The Los Angeles Rams built a football team that was expected to be playing in Super Bowl LVI, part of the "all-in" mentality general manager Les Snead embraced over the last few years. Matthew Stafford was the culmination of that process, as Snead and head coach Sean McVay clearly thought Jared Goff wasn't good enough to get the Rams the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Los Angeles traded first-round draft picks in 2022 and 2023, a third-round pick in 2021, and quarterback Jared Goff in exchange for Stafford. The results showed in the postseason, as Stafford completed 72% of his passes for 905 yards with six touchdowns to just one interception for a 115.6 passer rating in getting the Rams to their second Super Bowl trip in four years.
The Cincinnati Bengals are the surprise Super Bowl attendee, emerging from a 4-11-1 record and last place finish in the AFC North to division champions and the AFC participant in Super Bowl LVI. Cincinnati is attempting to match the 1999 St. Louis Rams for the longest preseason odds at the beginning of the year (150-1) to win the Super Bowl. The Bengals have the franchise quarterback in Joe Burrow and a high-powered offense with Joe Mixon, Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd that can go up and down the field against anyone in the league.
I've been tasked to make one pick a year for CBS Sports -- and that's who wins the Super Bowl. Now that the matchup is set, here's why I'm picking the Rams to win Super Bowl LVI.
Rams defensive line a major mismatch
When I picked the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl last year, I went against my one principle when picking football games -- the game is won on the offensive and defensive lines. The Buccaneers defensive line was one of the best at getting after the quarterback and the Chiefs offensive line was banged up. I ignored that because Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes were an unstoppable force for three years and the combination would find a way to maneuver past the Chiefs' glaring weakness.
Mahomes was pressured 29 times, the most in Super Bowl history, and the Chiefs were blown out by the Buccaneers 31-9. This year, I'm going with my principle, no matter how good Burrow is. The Bengals offensive line is simply outmatched by the Rams defensive line.
Let's start with Aaron Donald and Von Miller, who have been a dynamic duo this postseason. Donald and Miller each have 16 pressures in three playoff games, tied for the most in the NFL. Miller has been revitalized since the Rams traded for him in Week 10, leading the NFL in tackles for loss with 16. His 46 pressures are fourth-most in the league and his seven sacks are tied for 10th. The player with the second-most tackles for loss since Miller joined the Rams: Aaron Donald (14).
Donald finished with 14 sacks and 93 pressures on the year while Miller had 11.5 sacks and 71 pressures (including stats with Broncos). Leonard Floyd, the other piece on the Rams defensive front, had 10.5 sacks and 65 pressures on the year. Including the playoffs, Donald, Miller, and Floyd rank amongst the top 12 in most pressures in the NFL.
The Rams finished sixth in the league with 223 pressures and third with 50 sacks -- one of only three teams to finish with 50 sacks on the year. They're one of the top five defensive lines in football for a reason -- and get to go up against a Bengals offensive line that's one of the worst in football.
The Bengals have allowed only 207 pressures on the year (10th-fewest in NFL), but Joe Burrow has just 2.37 seconds before facing pressure -- tied for the second-fewest time in the league. The 2.68 seconds Burrow has to throw the ball is the fifth-fewest in the NFL. Burrow has been sacked 63 times this season (including playoffs), which is the most by a quarterback starting a Super Bowl in NFL history. The 12 sacks Burrow has taken this postseason is tied for the third-most for any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. The Bengals have allowed 55 sacks in the regular season, the third-most in the league.
Cincinnati is no fluke with their offensive playmakers, second-half defense, and clutch kicker in Evan McPherson. But an offensive line that doesn't give Burrow enough time to make plays against a Rams defensive front loaded with stars is not ideal for a Bengals team trying to win its first Super Bowl.
If this game will be determined in the trenches, I have to pick the Rams and that defensive line against the Bengals biggest weakness. If Burrow can find a way to pull this off, it would be one of the greatest performances by a quarterback in Super Bowl history -- regardless of the stat line.
Prediction: Rams 30, Bengals 23