It might just be me, but there seems to be a major lack of buzz surrounding Super Bowl LVI.
And it’s a bit strange because, for the second consecutive season, a team will compete for the Lombardi Trophy on its ground.
Last year, the Buccaneers were successful against Kansas City at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Tomorrow night in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest TV market, the Rams will try to replicate that feat in their luxurious new $5 billion SoFi stadium, against a Bengals team most NFL fans don’t. weren’t expecting to see close to the Super Bowl…at least this season.
The absence of an East Coast team impacts television viewership – Cincy, 36th in market size, does not count – and there is the notable absence of a “bad guy” who attracts traditionally viewers.
Coaches Bill Belichick and Jimmy Johnson have drawn the ire of myriad fans in the past, as have like-minded players Tom Brady and Ray Lewis…deserved or not.
But it won’t be a cringe-worthy problem tomorrow unless, of course, you’re actually at the game (cheapest ticket, $5,300; lowest parking fee $300 within two miles of stadium ).
Here are the “Super” predictions from the Sports Department of The Times Herald:
(180-103-1 overall; 140-142-2 ATS)
First, two numbers, 90 and 62.
Ninety is the forecast temperature at kickoff, the hottest in Super Bowl history.
Sixty-two is the percentage of fans who will support the underdog Bengals. What’s weird about this is that the Rams are a 4-point favorite. They automatically get half that number for playing at home, with the other two points coming from betting in public. In other words, there are people betting on LA but supporting Cincy at the same time.
Bills fans, however, think Buffalo should represent the AFC. After last year’s loss to Kansas City in the conference championship game, it was assumed it was the Bills’ turn…and it could have been, but for an infamous 13 seconds.
But, after their own heartbreak at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs vow to be back next season. Buffalo fans are convinced it’s their turn. The Cincinnati faithful will feel the same if the Bengals lose tomorrow and Tennessee enters the 2021 playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the conference.
These are four teams that consider themselves AFC champions after the 22-year campaign, with the Browns, Chargers, Colts, Patriots and Raiders feeling they might have something to say about it.
(181-102-1 overall; 152-130-2 ATS)
The hope was that, with just 13 seconds remaining and the Bills up 36-33 over the Chiefs, it would be the first time in 14 years on TH’s Pick the Pros panel that I could actually select Buffalo.
When that failed overwhelmingly, Plan B had to at least have the comfort of a superbly retro rematch of the two Bengals-49ers Super Bowls of the 1980s. ended up with this: who do you shoot for in a pair of apparent good guys?
Remarkably, this is only the third time in the past 14 years that the Super Bowl has not included Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady, the latter having appeared in six of the previous 13 games. So there is no possibility of going after the old guard for the sake of a surprise. There are also no Chiefs, who have become a legitimate enemy of the Bills and would have been easy to root for.
So who do you go with: grizzled veteran Matt Stafford or rising star Joe Burrow?
I have nothing against the Bengals but I can’t help but think it should be Allen here and not the former LSU star because Allen has paid more dues, so to speak, while Burrow has made the jump in its first full season. That said, I’m going with Stafford and the Rams. He waited 13 years to get there. He deserves one.
(179-104-1 overall; 153-129-2 ATS)
You know the cliché, “play like there’s no tomorrow”. Well, Los Angeles Rams management took that to heart. In a sport where most franchises rack up draft picks like gold, the Rams run their team as if the future doesn’t matter. LA doesn’t have a first-round pick until 2024 due to the Matthew Stafford trade, and he won’t pick this year until the third round. But who needs youth when you have veterans making a difference like Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, Von Miller, Jalen Ramsey and now Odell Beckham Jr.? This team is the epitome of all-in-ones and plays on its home turf in the brand new SoFi Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are by anyone’s guess “ahead of schedule,” with their top two offensive players, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, already recreating their 2019 LSU magic in the pros. I think that puts all the pressure on the veteran-laden Rams, but given the AFC’s other great young quarterbacks, Cincinnati shouldn’t assume he’ll automatically be back anytime soon. The pressure (on and off the field) doesn’t seem to bother Burrow too much, and I think he’s been giving the Rams a hard time, but LA talent will eventually win out.
(181-102-1 overall; 152-130-2 ATS)
Cincinnati’s Super Bowl run surprised me as much as most, especially given how inconsistent it was during the regular season. When I think back to the 2020 CFP National Championship game, however, perhaps the emergence of Joe Burrow shouldn’t have caught me off guard.
Burrow, then LSU quarterback, lit up the Clemson defense en route to a 42-25 triumph. His right-hand man, Ja’Marr Chase, was on the receiving end for 221 of Burrow’s 463 passing yards and caught two of Burrow’s five touchdown passes.
Burrow’s accuracy struck me – the throws he was capable of as a college QB, I thought, could only be duplicated by a handful of NFL players. Burrow is a winner and translated it for the pros.
He will also turn 26 in December, just six months after Bills QB Josh Allen. Burrow’s playoff success as a second-year professional was impressive, but when examining his pedigree, he may have had a leg up on QBs such as Allen, who came into the league as a 22-year-old raw prospect.
Burrow always has Chase at his disposal and can also rely on a defense that seems to produce saves when he needs them most. His counterpart, however (Matthew Stafford of the Rams), may have an even better defense to fall back on.
Burrow’s rise to stardom has been impressive. Stafford’s first year in Los Angeles, however, after a decade of disappointment in Detroit, seems like a fitting end to this year’s NFL storyline.
(173-110-1 overall; 130-152-2 ATS)
The Bengals and the Rams. A team that had no playoff success for years until they took over a No. 1 quarterback. A quarterback that had no playoff success for years until until an off-season trade sends him from Detroit to the West Coast.
The first pick in the 2009 draft against his 2020 counterpart. In November, no one could have predicted it would be the Super Bowl entrants. But both teams have since turned it on and have been impressive in their three playoff wins.
The Bengals’ offense is full of playmakers — not just Joe Burrow — but Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and famed Buffalo hero Tyler Boyd among them.
Then again, the Rams have a ton of playmakers too – Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham on offense; Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey in defense.
Right now, though, it looks like the Bengals are playing better. Beating Tennessee and Kansas City on the road in consecutive weeks to get here is significant. I expect them to make it three in a row when they beat the Rams tomorrow night in Los Angeles. If only Buffalo could have done a fraction of what Cincinnati’s defense did against Patrick Mahomes, maybe Josh Allen and company would play instead.