Super Bowl LVI Final Score and Prediction


With the regular season and most of the playoffs in the rear-view mirror, it is now time to preview Super Bowl 56 and the key matchups throughout the game between the Bengals and Rams.

We at the Shield have, accordingly, appointed two members of our staff to discuss the Big Game. (And no, we don’t mean the rivalry between Cal and Stanford.)

First, Andy Magioncalda breaks down the

Key Matchups

1. Bengals’ Offensive Line versus the Rams’ Defensive Line

The Bengals for the past few years have had a suspect O-line, and eeahverybody knows this. This remains true this season, with their two best linemen being tackle Jonah Williams and guard Quinton Spain. The aforementioned Williams and Spain are the only two Bengals linemen to have a PFF grade higher than the mid-to-high fifties.

On the other side, however, the Rams have Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd on their defensive line, with Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson offering even more interior support. With three players that recorded 5+ sacks with the Rams this season (not counting Von Miller’s 4.5 sacks ), this feels like a clear mismatch to me.

Advantage: Rams.

2. Rams’ Offensive Line versus the Bengals’ Defensive Line

This feels a lot closer than the previous matchup of the trenches. Starting off with the Rams, their offensive line has been one of the league’s best this season. No one recorded a PFF grade lower than a 67.3, and two players have grades in the 80s (tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein), making this a well-rounded line.

Cincinnati’s defensive line, on the other hand, has multiple game-changers on their D-line, as many had recent occasion to see. Their two best pass rushers, Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, both combined for almost 30 sacks, including the postseason. Even without Larry Ogunjobi, the interior of the Bengals defensive line does not lack for playmakers, as B.J. Hill and D.J. Reader are both excellent linemen. This Bengals defensive line manhandled the Chiefs’ O-line, which is supposed to be one of the NFL’s best, in the second half of the AFC Championship game.

Advantage: Bengals.

3. Rams’ offense versus Bengals’ defense

The Rams’ 2021-22 offense has been one of the best, especially in the passing game. There is no lack of depth on offense, with superstar wideout Cooper Kupp accompanied by another star in Odell Beckham Jr. and lethal deep threat Van Jefferson. The running game is very potent as well, headlined by three very potent backs in Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson Jr., and Sony Michel. Of course, the guy in charge of this offense, Matthew Stafford, is excellent himself, finishing top ten in most major passing categories, including third in passing yards and second in passing touchdowns. Tight end Tyler Higbee’s possible absence will hurt, but Kendall Blanton has been able to step up.

One of the major reasons for the Bengals’ surprise run has to be their defense. Obviously, they have an excellent defensive line, which can defend the run just as well as it can get to the quarterback. On the second level, Cincinnati’s linebackers Germain Pratt, Logan Wilson, and Markus Bailey are an able and largely underrated core. The secondary is arguably the most underrated in the league, led by free agent cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Eli Apple (yes, Eli Apple), as well as safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell. This is a defense that can step up to the occasion, as demonstrated in the AFC Championship game, though the Rams’ offense will be the hardest test yet.

Advantage: Rams.

4. Bengals’ offense versus Rams’ defense

The rise of the Bengals this season has been sort of expected this year, especially due to how absolutely loaded it is on skill position talent—starting with Joe Burrow, who has earned the best PFF grade (92.3) among all qualifying quarterbacks this season due to his pocket awareness, decision-making, and ball placement. His receivers are excellent as well. Tyler Boyd is a fine slot receiver, and Tee Higgins is an excellent #2 receiver to rookie phenom Ja’Marr Chase, both of which had over 1,000 yards over the regular season. Joe Mixon has been a top-three running back this season, thanks to his dual-threat rushing and receiving abilities, while underrated tight end C.J. Uzomah has been an excellent safety valve for this lineup.

Though the Rams’ defense has regressed from their 2020 form in terms of points allowed, they are still a very dominant unit. Of course, we all know about their pass rush, led by future Hall-of-Famers Aaron Donald and Von Miller, as well as Leonard Floyd. The second level is also overseen by solid linebackers in Ernest Jones and Troy Reeder, while the secondary, outside of All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, is somewhat of a weak point, mostly due to injuries to key players such as Taylor Rapp.

Advantage: Bengals.

Final Prediction and Pick

I feel like this will play out similar to the AFC Championship game. The Rams will start out hot in the first half, while the Bengals rally in the second half to make this a game. However, the Rams will add a late score to put the game away, and for Sean McVay to get the best of his former assistant.

Final Score projection: Rams 30, Bengals 27.

Jack Sawyer, for those of you who prefer a more narrative approach, will now provide us with a bit of history and a counterargument.

How We Got Here

Super Bowl 56 features what the average NFL fan probably considers the most likable matchup in years: the Los Angeles Rams, who seek to punch it in after a Super Bowl loss in 2018 to Tom Brady and the Patriots, against the underdog Cincinnati Bengals, who until this season had not won a playoff game since 1991.

The Rams are led by Sean McVay, the young head coach guru who has brought the Rams to the playoffs in four of his five seasons as head coach, including the aforementioned trip to the Super Bowl. At 32, McVay was the youngest to ever coach in the Super Bowl.

McVay’s success with the Rams led his quarterbacks coach, Zac Taylor, to accept the big job with the Bengals, taking up the mantle of 16-season vet Marvin Lewis. This makes this matchup even more of a challenge for Taylor; although he is older than McVay, McVay knows what he likes and doesn’t like when it comes to offense. 

In Taylor’s first season, the Bengals had no “standout” talent on either side of the ball. The only players worth retaining were stud, but injury-prone running back, Joe Mixon and speedy slot receiver Tyler Boyd.  They went 2-14 in 2019, giving them the rights to the #1 overall pick, which by consensus was going to turn into LSU’s QB Joe Burrow.

Burrow had just completed possibly the single greatest quarterbacking season in college history, leading LSU to its first National Championship since 2007. The 2019 LSU roster has proved to be star-studded with talent that would stick around in the NFL. The team had star wide receiver Justin Jefferson (now a Viking), running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Chief), Patrick Queen (Raven) and finally stud wide receiver, Ja’Marr Chase (now a Bengal as well). The Bengals did select Joe Burrow, who grew up minutes away from Paul Brown Stadium.

The 2020 season, filled with questions and doubt, proved to be difficult for the Bengals to manage. There was plenty of excitement for a new era of Bengals football, which would start with Joe Burrow, quite possibly the coolest quarterback in football. Burrow’s confidence and swagger on and off the field, and his ability to get the job done every game, gets him nicknames like “Joe BRRR” or “Joe Shiesty.” But aside from Burrow, and 2nd-round wide receiver Tee Higgins from Clemson, there wasn’t much to be excited about. 

In Week 10, Joe Burrow tore his left MCL and ACL, ending a season in which he was sacked 32 times in 9.5 games, so the offensive line was a focus going forward. The season wrapped up pretty quietly, with the Bengals getting another lottery pick at #5 overall. There was lots of push to take premier left tackle prospect Penei Sewell from Oregon, in order to get Burrow some serious protection, but Burrow was thinking differently. He knew he needed a stud wide receiver to win games in the NFL, so he suggested the Bengals reunite him with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. So in April, when Chase was still on the board at #5, they selected him to make Burrow happy. Many analysts across the league did not like this pick. I, too, had the opinion that there is no point in having a star wide receiver if you cannot even block for your quarterback. But Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor proved just about everybody wrong in 2021.

Many expected a mediocre season from the Bengals, as their defense was their bright spot early on, despite Burrow being the deciding factor in the wins. As their AFC North division rivals (Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns & Baltimore Ravens) all began to crumble, the Bengals seized their opportunity to win now. Six weeks into the season, the Bengals held the #1 seed in the AFC conference with a 4-2 record. 

Fast forward to Week 17: the Bengals defeated the Chiefs 34-31 in a shootout, where Ja’Marr Chase went off for 11 receptions, 266 yards and 3 touchdowns. This game basically sealed the Offensive Rookie of The Year for Chase, as he had probably the best rookie season from a wide receiver ever. (Which is interesting to say, because Justin Jefferson had that season in 2020.) Beating the Chiefs was big for the Bengals, because after demolishing all of their divisional rivals, they beat the big bad Chiefs, the young dynasty in the AFC. The Bengals were finally being considered a playoff threat, and some even proposed a Super Bowl berth.

The Bengals finished with a 10-7 record and the #4 seed in the AFC by winning the AFC North. The Bengals faced the Raiders in the Wild Card round, and while it was a close game, the Raiders had no business making a Super Bowl run in 2022. The Bengals defense sealed their first playoff win in 30 years by picking off Derek Carr in the red zone, and Bengals fans everywhere rejoiced as they now knew for sure Joe Burrow was the real deal and they actually had a legitimate contender to root for. 

The Bengals then moved on to play Derrick Henry and the #1 Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round. This game was also low-scoring, but also ended on a game-sealing interception. Ryan Tannehill threw the pick on the final drive to give the Bengals the opportunity for a field goal to win it all. For the second straight week, the defense played their best in the fourth quarter. 

Then, they had to play the Chiefs in the AFC Championship—unknown territory for Bengals fans under 30. Beating the Chiefs in the regular season is one thing, but to play them in a game that would end their season is another, and sure enough, the Bengals were down 21-10 when Zac Taylor came out and told the media that they are a second half team. In the second half, the Bengals defense kept Kansas City to just 3 points, with two interceptions and four overall turnovers. Then, on just the second play of overtime, Patrick Mahomes threw another interception and the Bengals offense capitalized to punch it in, 27-24.

The glory is all on Cincinnati right now, but they still have to finish the job. That’s no joke: led by star head coach Sean McVay, the Rams have the last decade’s best defensive player in Aaron Donald, multiple-All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, elite veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford and a wide receiver duo of Triple Crowner Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr.

The first thing the Bengals need to do to win this game is play their best football in all four quarters, rather than letting big plays get to them mentally. Their defense, which has won them all three games needs to be especially ready to play in the second half. Matthew Stafford is a very talented quarterback, but he has had multiple games with three interceptions this season. If the Bengals can force at least two picks and capitalize on both of them, they have a great chance of closing this game out.

The next thing they must do is neutralize the Rams defensive line. There is no denying the Bengal O-line is their weakest position group, while the Rams have an elite defensive line that WILL have their way against the Bengals offensive line. The Bengals should use running back Joe Mixon as a receiving back, diverting the linebackers and safeties across the field and keeping them vigilant. 

Along with capitalizing on their own opportunities, the Bengals must reduce scoring opportunities for the Rams by executing long drives that result in points. Taking time off the clock can win games in any situation, and against the Rams, taking away an entire drive’s worth of time could win a close game. If the Bills had executed an extra few plays at any point during the Bills vs. Chiefs Divisional Round, there would not have been an extra 13 seconds on the clock for the Chiefs to tie it up.

Finally, there’s the issue of Jalen Ramsey. Ja’Marr Chase is most likely going to be covered by him all game. This is why it is so important to have many receiving threats, assuming Chase is shut down. It is up to the other receivers to get the job done. Luckily for Cincinnati, they have weapons to diversify their receiving core. Slot receiver Tyler Boyd has been a consistent producer for Cincinnati for many seasons now and is a very reliable weapon, and second-round pick Tee Higgins has been clutch all season.

Joe BRRR can get the job done. The Bengals season has ridden on huge offensive plays and late-game defensive stops when it matters most. This team of underdogs finds a way, and they refuse to let anyone take them down. If the Bengals come to play, there is no reason they shouldn’t be celebrating their first Super Bowl victory on February 13th.