WHERE:SoFi Stadium
SPREAD:Bengals +4
DAY:Sunday Feb 13
TIME:6:30pm ET

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Mark Taylor

Football data analyst

Super Bowl LVI Los Angeles Rams (15-5) vs Cincinnati Bengals (13-7)

The seventeen-game regular season usually does a good job of sifting out the crème of the AFC and NFC teams. Then the randomness of turnovers and the unpredictability of a bouncing football turns the postseason into a glorious enactment of theatre where any team might win on any given Sunday. Both number one seeds came and went in the postseason without troubling the win column, games from the divisional round onwards were decided either in overtime or by the narrowest of field goal margins and Super Bowl LVI will be contested by two number four seeds.

The Cincinnati Bengals represents the AFC in this year's Super Bowl. Only Houston and Detroit were given a smaller chance of Super Bowl glory than the Bengals preseason, and it took them up to their bye in week 10 before they even edged into favoritism for their division. In keeping with most postseason teams; the Bengals are both flawed and dangerous. They owe their postseason position to a 4-2 record against failing AFC North opposition. They own the dichotomy of a lowly ranked pass defense, that has performed with distinction against play-off quality opponents and a quarterback in Joe Burrow who was sacked on 10% of his regular season drop backs. He was sacked another nine times in the divisional round, but emerged almost flawless, performing in the clutch against the ferocious pass rush in the white heat of Arrowhead to erode a large deficit and claim the AFC title.

Like the Bengals, the LA Rams rely on the arm of a number one draft pick and they go to that well often. Matt Stafford as the 2009 number one pick is over a decade removed from the Bengals’ Joe Burrow, and has a career stacked with top ten or better passing performances. A lack of a supporting cast in Detroit outside of Hall of Famer, Calvin Johnson had only been enough to register three losing postseason appearances. Until now. Switching to LA in the 2021 offseason, he’s throwing to an array of expensively assembled targets, on a team that was further strengthened mid-season and he’ll enjoy home field advantage for Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium, albeit without a fully partisan crowd.

Both Burrow and Stafford have home run capability, but Stafford has question marks against his accuracy, turning the ball over down the stretch in the regular season and being fortunate with a wayward heave in the championship game. Sometimes muddled Rams coaching, a reliance on winning most of their close games and a defense that has good underlying numbers in elite matches, but often breaks rather than bends, makes this a difficult game to split. Scoring rates against elite sides lean towards Cincinnati by a single point and 53 total points.

Potential narratives abound: Stafford to finally dispel his playoff demons or Burrow to continue the emerging legacy of a new breed of exciting AFC play callers. The Rams at their peak are the better team, with a more talented quarterback. But the Bengals have a winning regular season record against postseason opposition (which LA can’t boast), have beaten the mighty Kansas City Chiefs twice, and can force turnovers. With two flawed, but talented teams, take Cincinnati and the cushion of a four-point start in the 2022 Super Bowl.

Superbowl LVI at SoFi Stadium free pick :

Los Angeles Rams vs Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati Bengals +4 (-108)

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