burrow is hardly a dual-threat quarterback, he does at least possess the ability to scramble, unlike Stafford, who is total a pocket passer.

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Bengals vulnerable up the middle

Stafford will hope he doesn't have to escape pressure too often behind a good Rams offensive line, leaving him free to hurt a Bengals defence that hasn't played the pass all that well.

Cincinnati's defence ranks 24th in DVOA against the pass this year and has been particularly vulnerable in the centre of the field, giving up the fourth-highest number of receptions to tight ends, who predominantly operate in that area.

The Bengals have shown the ability to make in-game adjustments to combat opponents and how Stafford deals with those will be key for the Rams.

They completely caught out Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship and Stafford will need to be careful he doesn't fall into the same trap.

Rams must change to combat Burrow

In contrast, the Rams' defence makes very few changes mid-match, ranking in the bottom three of the NFL in that regard.

If Burrow can find a soft spot, such as the middle of the field, where the Rams allowed an 80.2 competition percentage in the regular season, then he could exploit them time and time again.

The biggest issue for Burrow will be having the time to get his passes off with the Rams defence, led by Aaron Donald and Von Miller, racking up the third-highest number of sacks on the year.

Burrow could find himself with little time to get his passes off, although he's shown time and time again the ability to make something out for nothing when under pressure.

In a game of fine margins, Burrow's innate ability to come up with big plays at the right time could make all the difference to the Bengals' dream of a first NFL Championship win.

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