The NFL has been a stage for many a classic Cinderella story but a Cincinnati Bengals victory over the Los Angeles Rams in 'the greatest show on turf' LVI would top the lot.
Article originally published on 10/02/2022
Few gave the Bengals a chance entering 2021 off the back of six wins over the last two seasons and with superstar quarterback Joe Burrow having suffered a serious knee injury the year before.
But Cincinnati have made a mockery of their 175/1 pre-season odds to win a first-ever NFL Championship and now all that stands between them and the Vince Lombardi Trophy are the Rams.
The best and the brightest the NFL has to offer have come to Los Angeles to help deliver a second title for the Rams, who are 1/2 to make good on their investment in an array of superstars.
Not only do the Rams look to have the superior roster, but they also have home advantage. One year on from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers becoming the first team to play in and win a Championship on their own turf, the Rams will be out to repeat the trick at SoFi Stadium, with all the action on the Sports Live Streaming platform.
The odds, therefore, appear stacked against the 4.5-point underdog Bengals, but as this season has shown, that's just the way they like it.
The analytics paint the Bengals as a middle of the road team, their offence ranking 13th and defence 18th, and yet the results tell a different tale. Cincinnati finished top of a competitive AFC North with a 10-7 record before ending a 31-year winless run in the playoffs when defeating the Las Vegas Raiders in the wild card round.
That would have been enough to mark a successful season but Burrow and co weren't finished yet, overcoming their quarterback being sacked nine times to beat the AFC's number one seed, the Tenessee Titans, on the road in the divisional round. The crowning glory came in the AFC Championship game, the Bengals coming from 21-3 down to eliminate the reigning conference champions the Kansas City Chiefs.
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Burrow seems to relish the challenge of taking down the NFL's big dogs, going 12-4 against the spread when facing teams with winning records in his brief NFL career. His positive mindset, established during a highly successful college career, has changed the outlook of the whole franchise, who Burrow is happy to have put on his shoulders in only his second year in the NFL.
Burrow has thrived as the main man for the Bengals, finishing the regular season with the highest pass completion percentage in the NFL, while maximising the talents of explosive receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.
The Bengals are trying to get the 25-year-old as much help as possible but one area they haven't figured out is keeping him upright. The offensive line allowed Burrow to be sacked a league-high 51 times and now he goes up against one of the best pass-rushing groups in the NFL.
The Rams have built a formidable defensive line, led by Aaron Donald and Von Miller. They've racked up 50 quarterback sacks, with Donald having 14 sacks to his name. If the Bengals can't slow Donald down, he could outperform his odds of 14/1 to win the NFL Championship MVP title.
Despite the presence of Donald and Miller, the Rams defence only ranks 17th in the NFL and has been carried at times by the work of the offence. Having seen their NFL Championship dreams dashed three years ago by an inadequate quarterback in Jared Goff, the Rams moved to bring in Matthew Stafford this year and the trade has paid off.
Stafford has proved a perfect fit in Sean McVay's offence, throwing for 47 touchdowns and close to 6,000 yards while forming an instant connection with the league's leading wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Stafford has also reignited Odell Beckham Jr's career after his arrival mid-season and the duo will spearhead the Rams attack.
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Having been 0-3 in the playoffs during an 11-year stay with the Detroit Lions, Stafford has thrived in his new surroundings. However, he will need to be wary of a Bengals defence that has improved as the playoffs have gone progressed. Cincy's defence has recorded seven turnovers in the postseason and held the Chiefs to just three points in the second half of the AFC Championship.
The Bengals defence is scrappy and have proven they can hang in the fight, helping them cover the handicap in seven straight games heading into the NFL Championship. With Burrow proving unflappable on the other side of the ball, they won't be easy for the Rams to shake off.
Los Angeles may well need their defence to make some big plays if they are to claim the Lombardi trophy and the sieve-like Bengals offensive line against Donald and co is likely to be where the NFL Championship is decided.
With both defences proving they can limit the opposition, it could prove a tight title decider with under 48.5 points available at 10/11. The points total has gone under consistently in games where the Rams have been favourites in the McVay era, while the scoring has been on the low side in the Bengals' last four games.
A dramatic NFL season deserves a tense finale and that's what the Bengals and Rams are fixing to serve up on Sunday.
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