I returned to this site in Dec. 2020, and have delivered back-to-back championship winners.
So here we go with another underdog winner in the big game, as the Cincinnati Bengals will keep this one close enough to challenge for the outright win over the Los Angeles Rams.
You know, all we've heard about the last two weeks is Joe Burrow and his receiving corps, led by dynamic rookie Ja'Marr Chase. Intermittently, we've heard about the defense, but Cincinnati's stop unit has been overshadowed in conversation.
But today, that is the key to this victory in being able to rattle Matthew Stafford in multiple ways. Cincinnati has a knack for shutting down the edges and keeping quarterbacks within the pocket. Not something we've seen Stafford like to do during these playoffs. He's not known as a rushing quarterback. Which is why the prop bet on his rushes today is only 2 1/2. But if you've noticed, he's rushed more than four times in each of his playoff games - a total of 15 times in the three. And considering Cincinnati's going to make things tough on him in keeping the pocket tight and collapsing, he'll struggle while looking for the likes of Cooper Kupp or Odell Beckham Jr.
There's a reason Stafford has thrown many of those 18 interceptions against a three- or four-man rushes, and a reason he's better against the blitz believe it or not. He's struggled more times than not against seven- and eight-man coverages and anyone paying close attention to Cincinnati's defense knows this is where it has specialized and thrived down the stretch.
If the Bengals continue their composure while rushing three or four and keeping their secondary intact, leaving Stafford having to check down or hold the ball, he's going to end up on his back more times than he'd like. Cincinnati has an athletic secondary. It has just as talented a defensive secondary, with corners and safeties who can jump routes, intercept balls, and wreak havoc on passing games.
Now about that offense.
Yes. Joe Burrow has Ja'Marr Chase and everybody's anticipating the matchup between the rookie and Jalen Ramsey. But what's going to happen when Chase, Tee Higgins and the supporting cast of targets either out of the backfield or off the line of scrimmage are in for the same play? Who's covering whom? Who's focusing on the unexpected target. Here is where we're going to see Burrow, with pocket protection, and screen plays, have an effect to wear down the Rams defense. Eventually, that defense will confusingly collapse so many times that it's going to have to give way for Chase to go one-on-one or find a mismatch and create a big play.
That is when you will see Burrow strike. Fact is, Chase has the skill and strength and athleticism to go toe-to-toe with Ramsey. The coverage will be so tight, that if a pass doesn't fall into his hands, he's big enough and strong enough to keep from the ball being intercepted. We just need one or two receptions and a big gain that has yards after catch to make the impact. Chase set the rookie record for most receiving yards by a receiver in a single postseason with 279. And by the way, let's not forget this connection has been on a big stage in the past when Chase had nine catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns in LSU's 42-25 win over Clemson in the 2020 national championship.
Burrow is the complete package and he continues to prove that by turning back his critics, many of whom have said this is a bit too big of a stage for him to compete against a veteran like Matthew Stafford. Well, news flash, this is Stafford's first year with a legitimate team. And his defense has bailed him out more times than he's bailed it out. They've had to come from behind when the defense stepped up, because the offense couldn't produce in previous first halves.
Cincinnati has a stringent enough defense to give the ball back to Burrow plenty of times. And in my opinion, Burrow has the edge over Stafford because there's less pressure on him. Sure both have pressures in winning this game. But the Rams invested too much in a win-now at all costs mantra. Whereas this is Cincinnati's second year with Burrow, and first year with Chase. And it's a young team that wasn't expected to be here, but continues to prove people wrong.
And so what about Los Angeles's defense? Didn't we see Burrow overcome nine sacks against the Titans? Didn't we see Burrow produce on several third downs against the Kansas City Chiefs? This dude has proved his composure. He has proved his maturity and we've seen it ever since his college days against LSU and Clemson for that matter, in very big games.
I hate to use the team of destiny as an intangible. But the fact of the matter is, that's what Cincinnati has become. People are giving that tag to the Rams, which I don't buy into. The Rams bought their way into this position. With offseason acquisitions and in-season acquisitions, whereas the Bengals were built from scratch - ahem, rebuilt I should say - and earned their spot by building the right chemistry with a winning mindset.
It starts with the defense that has proven through the regular season and the playoffs that it can shut down an offense like the Rams and it ends with an offense... led by Cool Joe.