Super Bowl LVI: Rams and Bengals seek Hollywood ending to NFL season

SoFi Stadium in California hosts the game as talented quarterback Joe Burrow leads Cincinnati against veteran Matt Stafford and Los Angeles

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, left, and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matt Stafford lead their teams at Super Bowl LVI. AFP / Getty Images
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A Los Angeles Rams team bristling with star-power will seek to deny the giant-killing Cincinnati Bengals a Hollywood ending in the Super Bowl on Sunday as an NFL season full of plot twists reaches its climax.

The first NFL championship game of the post-Tom Brady era sees the Rams play host at their gleaming $5.5 billion SoFi Stadium against a Bengals side chasing a first Super Bowl crown.

At the heart of a perfectly scripted season finale is a duel between two talented quarterbacks playing in the Super Bowl for the first time.

For the Rams, veteran Matthew Stafford has the chance to finally cash in on his talents after spending 12 seasons with the hapless Detroit Lions before securing a blockbuster move to Los Angeles last year.

The Bengals, meanwhile, are led by the precocious Joe Burrow, who bounced back from a horrific knee injury that ended his rookie season in 2020 to carry Cincinnati to a first Super Bowl appearance since 1989.

A Bengals win would also mark the culmination of one of the most striking turnarounds in NFL history.

Last season, the team finished with four wins and 11 defeats, only slightly better than their 2019 campaign, which ended in a dismal 2-14 record. Not for nothing were they ridiculed as the "Cincinnati Bungles."

But under head coach Zac Taylor, and buoyed by the arrival of No 1 draft pick Burrow in 2020, the Bengals have become a team transformed.

A dogged, never-say-die approach characterised their post-season campaign, which saw them shock AFC top seeds Tennessee before another upset on the road over mighty Kansas City sealed their Super Bowl berth.

Head coach Zac Taylor aims to lead Cincinnati Bengals to their first Super Bowl victory. AP

While the 25-year-old Burrow delights social media with his penchant for cigars, flashy jewellery and fur coats, he has been laser-focused during this week's protracted build-up. On Friday, Burrow appeared relaxed as he appeared before media for the last time, eager for Sunday's finale.

"I'm tired of watching film, I just want to go and play," Burrow said, brushing off lofty comparisons to quarterback legends such as Joe Montana and Joe Namath. "I'm not comparing myself to anyone. I'm trying to be the best Joe Burrow I can be."

Whether Burrow is afforded the time and space to craft another Bengals upset is another question altogether, however. A porous offensive line allowed him to be sacked a whopping nine times during the playoff win over Tennessee.

That is a stat that the formidable Rams defense, led by the human wrecking ball Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the NFL, and veteran pass rusher Von Miller, will have taken note of.

Aaron Donald will be key to the Los Angeles Rams defense in the Super Bowl. Reuters

On the offensive side, meanwhile, the Rams have more than enough weapons to puncture the Bengals defense.

The 34-year-old Stafford, playing in his fist Super Bowl, has an array of targets to aim for, including Cooper Kupp, the best wide receiver in the NFL this season, and Odell Beckham Jr, the charismatic former New York Giants and Cleveland Browns receiver who has flourished since joining the Rams in mid-season.

As well as enjoying home advantage, the Rams also have the benefit of having recent Super Bowl experience. Many members of Sunday's line-up were on the losing side when the Rams were beaten 13-3 by the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2019.

That loss proved a chastening lesson for Rams coach Sean McVay, who was upbeat after overseeing a light workout in perfect weather on Friday.

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay. AP

"The players, the stillness, the calmness that they have, the confidence in their preparation, I feel really good," McVay said. "I'm excited to be able to go watch these guys compete to the best of their ability.

"As coaches, we'll try to be poised, make good decisions and that's all we're going to do. And we're going to enjoy the moment."

The Rams will be playing in front of a packed 70,000 crowd, while the traditional half-time music concert will feature the likes of Eminem, Mary J.Blige and hip-hop icons Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar.

The capacity crowd also contrasts with last season's Super Bowl in Tampa, where attendance was limited to around 25,000 fans due to Covid-19.

While the Omicron variant surge is in retreat in Los Angeles, authorities require all attendees on Sunday to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test, with masking mandatory.

Updated: February 12, 2022, 10:42 AM
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