So while Cincinnati needs everything to go right in order to win, the Rams will need everything to go wrong in order to lose. So let’s get to why Los Angeles will win.
No. 1: Aaron Donald
You know how good Aaron Donald is, everyone knows how good Aaron Donald is. There’s a reason he’s well on his way to being regarded as one of the best defensive players in NFL history, and it’s because he’s able to create unreal production from the defensive tackle position.
Not to take anything away from Donald’s speed, strength or drive, but he’s also a player who has really benefitted from offensive changes to the NFL. Interior linemen have been valued less around the league as teams focused on the pass and reduced the focus on the run. Salary cap has been spent on tackles for years now, with guard becoming more or less an afterthought for a lot of teams.
So, when the whole league is loading up to deal with edge rushers, they leave themselves open for an elite pass rushing defensive tackle. Fast forward and that’s part of the reason Donald had 12.5 sacks this season and tore teams apart.
The team that had the most success beating the Rams was the 49ers, with two regular season wins and a very narrow loss in the NFC Championship. Know what they have? A Pro Bowl guard in Laken Tomlinson, a Pro Bowl center in Alex Mack, and another decent interior lineman in Daniel Brunskill. Having talent in the middle is the only hope of shutting down Donald, and even then you need to double him.
Know what the Bengals don’t have? Interior offensive line talent. In the Divisional Playoff round Titans’ defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons recorded three sacks to lead the team. This means that unless Cincinnati has a way to adjust, Donald is going to eat, and eat well in the Super Bowl.
No. 2: Lockdown corner Jalen Ramsey
So if you’re Joe Burrow you know that Aaron Donald is going to be in your face for a lot of the game. There’s not much you can really do about it, so the plan has to be to throw shorter routes and get the ball out as quickly as possible to mitigate the interior rush.
Now, this normally isn’t an issue for Cincinnati, who have elite wide receivers who can take the ball up field with yards after the catch. However, Jalen Ramsey not only has the ability to keep up with Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but the physicality not to get bumped off the line of scrimmage. Add in the ability to jump routes and make plays on the ball from a QB who is desperately trying not to get driven into the dirt, and there’s a strong possibility Ramsey can win his matchup and dominate from the outside.
No. 3: The Stafford/Kupp connection
The Rams are a very different team from their last Super Bowl appearance, but no area is this more pronounced that quarterback. Los Angeles realized Jared Goff wasn’t going to be able to take them to the highest level, and saw the potential of getting Matthew Stafford to fill that role.
I maintain this was still a mutually beneficial trade for both sides, but there’s no doubt that Stafford has become on of the biggest difference makers in the NFL this season. He’s taken the Rams from being very good, and put them in the Super Bowl. Nobody singularly has benefitted more than Cooper Kupp.
Kupp went from being a decent receiver to the best in the NFL without much question. He and Stafford are just in sync whether it’s on deep passes that showcase Stafford’s tremendous arm talent, or rifling it in where Kupp cap pick apart zone defenses and scamper for 15-20 yards without much problem.
Los Angeles led the NFL in completions over 40 yards (18) and were third in completions of 20 yards or more (65). Know what team happened to give up 65 completions of 20+ yards? The Bengals.
No. 4: Unparalleled hunger
To say that a team “wants it more” is kind of dumb, I know. Everyone wants to win a Super Bowl in the NFL, so this isn’t a question of drive or desire. However, there’s no doubt that many of the Rams’ players know their window is closing, so there’s a sense of urgency to their game that the Bengals will lack.
Some of the players experienced the loss of being beaten by the Patriots, others recently arrived in Los Angeles for one last run — this could be the last, and best opportunity for Stafford to win a ring. That adds up to a lot of pressure, but also plenty of fuel to fire them forward.
Meanwhile the Bengals, they just don’t have that. They’re a young, hungry underdog with an immensely bright future, but not necessarily the same “have to win right now” drive. This is a double edged sword that could result in the Rams playing a little tight, but more likely it’ll mean they’re laser focused and ready to win.