The Los Angeles Rams have gone all-in. Trading for Matthew Stafford was the move that made everything possible. Stafford showed all season long that he has been held back with an unattractive situation in Detroit. He isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, player who can point to an undesirable draft destination as slowing his career trajectory.
Arriving in Los Angeles, working with Sean McVay, and having weapons like Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Odell Beckham Jr., Van Jefferson, and a loaded backfield has given Stafford a boost.
Importantly, he arrived on a team that cared about offensive and defensive balance. Aaron Donald is arguably the most disruptive defensive player in the NFL — Defensive Player of the Year Award or no. His teammates represent a massive investment to create a dynamic pass rush (Leonard Floyd and Von Miller) and a secondary with a dominant player like Jalen Ramsey. This defense hasn’t regularly put Stafford in a position to play hero ball all season long.
The odds are in favor of the Rams, who get the extra benefit of playing on their home field, in Los Angeles. Everything is trending their way, and DraftKings Sportsbook has them as 4-point favorites.
The Cincinnati Bengals will win the Super Bowl because none of those things weigh on their shoulders. The Bengals have been crushing the NFL Draft recently, they have made prudent moves in free agency, and their arrow is pointing up. This is a team trending to be a force for the next decade or more.
The Rams, not likely.
This matters because the Bengals aren’t even supposed to be here. It doesn’t mean they don’t have pressure or desire to win. They certainly do, but they get to go out and legitimately play like they have nothing to lose. Burrow will be among the top tier of NFL signal-callers for years. Joe Mixon is a gifted running back who is in his prime. The pairing of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins should stick in Cincinnati for quite some time.
The point is, Joe Burrow can play with his signature swagger.
Will he take some hits? Will he have to do some pretty incredible things? Sure. But it’s kind of what Burrow loves to do. It’s what he thrives on.
When LSU defeated Clemson for the national title in 2019, there were plenty of reasons for NCAA football fans to doubt them. Clemson and Alabama are the only teams with multiple championships since 2009.
While LSU is always one of the better teams, they rarely have had great quarterback play. Burrow had just transferred from Ohio State and while he was tremendous all season long, there was always a question about why the Buckeyes would let a player like Burrow go if he was an NCAA Championship-winning talent.
That concern followed Burrow to the NFL Draft, where some were nervous about drafting a player at the top of the draft who had one incredible season. Hello Mac Jones.
The point is, he used to this kind of attention and expectation.
Ja’Marr Chase is a big play waiting to happen. Tee Higgins is a terror in the Red Zone. Joe Mixon and the Bengals offense are built to move the ball on the ground. Cincinnati’s defense gave Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid fits, twice this season. They will absolutely capitalize on any Stafford mistakes.
As silly as it seems, if one team is playing with pressure and the other team is playing free, it’s harder for the former team to get it done. The Rams will have to put together a complete game. They’ll need to find a way to make plays early to allow the pressure to subside. If this game is close the whole way and goes down to the wire, bet on the Bengals and Burrow.
Also, bet on Evan McPherson. He isn’t human in pressure situations.
A game settled by less than a touchdown feels like a good circumstance for the Bengals to me. The line is Rams by four points. In that world, give me the Bengals.