Achieving success in the NFL is hard. Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams, two franchises with one Championship win between them in 108 years combined.
Article originally published on 31/01/2022
So, it seems only fitting that after one of the wildest seasons in recent history it will be these two teams, the Rams and Bengals, who will face off for the biggest prize in the sport on 13th February in the NFL showpiece .
The Bengals play the role of underdogs, as they have done all year, and are 17/10 to win the franchise's first NFL Championship title, with the Rams 1/2 to capture the Vince Lombardi trophy at their home ground, SoFi Stadium.
While the Rams at least entered the season with Championship ambitions, no one expected the Bengals to be here having gone an NFL-worst 2-14 just two years ago. That dreadful run changed the course of the team though, allowing them to select quarterback Joe Burrow No.1 overall in the draft the next year.
It is Burrow who has led Cincinnati to this point, producing another composed performance that belies his years as the Bengals came from behind to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
The Chiefs had looked set to cruise to a third straight NFL Championship when 18 points up in the second quarter, only for Patrick Mahomes and the offence to go cold after half-time, scoring just three points. That allowed the Bengals to come all the way back - just like they did when beating the Chiefs in Week 17 of the regular season - as they took a 24-21 fourth quarter lead.
A Kansas City field goal as time expired took the game to overtime, where a Mahomes interception and an Evan McPherson field goal sealed a famous 27-24 win for the Bengals at Arrowhead.
While the Bengals can now look forward to a first NFL Championship in 33 years, the Chiefs are left wondering how this one got away. Kansas City were perfect in the first half, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives to take control of the game, only to fall off a cliff. Mahomes threw two interceptions and took four sacks after the break as Cincinnati adjusted their game plan to great effect.
An offence that had scored 42 points in each of its previous two playoff games mustered 83 net yards in the second half as for the second year in a row Kansas City's season ad a painful ending. The Chiefs will come again though with the majority of their star names, including Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, under contract for 2022.
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For a time in both conference championship games it appeared we were on course for a rematch of the 54th NFL Championship between the Chiefs and San Franciso 49ers. The Niners lead 17-7 in the fourth quarter of their NFC decider against the Rams, who had struggled to muster much on offence.
To that point, San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had defied those who said he’d cost his team a place in the NFL Championship. However, when it really counted, it was Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford who stood up to be counted, leading three scoring drives in the fourth quarter to secure a 20-17 win as Garoppolo cracked under the pressure.
In what was likely his last act as a Niner, Garoppolo threw a killer interception to end the game. The Niners had managed to overcome his previous two interceptions in the playoffs but this time blow proved fatal.
The 49ers will take heart from a strong end to the season that saw them win eight of their final 11 games and with exciting rookie Trey Lance waiting in the wings to succeed Garoppolo, the future looks bright.
That doesn't mean the defeat won't hurt for a while as the Rams snapped a six-game losing streak against their divisional rivals in the biggest possible spot. On the one year anniversary of his trade from the Detroit Lions to the Rams, Stafford showed why the LA outfit had given up multiple draft picks to bring him to California.
Stafford, with some help from the defence, steered the Rams second NFC title in four years and they'll hope for a far better NFL Championship showing with Stafford at quarterback than in 2018 when they meekly lost 13-3 to the New England Patriots.
The Rams have been pushing hard to get back to the season-decider since then, adding big-name talent like Odell Beckham Jr and Von Miller in an effort to secure the franchise a second NFL Championship title.
Now that dream is one game away from coming true, and in their own stadium too. The Buccaneers became the first team in NFL history to win a home NFL Championship last year and all they have to do is beat a Bengals team no one expected to be here. But in the shadow of Hollywood, don't expect Cincinnati to have read the script.
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