I’ve always had a soft spot for Matthew Stafford. The guy has a huge arm, and can make pretty-much any throw, and there he was stuck at the Lions teasing us. From time to time, they would support him with a deep threat and something of a rushing attack, but they were not able to put all the pieces together. So the swapsie deal that brought him to the Rams seemed like the ultimate test of his talent. Equally, it was a test of the Rams: was a top QB (plus a couple of others) the only missing pieces for them? Even if they don’t win the final game of the season, I think it’s fair to say both have passed the test.
Aside from the awful wildcard round, this has been one of the best NFL post-seasons ever, and one that reinforces the idea that defence and ball control wins playoff games. In my opinion, the Bills had the wrong defensive game plan against Mahomes – it’s hard to win a shoot out against him. His game against the Bengals started off the same way, but they slowly worked their way back into the game, with defence dominating in the second half. The 49ers got as far as they did despite Jimmy Garoppolo, not because of him.
The Bengal’s defence have been decent through the year but really came into their own in the post-season. They are fast and swarming and bring plenty of pressure. Jay Burrows has been a revelation – he showed amazing strength in staying in the pocket and being able to evade sacks at the last minute, and surprising poise for a relatively young player. He is a legitimate star, has a great offensive line in front of him, a tough running back in Mixon, and some deep threats like Chase. The Bengals have arrived sooner than expected, and will be interesting to see what success they can enjoy in the next few years in a very strong AFC North.
List-wise, the Rams are similarly strong in all the right places, with a good offensive line and some fast receivers, but with no star at running back. Their defence, previously well led by Aaron Donald and now bolstered by the addition of Von Miller, did the job well throughout the playoffs, which took pressure off Stafford.
So how will this tantalising Superbowl play out? Let’s examine it through a betting lens: the Rams are 4 point favourites, which seems fair. The Bengals will be very happy with official underdog status, and it won’t put them off in the slightest. There are no value bets there. If this is close in the fourth quarter, it will come down to who holds their nerve, and whether Sean McVay makes some crazy fourth-down decisions (which he did during the season and has avoided thus far in the playoffs). I think it will be a close finish and don’t have a view as to which team will win, so am going to avoid predicting, and instead recommend one of my favourite punts – the “Tribet”: either team under 6 points for $3.20.
The over/under on total points scored is 48.5 and that one looks more interesting. I think this game will be dominated by some tough, hard-hitting defence, so am going for the under on this one. A low-scoring game may just favour the Bengals, who will rush it all day long in the hope of keeping Stafford and co off the field. So keep a close eye on ball control. Crazy tip: this might come down to special teams.
This is the first Superbowl ever without at least one No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed, and the lowest-seeded matchup in the game’s history. No Rogers, Brady, or Mahomes? No problem for me. The two teams still in the competition have done everything to deserve to be there, and I’m really looking forward to this one!