It's finally here. The Super Bowl LVI matchup is set. The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams will battle from SoFi Stadium in a matter of days. The Rams will become the second team in a row to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Raymond-James Stadium last year. Sean McVay hopes last year's result means his first Super Bowl win is imminent.
These are two teams that were constructed differently. The Rams, on one hand, sent draft picks away to acquire proven veterans such as Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr., Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey, while the Bengals drafted most of their talent, hitting on players like Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. While the Rams are favorites, the Bengals have done more than enough to prove that they deserve to be in the position they find themselves in, but standing in their way of a Lombardi Trophy is an experienced team that is very familiar with head coach Zac Taylor. Super Bowl LVI is sure to be a fun one. Below, we will make five bold predictions about the big game.
1. Kendall Blanton scores the first touchdown of the game
The undrafted tight end out of Missouri has spent the majority of his career on the Rams' practice squad, but he played a career-high 11 games this season. In the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, Rams starting tight end Tyler Higbee injured his knee. Blanton replaced him, and caught a career-high five passes for 57 yards.
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, it appears Higbee avoided a significant injury, but his status for the Super Bowl is still up in the air. That could help our bold prediction, which is that Blanton scores the first touchdown of the game (+1400 over at Caesars Sportsbook). Blanton is the red-zone weapon Cincinnati won't be ready for, as all attention should be on Cooper Kupp, Beckham and the running backs. Against the Buccaneers in the divisional round, Blanton actually scored the first touchdown of the game. When the Rams approach the red zone early in the game on Feb. 13, McVay will dial up something underneath for the young tight end.
2. Odell Beckham Jr. throws a touchdown
Maybe that first touchdown comes off the arm of OBJ! Beckham has thrown two touchdowns in his career on six passing attempts in the regular season. He's seen as a versatile playmaker who can wear the trick-play quarterback hat, and he even hit Cam Akers downfield for 40 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs. In Super Bowl LVI, McVay will open the playbook again, and Beckham will throw a touchdown.
3. Aaron Donald ties Super Bowl record
Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL, and he has recorded 1.5 sacks in three playoff games this year. We say he will record three by himself next Sunday against the Bengals. This Cincy offensive line has some issues, and Burrow was sacked a whopping nine times against the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round. It's almost a miracle the Bengals escaped Music City with a win, but their defense held up their end of the bargain, allowing just two touchdowns.
The official record for most sacks in a Super Bowl is 3.0, and it's been done four times -- including in back-to-back years with Grady Jarrett (2017) and Kony Ealy (2016). Unofficially, L.C. Greenwood of the Pittsburgh Steelers recorded four sacks in Super Bowl X, but sacks weren't counted as an official stat until several years later. We say Donald gets three next week.
4. Ja'Marr Chase catches TD, but is held in check by Ramsey
One matchup that's going to be fun to watch is Chase vs. Ramsey. They are two of the best at their respective positions, and are expected to be going head-to-head for the majority of the matchup on the NFL's biggest stage.
Chase caught nine passes for 116 yards vs. the Las Vegas Raiders in Super Wild Card Weekend, and then five passes for 109 yards against the Titans. However, he caught six passes for just 54 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs this past weekend. Those aren't "bad" numbers, but it was Higgins' turn to step up as the lead wideout. The prediction here is that Chase is held in check by Ramsey, but slips him once in the red zone and catches a touchdown. Chase finishes with five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.
The Bengals can still win without Chase running wild in the secondary. We have seen both Higgins and Tyler Boyd take over as the leading receiver at times this year.
5. Bengals win first Super Bowl in franchise history
The Bengals are one of 12 teams that has yet to win a Super Bowl. That number decreases to 11 in Super Bowl LVI. Cincy is clearly this year's Cinderella, even though Burrow has made it clear he hates the underdog narrative since he believes his squad is worthy of the highest respect. Despite taking down the Raiders and upsetting the No. 1 seed Titans, many didn't realize the Bengals were for real until their upset win over the Chiefs. This offense can out-score anyone and the defense is playing hot as well. As SportsLine's Allan Bell pointed out, the Bengals defense has ended every single postseason game they have played with an interception.