The Super Bowl has finally arrived and our resident tipster Ross Williams is on hand to guide you through the 56th iteration of the NFL’s showpiece event.
2pts Cincinnati Bengals (+4.0) at 10/11 (General)
2pts Over 48 total match points at Evens (bet365)
1pt Cooper Kupp (Rams) & Tee Higgins (Bengals) to score a touchdown at 10/3 (bet365)
1pt Von Miller (Rams) to be Super Bowl MVP at 40/1 (General)
Following a 20-17 defeat to the Chicago Bears back in week two, the Cincinnati Bengals went out to 250/1 to win this weekend’s Super Bowl.
For Cincinnati to even be in Los Angeles on Sunday is nothing short of a sporting miracle, but here they are, sitting at 7/4 to win their maiden world championship at the home of their opponents.
Just two years ago, this was the same franchise that ended the season with the worst record in the league.
The story is remarkable, from Ja’Marr Chase’s incredible rookie season at wide receiver to quarterback Joe Burrow going from ACL injury to topping many of the NFL’s passing charts. It’s barely sunk in that the Bengals have arrived at the big dance, but one question remains unanswered.
Can they go all the way?
Standing in the path of Zac Taylor’s men are the NFL’s dream team.
Favouring trades and big-money splashes over the subtlety and execution of the NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams have built a team to be admired and they’ve lived up to all of their pre-season hype.
Matthew Stafford has come in and delivered the level of performance he was renowned for in Detroit, the Aaron Donald-led defence remains one of the league’s most-feared and Sean McVay has even gotten a tune out of Odell Beckham Jr.
Not to mention Cooper Kupp, who has made his claim for wide receiver superiority in the NFL this season, accumulating an extraordinary amount of yardage and scoring 20 touchdowns in as many games.
It’s a tough ask for the underdog Bengals, but they won’t be without their chances on Sunday.
The fact of the matter is, these two teams are nigh inseparable on offence. During the regular season, the Rams and Bengals remarkably posted the exact same amount of points; 460 in total.
That works out at 27.1 points per game on average, which immediately gives cause for backing over 48 points at 10/11 on the current total match points line. Of course, it’s far from a guarantee that 27.1 will become 54.2 on Sunday night, but six points is a healthy amount of leash to work with.
With Stafford and Burrow at the respective helms, we can expect a dog-fight, with plenty of ball in the air. Both quarterbacks have thrown well over 5,000 yards so far this season and it’s no secret that each team looks at their best when the passing game is humming.
This provides potential in the touchdown scorer markets, of course, and as ever it’s hard to look past Cooper Kupp. As aforementioned, the MVP candidate has averaged a touchdown per game all season long and even the best defences in the NFL have failed to stop him in his tracks.
Kupp’s an obvious pick, but for added value I’d be keen to double him up with Tee Higgins of the Bengals.
The Cincinnati receiver is yet to score in the postseason, but with 23 targets to his name through three games, Burrow is more than keeping the faith and a touchdown seems inevitable with so much traffic coming his way.
Ja’Marr Chase is the better receiver, but he will almost certainly have Jalen Ramsey tailing him for the vast majority of the game, so I prefer the chances of Higgins, coming off a 100-yard performance and boasting an easier match-up in the secondary.
So far, so even, it seems.
On the basis of the offensive stats alone, the Super Bowl looks a real toss-up, but the old adage that ‘defence wins championships’ rears its head each and every year and it’s very rarely wrong.
For all the brilliance of Joe Burrow and his young crop of receivers, the Bengals’ have a major Achilles heel that simply must be a factor on Sunday. The offensive line has struggled to protect their star quarterback all season long, and it will catch up with them eventually.
To date, the Cincinnati offensive line has given up 67 sacks this season, making Burrow (by far) the most-sacked quarterback to ever take to the field on Super Bowl Sunday.
The resilience of the former National Champion has pulled the Bengals out of the fire plenty of times this year – not least in a game against the Titans where he was remarkably downed nine times – but relying on a quarterback’s superhuman ability to survive is a not a sustainable plan of action.
Against weaker defences, Burrow has had just enough chances to weave his magic and force the ball up-field, but the Los Angeles Rams are a whole other kettle of fish.
LA recorded 50 sacks during the regular season (3rd in the NFL) and their fearsome front seven will be salivating at the prospect of facing their Bengals counterparts on Sunday.
Cincinnati have no choice but to prioritise and double-team Aaron Donald up the middle, as failing to do so would be football suicide, but that only leaves opportunities and gaps for Donald’s teammates to exploit.
Among those teammates is Von Miller, who joined mid-season in search of a second world championship ring. He’s not as young as he was in 2015, but Miller is still a premier pass-rushing threat in the NFL and an evening of one-on-one contests against a poor offensive line throws up an interesting and potentially historic possibility.
Miller took home MVP honours at Super Bowl 50, for his part in the Denver Broncos’ victory in Santa Clara. Five players in the past have claimed the title of Super Bowl MVP more than once, but all have been quarterbacks.
Safe in the knowledge that Von Miller could well have his way with the Bengals’ line on Sunday, I’m partial to his 40/1 pricing for MVP honours, which would make him the first non-passer in Super Bowl history to scoop the award twice.
It would make quite the headline, which is ideal when you consider that 80% of the award’s votes are determined by writers and broadcasters.
With all this in mind, I do still believe in Joe Burrow’s ability to perform on the biggest stage, regardless of the adversity in front of him. But, I can’t ignore the elephant in the room and there’s only so many sacks and busted plays a quarterback can go through before his borrowed time runs out.
In order for Cincinnati to win, Joe Burrow needs to avoid turnovers, keep the ball moving and produce some moments of wizardry – all while avoiding the best defender in NFL history and his talented teammates.
On the other hand, Matthew Stafford has far more help on both sides of the football, and can likely win this game by doing little more than his job. That’s a huge difference, and puts the equation firmly in favour of the Rams.
Los Angeles have failed to put games away of late – three of their last four wins have been by three points or less – so I have faith that Cincinnati can keep things tight and cover a four-point handicap.
But, ultimately, the high-powered Rams in their own building will be a bridge too far for the Cinderella Bengals.
Odds correct at 1545 GMT (09/02/22)
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