Preview: Super Bowl LVI Marks A Shift In NFL Gameplay

The Rams and the Bengals will face off in Super Bowl LVI./Kirby Lee for USA TODAY Sports

By Owen Russell

 

   The Los Angeles Rams will battle the Cincinnati Bengals in the 56th annual Super Bowl at the new SoFi Stadium in L.A., streaming Sunday, Feb. 13 on NBC and Peacock. The halftime show will be headlined by West Coast rap icons, like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, but most importantly, Sunday will be the first time these two teams have met in the big game, marking the beginning of a shift in the landscape of professional football.

   Both teams had an unlikely path to gridiron glory. For the Rams, they opened the season as a top contender. The offseason addition of star quarterback Matthew Stafford boosted the Rams’ already impressive offense in ways that excited football commentators. It did not take long for Stafford to deliver on the field, and his presence helped elevate wide receiver Cooper Kupp to unheard-of heights. 

   With the addition of Stafford, Kupp led the league in receptions, receiving touchdowns, and receiving yards. Kupp’s dominant season aside, the Rams would go on to lose five games on the season. Though it may not sound like a lot, all of the Rams’ losses came against eventual playoff teams. During the regular season, the Rams went 2-5 against teams who made the playoffs, including a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the last week of the season. Despite the inauspicious regular season, the Rams rallied in the playoffs, relying on the duo of Stafford and Kupp to defeat two division rivals and the great Tom Brady on their way to the Super Bowl.

   For the Bengals, nobody assumed they would be here. The Bengals opened the season tied with the New York Jets at +12000 odds to win the Super Bowl. Coming off a season-ending ACL tear in his rookie year, Joe Burrow, a second-year quarterback, worried some that he would never meet the hype surrounding him. 

   Not only that, but the Bengals found themselves in the AFC North, battling with perennial playoff teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, and the upstart Cleveland Browns. 

   Much like the Rams, the Bengals were able to rely on the stellar play of their quarterback-wide receiver combo. Burrow’s college teammate Ja’marr Chase was drafted by the Bengals with the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Chase shattered expectations, and raced his way to a record-breaking season, becoming the Bengals’ franchise leader for single-season receiving yards. 

   Cincinnati’s impressive offense helped them capture the AFC North, but still, no one thought they’d get far in the postseason. The Bengals never had it easy in the playoffs. On their way to the Superbowl, Cincinnati would go on to win each of their games by one touchdown or less. In the AFC Championship, the Bengals found themselves against Patrick Mahomes and the formidable Kansas City Chiefs. 

   Battling all the way to overtime (OT), things looked bleak for the Bengals as the Chiefs won the OT coin toss, giving them possession and an opportunity to win the game with a touchdown. Needing a miracle, the Bengals intercepted Mahomes and kicked a game-winning field goal.

   Having defied the odds, both the Bengals and the Rams will look to sling the ball with their star quarterbacks. It looks to be a high-scoring game as both teams ended the season in the top ten for points per game. While the game very well could be one of the highest octane Super Bowls in recent years, the most interesting storyline heading into Sunday could be who is not on the field.

   Super Bowl LVI will be the first Super Bowl in 18 years not to feature Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, or the San Francisco 49ers. To some, this may just sound like an ancillary stat posted by the ESPN Instagram page, but its weight is more important than some realize. 

   This Super Bowl could act as a changing of the guard for the NFL. Brady, Roethlisberger, and Manning are all retired after a decades-long dominance over the rest of the NFL. Quarterbacks like Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and LA’s Matthew Stafford are now the top signal callers in the NFL, along with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen. 

   This could be the beginning of an era where fans no longer suffer from watching the same three quarterbacks dominate the league year in and year out. Small markets like Cincinnati now have a shot at the promised land after generations of suffering. Teams like Pittsburgh and New England may finally have to scrape and claw their way to a playoff spot like the rest of the league. 

   At the end of the day, Sunday will be about the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams, but lifelong football fans can’t help but notice the gravity surrounding the game.

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