The showpiece of the NFL season, the most-watched event of the year in the states, an event so in-demand that they can charge over $5m for a 30-second advert, and for the second year in a row, a finale to the season that has a team playing in their home stadium, although it’s the AFCs time to be the home team so the Rams are officially the road team here.
Betting in the US is expected to top $7 BILLION as more and more states get legalised gambling, and indications so far seem like it’s a fair even split of money on the Rams -4.5, the Bengals getting a shade more against the spread from what I’ve read.
With this game featuring both of the #4 seeds from the conference, it is the first time since the merger in 1970 that none of the top seeds from each side of the league have made it to the final.
The Bengals are one of the 12 teams yet to win the Lombardi trophy and this will be their third appearance in the final having lost twice in the 80s to the San Francisco 49ers, the second of those in heart-breaking fashion as Joe Montana (you might have heard of him) threw the winning touchdown seconds after Lewis Billups dropped a game-winning interception. Frankly, it was a typically Bengals loss.
There is a lot more to that game, and the events leading up to it, but they’re not nice so I won’t bother repeating them here.
The Rams are playing in their 5th Super Bowl, having won just once before, ironically at 150/1 which is the Bengals odds here, as Kurt Warner led “The Greatest show on turf” to victory in the 1999 season beating a Titans team led by the late Steve McNair. It will be their first appearance since losing a snoozer to the Patriots 4 years ago when they had Jared Goff at QB.
That doesn’t mean a whole lot, they’ll keep their own changing room and the Bengals get the Chargers lockers. It did mean the Bengals got their choice of jersey and chose their home uniforms while the Rams went for lucky white.
You can of course bet on practically anything in the Super Bowl, there are currently over 400 markets at William Hill, and once the stupid novelty props come out that will probably get near to 600. Narrowing down those is not an easy task.
So, this week will be a busy one, I’ll do an overall game preview here, there will be a novelty props post, and probably a player prop and request-a-bet roundup post as well. There’s a lot to bet on! So without any further time-wasting, on with the preview.
These will go long, so if you read it all, thank you, if not, thanks for clicking on here anyway
Rams -4.5 @ Bengals: 48.5
The line for this game before the Championship weekend was Rams -3.5. It opened at 4 for the week and has risen slightly up to 4.5, a fairly irrelevant move in the grand scheme of things, but of note that it’s gone the Rams way.
The total line was 47.5 on opening and has been bet up slightly. I have no opinion on that aspect of the game, it could be a 30 point game, but equally, I wouldn’t be stunned if there was closer to 70. Both defenses can step up and both offenses can blow up if required.
There are a few links between the teams, Bengals HC Zac Taylor was the QB coach under Sean McVay at the Rams so you’d imagine they know each other well. Andrew Whitworth was a pro-bowl left tackle for the Bengals before joining the Rams, and the last time Jalen Ramsey played the Bengals he was taken in a chokehold after pissing off AJ Green.
Both teams have a #1 overall pick under center, both of them wearing #9 and LSU fans will be celebrating no matter what with Ja’marr Chase and Odell Beckham both having graduated from the Tigers.
Weirdly enough I was at the last matchup between the teams as the Rams hosted the Bengals in London just a few years ago, a 24-10 win for the Rams which saw me asleep before the end of the 4th quarter with the Bengals scoreless in the second half… Many, many beers had been consumed and I have an amazing ability for falling asleep at events, even managed it watching UFC at the O2 a few years before that. It’s a talent. ANYWAY. On to the game.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams won the NFC West, strolled past the Cardinals, despite the game getting close, they stuffed the Bucs before Brady’s comeback, and had to comeback themselves from 10 points down against the 49ers last week to win the game by 3.
They should be near full health coming into this one although it doesn’t look like Tyler Higbee will make it after getting injured early on in that one, Van Jefferson is officially questionable, and Joe Noteboom who was replacing Whitworth at LT may struggle to go, but we’ll see as the week develops. Keep an eye on reports.
The Rams went all-in this year with a few of their moves and the most eye-opening for them all was upgrading from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford who they brought in from the Rams. Stafford was the #1 overall pick in 2009 and spent all of his career without any real success at the Lions before joining the Rams this summer. He had always looked good despite the lack of wins, had all the attributes and it turns out with a good team around him and better coaching he can lead a team to the big game.
He finished the regular season with 41 TDs (2nd), 4,886 yards (3rd) and a QBR of 63.8 (4th) on the year. So it was a decent season which ended in rough fashion with 8 interceptions in their final 4 games, but that’s been cleaned up and it was a very good post-season for him, 6 TDs to 1 interception, and the Rams team showed they could win in differing ways, just 13 completions from a season-low 17 attempts in the rout against the Cards, while a season tying 31 completions from 45 attempts (2nd most of the season) in the comeback against the 49ers.
I have always liked Stafford from afar, he’s got a huge arm that showed up in Detroit, but his decision-making has been questionable, some of the interceptions were bombs towards Beckham when there were easier passes that should have been taken. He threw an INT in the Championship game and probably should have cost them the game with an easy pick which Tartt dropped for the 49ers. There’s always a rick waiting to happen. He’s fun to watch partially due to the fact he was always willing to take risky shots. The Rams will obviously try and limit that but it will come down to game-script.
They welcomed back Cam Akers at the end of the season after he returned from an Achilles injury quicker than most expected and they’ve been riding him since he came back despite him fumbling twice against Tampa and averaging just over 2 yards per carry. He still gets the work and it looks like he’ll be fine to go despite a shoulder injury he picked up against the 49ers. He can do it through the air as well and caught a pass from Beckham in that Cardinals game, you go through the whole playcard in the Superbowl so it wouldn’t be a shock to see similar.
Sony Michel was the main back for the end of the season but his carries have dropped off since Akers returned, he had a chance to get some snaps with Akers injured last week but ended with 1.6 yards per carry, albeit against a good run defense. He’ll get some work but it probably won’t be much.
They had the best WR in the league this year with Cooper Kupp leading in Receptions, Yards and TDs, he’s carried that on in the post-season leading all WRs with 386 yards in the three games they’ve played, 87 yards ahead of Kelce in second and 107 ahead of the Chase who leads the Bengals in yards during this playoff run, it’s not been just yards though 25 receptions and 4 TDs in the playoffs, that made it 5 games in a row with a score, and one in 9 of his last 10. His lowest receptions in a game this year? 5, and a minimum of 61 yards (it still led the team in the Cardinals walkover game). He’s good.
Odell Beckham hasn’t been too bad either, the last time he faced the Bengals he did his ACL tackling an interception return for the Browns, things have come a long way since then and he looks like he’s settled into the Rams system and back near his best. He’s scored in 6 of his 11 games with the team and had his first 100+ yard game for them in the 49ers win last week, he’s not a 1 anymore but one of the best 2’s in the league. The third spot is usually Van Jefferson, but he’s officially questionable with a knee. He’s had a few deep bombs this year, usually around 2.5 catches per game, so very hit or miss. If he’s out then it may well be Ben Skowronek as the third target in the WR group, mainly a special teams player and dropped his only target (would have been a TD) of the post-season.
They are probably without Tyler Higbee at TE with an MCL sprain, he’s not practiced yet so the signs aren’t good for him playing, he has been reliable for them this year, if he does miss then Kendall Blanton seems like the man to step into his shoes, he’s caught all 7 of his targets in the postseason and did well when Higbee went down against the 49ers. Brycen Hopkins maybe not be the worst shout as a long odds bet for a score as the likely backup TE, but 1 reception all year isn’t exactly convincing.
So, on to the defense. Led by arguably the best player in the league, regardless of position Aaron Donald. The interior rusher is the most dominant player in his position and will be looking to have a disruptive day against a Bengals OL which struggles with interior pressure. Last game (which I recommended…) was only the second time in 10 games he’d had under 5 tackles and assists, but his pressure on Jimmy G at the end of the game caused the game-winning interception. I was hoping for 20/1 on him for MVP, it’s just a little skinny at 16s for me.
The late-season addition of Von Miller has worked wonders for the team, at 45/1 he’s a decent selection as someone who already has a Super Bowl MVP trophy sitting at home from his time in Denver. The Bengals are better on the edge but Von has been tremendous in recent weeks providing a sack in 6 of his last 7 games. Leonard Floyd isn’t bad either as they stack talent on the DL.
The secondary has one stud, Jalen Ramsey was an all-pro again this year and usually shuts down whoever he is playing against. He doesn’t tend to follow one player across the field, he ranked 5th in CBs according to PFF this season, the next best of the Rams secondary? 73rd. He is a stud but he can’t cover everyone by himself. They should be back to strength at safety though with Rapp probably returning, Eric Weddle stepped in for a few games and will be back to retirement once this game is over, he played all right for an old man coming off the couch.
They’ve got an experienced Kicker in place with Matt Gay but he’s not been reliable in recent weeks, hampered with injury, no kicker should be coming up short on a 40-something yard kick, he has hit all bur 1 XP this season, but missed a long field goal last week, making it two games in a row with a miss now.
The Bengals were 150/1 at the start of the season. They hit 200/1 at one point. I have nothing on them. NOTHING. My own team, the team I thought would struggle to get to 7 wins. THEY ARE IN THE SUPER BOWL! For the first time since 1988. On this run they’ve won their first playoff game in 31 years. They won their first road playoff game EVER against the Titans. They beat the Chiefs for the second time this season, coming back from 18 points down at one point, it’s been remarkable.
I wasn’t the only one expecting a rough year for the team, I don’t remember hearing anyone thinking they’d make the playoffs, let alone anything else this year. Some people took under 1.5 wins. Some had them as the worst team in the league, mocking them for using a 5th round pick on a kicker. Well, aren’t we all foolish, especially those mocking the selection Evan KickPherson.
It’s safe to say it’s been a pretty good season for them so far, and they have a real chance of topping it off.
It has all begun up top, I don’t usually mention front office stuff, but the drafting and the free agency work done by the team since Zac Taylor came in has been incredible. Overhauling the teams mantra was key in the improvement, they drafted winners and captains, leaders. They brought in players from winning teams, Vonn Bell and Trey Hendrickson came in from the Saints, Chidobe Awuzie from the Cowboys. All players who are used to winning games. Add that to the improvement in coaching and growth of young defensive players and it’s turned around the team in double-quick time.
Of course, the biggest change for them was landing Joe Burrow, I don’t think anyone in the franchise will argue that. He’s the first 1 overall pick to go to the Super Bowl in his second season, after missing half of last year this is just his 30th game in the NFL, and a lot of the success this season is due to his unerring confidence in his own ability. He’s yet to lose a post-season game in college or the NFL and just exudes swag whether it’s in his pre-game clothing choices, or responses to questions in press conferences, he just doesn’t expect to lose.
It’s been an impressive recovery from the knee injury he suffered last year and it wasn’t until halfway through the season that he, or the team, realised he was fully recovered. His movement in the pocket is reminiscent of Brady, little shimmies, a half step forward and then back to put off on-coming rushers, it’s a joy to watch and he showed his strength and mobility shrugging off Chris Jones in the Chiefs game before running for a vital first down. He’s “sneaky mobile”.
You may have heard that he took quite a few sacks this year. He did, but a lot of them are on him holding on to the ball to try and make plays, it’s something he and the team are aware of and it’s something that they won’t be changing. After the sacks against the Titans there was a notable difference in the Chiefs game where he threw the ball into the dirt a few times instead of trying to evade a hit and taking a further loss. He knows the issues with his line, and he knows how to play away from that, he kills the blitz, but the Rams probably won’t have to bring more than 4 for a lot of the game.
From a numbers POV, Stafford has been the better QB in this post-season, and the numbers support that for the season, Burrow finished 6th in yards, 8th in TDs and 12th in QBR in the regular season, but he finished the year on fire. The playoffs haven’t been explosive (so far) but he has done what was required and the intangibles are off the chart for Joe. This sounds like I’m fudging things to convince myself, maybe I am, but having watched every minute (and remember most of them) this season it’s clear to see why he wins games.
I think the Bengals have the edge at running back with Joe Mixon who changed up his game a little this year and had the best season of his career with 16 total TDs and finishing 3rd in rushing yards in the regular season, the end of the season and post-season saw his receiving work increase and aspect of his game which has been under-utilised since he joined the team, he’s had 27+ rec. yards in his last 5 games as the competition has increased and dump-offs were needed more. His average isn’t impressive (Bengals OL and play-calling) but he’ll go all day and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him have a huge game when it’s needed.
Behind him, Samaje Perine scored an unlikely receiving TD last week from 40 yards, just his 3rd score of the season, but he has shown he can fill in well when Mixon needs a rest. He may only get a few touches but he can do things with those touches.
The best rookie WR in the league takes the field for the Bengals and despite not being able to catch the ball in camp it’s safe to say that Ja’Marr Chase has shown he was the right pick for the Bengals in this year’s draft. He finished the year 4th in yards, 3rd in TDs for the position in his first year and while the numbers haven’t carried on in the post-season (yet) he has at least 5 receptions in each playoff game. Last week was an unselfish role for him, he took the double coverage and opened things up for the other pass-catchers, and he made a key block on the Perine run, something he’s done a couple of times this year. He usually wins in 1on1 coverage and if he matches up with Ramsey it will be an intriguing watch.
My thoughts are that they’ll move Chase around to get preferable coverage, if he gets a nice matchup, great, he’ll get the ball, if not then it means that Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd will be in a good spot to move the ball. Last week it was Higgins who showed up, as he did for a lot of the back-end of the season, it was his 5th game in 9 with 100 yards (there’s a 96 in there too) as Burrow took the softer coverage against the Chiefs last week, and he would have scored if he hadn’t had his arm held by the defender last game too. Boyd is a little tougher to get in a good spot but has shown he can take the ball to the house from anywhere.
At tight end they will be hoping the CJ Uzomah overcomes his own MCL sprain, he has said he’ll be playing: “I’m not missing the biggest game of my life” but walking around high-fiving fans is a little different to the rigors of the tight end position. He’s a huge part of the dressing room, so he’ll be important whether he takes to the field or not. If he can’t then it probably means more for the WRs and Mixon, rather than using Drew Sample more in the passing game, he’s a very good blocker, not so much a receiver.
Arguably the most under-rated unit in this game is the Bengals defense, the numbers aren’t there and footballoutsiders DVOA doesn’t rank them very highly but to shut down the Chiefs in second half twice this year, to create turnovers frequently and stop the run consistently it’s been a good performance from a unit that was terrible a year ago. DJ Reader has been brilliant in the middle of the line, Trey Hendrickson has proven he wasn’t a one-season wonder, Sam Hubbard had a couple of sacks last week, they can stop the run, and get pressure.
Logan Wilson led the team in tackles last game and has done very well in the middle of the linebacker group, he and Pratt have formed a good partnership there. They have one of the better Safety duos in the league with Bell and Bates who teamed up to turn over Mahomes in overtime last week, Bates had an up and down season but has been lights out in the playoffs, and the cornerbacks while not household names have done very well this year, Chidobe Awuzie one of the higher-ranked at the position according to PFF.
It’s hard to argue that the Bengals don’t win a kicker as well, the rookie sensation Evan McPherson is 12/12 in the post-season including 3 50+ yard kicks, and personifies the confidence of the team at the moment “I guess we’re going to the championship game” before kicking the winner against the Titans and the overtime winner last week was never in doubt (although I watched it with hands covering my eyes), McFearless, KickPherson, all I know is he’s been money.
There will be, and is a great deal of talk about the coaching mismatch in this game as well, and I can’t sit here and say that Zac Taylor is a better coach than McVay. It was a rough start to his career as head coach after leaving the Rams coaching team to take over the Bengals and he hasn’t had a whole lot of credit this year, although was in the running for coach of the year (if it was voted for now I’m sure he’d win but I think it will be Vrabel) – What I can say is that the people he’s brought in, the level of person, and the coaching staff he’s assembled around him is very good. The halftime adjustments in particular have been a highlight of their season.
McVay has burnt timeouts and made the Rams go into their shell when leading easily, taking the ball away from Stafford and running the ball ineffectively, he also fell apart against Belichick in the Super Bowl three years ago. He’s a great coach, there’s no doubt but he’s not without his foibles.
A lot of the Rams team have experience of the Super Bowl and all that surrounds it, a lot of them were part of this roster 3 years ago so they may well handle the hype before the big game better than the Bengals players, but they also have experience of being terrible and falling apart in the final, albeit with Jared Goff under center. It’s a different team now and they’ve brought in more talent. I would think the experience will help but it could bring back bad memories as well.
I admit they’re long previews. So to summarise…
- QB: Stafford and Burrow are comparable in talent. For me, I’m biased of course, Burrow wins on intangibles.
- RB: I think Mixon is better than Akers.
- WR: I prefer the Bengals trio (I am biased), but it’s close and Kupp is the best of the top 6 in this game.
- TE: Who knows who’s going to play.
- OL: Quite blatantly the Rams.
- DL: It’s the Rams, Donald and Miller is fearsome, but Hendrickson and Hubbard are very good too.
- Secondary: It’s close. Ramsey is the best individual out there, but as units they’re probably comparable.
- Kickers: I mean, It’s Evan McPherson.
- Coaching: Have to take McVay, but the Bengals half-time adjustments have been impressive all year.
- Experience: Rams have the lead there, but they also have players with experience of flopping in the big game which could go either way.
Does that help? Probably not. It’s more than “The Rams have all this, the Bengals have Burrow” which I’ve seen.
The heart of course says the Bengals win, my head, it’s impossible to call. I am more confident in this than the Titans and Chiefs games though.
I will obviously not be betting on the spread or total. It’s all about the props in this one. I would say Bengals cover, and over the total, but that could go either way. 27-24 Bengals.
If I had to pick one way or the other. Then I’d have to say there’s going to be one fewer team on the “Never won a Super Bowl” list. WHO DEY BABY!
I want to keep this mainly as a proper game preview and clean of bets, but for the record, these are bets I have placed so far, (odds and lines may be different now). My portfolio shall increase as we get closer to game-time.
- Bengals o10.5 second half – 11/10 (PP)
- Lowest scoring Qtr – 1st – 21/10 (PP)
- O2.5 players with a pass attempts – 2.40 (Hills)
- Rams O3 sacks in the game – 1.77 (Hills)
- Bengals +0.5 first quarter – 1.80 (Hills)
- Odell o64.5 – 1/1 (Hills)
Oh, and I put out Samaje Perine at 18/1 anytime when he was available at that on Skybet, but that has long gone.
Shortest TD u1.5 is a perennial bet in this game, the odds have shortened already. 1.76 the best available on 365. I couldn’t get the 1.80 on there earlier in the week so have left it so far.
A general rule if you want the overs on someone, take it now, if you want the unders then wait until game-time, part-time gamblers will pretty much always take the over, so the lines will probably rise as we go through the week.
Also, the Rams Moneyline should represent value come game-time as well.