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Two teams with wildly contrasting styles compete for the NFL’s ultimate prize. The flashy, spendthrift and nomadic Los Angeles Rams play the formerly chaotic Cincinnati Bengals, a blue collar team enjoying a dream season.

The Rams have bucked the trend of building a team through free agency while pretending the first round of the draft doesn’t exist.

It is an unprecedented strategy but one that has worked for general manager Les Snead and Sean McVay, who was the youngest head coach to reach the Super Bowl four years ago and looks to have got younger since.

The Los Angeles Rams meet the Cincinnati Bengals to compete for the NFL's ultimate prize

The Los Angeles Rams meet the Cincinnati Bengals to compete for the NFL's ultimate prize

The Los Angeles Rams meet the Cincinnati Bengals to compete for the NFL’s ultimate prize

Perhaps it’s because he no longer has to worry about Jared Goff, the Rams’ last first round pick in 2016. Since then they have traded away draft capital, accruing the likes of Jalen Ramsey and Matt Stafford, Goff’s replacement after the often wayward quarterback was traded away.

And then there’s the Bengals, who have shaken off their Bungles tag in quite some style.

Despite only having six scouts, seldom splashing out in free agency and being unfailingly patient with their sometimes, well, shall we say not brilliant head coaching staff, they have struck gold in the draft. First came Joe Burrow in 2020 and Ja’Marr Chase last year.

The newly energised franchise are in their first Super Bowl since 1989 after going 2-14 and 4-12 in the last two seasons. It’s a remarkable turnaround and a great story. But are they the destiny team?

The Cincinnati Bengals have shaken off their 'Bungles' tag to reach the showpiece event

The Cincinnati Bengals have shaken off their 'Bungles' tag to reach the showpiece event

The Cincinnati Bengals have shaken off their ‘Bungles’ tag to reach the showpiece event

What’s going on?

For the second consecutive season an NFL team will be playing the Super Bowl in its own stadium. It had never happened before Tom Brady parachuted into Tampa and led the Bucs to a Super Bowl win in his first season. 

Now it’s the Rams who will hope to see blue and yellow ticker tape floating at SoFi Stadium, the NFL’s newest and most expensive stadium.

So why are the Rams in white?

Well spotted. The Rams are technically the road team. They will be decked out in white jerseys, gold pants and blue socks. 

As the designated home team the Bengals – by virtue of being the AFC representative – chose to wear black jerseys, white pants with white stripes and orange socks.

The match is held in the LA Rams' SoFi Stadium - but for this, they are billed as the road team

The match is held in the LA Rams' SoFi Stadium - but for this, they are billed as the road team

The match is held in the LA Rams’ SoFi Stadium – but for this, they are billed as the road team

How did they get there?

The Rams went 12-5 in the regular season, finishing first in the NFC West. Entering the playoffs as the No 4 seed, they beat two divisional rivals on the way to Super Bowl LVI. On wild card weekend, they beat the Arizona Cardinals 34-11. 

In the divisional round they saw off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the reigning Super Bowl champions, 30-27. And next up, the Rams overcome their nemesis, the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. They had lost the last six games but sealed their spot at SoFi with another narrow win, 20-17.

The season has been a dream for Cincinnati. First they won the AFC North, going 10-7. Then they beat the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19. Next up were the AFC’s No 1 seeded Tennessee Titans, who were dispatched 19-16. 

Their improbable run continued with victory at Arrowhead, storming back from 21-3 down to seal an unforgettable 27-24 win in overtime.

The Rams defeated defending champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the way to the Super Bowl

The Rams defeated defending champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the way to the Super Bowl

The Rams defeated defending champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the way to the Super Bowl

Top five Bengals players?

Coming straight in at No 1 is Joe Burrow. The ice cool, sunglasses sporting, cigar smoking quarterback has carried the Bengals on his back. Just watch him play – he’s terrific.

Next up is Burrow’s LSU team-mate Ja’Marr Chase. The wide receiver was taken No 5 overall in the draft and had a team record 1,455 yards in the regular season.

Fellow receiver Tee Higgins joined chase on over 1,000 yards – they are the first receiving tandem to have 1,000 yard seasons before the age of 23. With Chase expected to take up most of the attention, Higgins could be set for a big day.

Trey Hopkins anchors an offensive line which has allowed Burrow to be sacked 51 times in the regular season and 12 times in the playoffs. And he’s up against Aaron Donald.

Let’s not forget rookie kicker Evan McPherson. He’s 22, has converted 12 out of 12 field goals and four out of four extra points in the playoffs.

Joe Burrow is the No 1 Bengal player to look out for when they take on the LA Rams

Joe Burrow is the No 1 Bengal player to look out for when they take on the LA Rams

Joe Burrow is the No 1 Bengal player to look out for when they take on the LA Rams

Haven’t you forgotten someone?

Oh yes, Joe Mixon. The Bengals running back was third in yards rushing (1,205) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (13) in the NFL.

What about the Rams?

Quarterback Matthew Stafford hadn’t won a playoff game before this season, losing on all three visits in his 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions. But he’s in LA now and that record is suddenly a much healthier 3-3. While always capable of throwing an interception and occasionally unreliable in the red zone, Stafford has completed 146 of 217 passes in the postseason for 1,813 yards and 10 touchdowns.

‘Super’ Cooper Kupp became the fourth wide receiver to win the hallowed triple crown – leading the league with 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Aaron Donald has done it all, apart from winning a Super Bowl. Seven All Pro selections, three defensive player of the years and 98 sacks to date (expect him to make that three figures on Sunday), Donald has been with the Rams since 2014. He’s the heart and soul of the organisation – and is arguably the best player in the league, as capable as rushing in the interior as he is on the edge.

For Aaron Donald (pictured) a Super Bowl victory is the one thing missing for him in the game

For Aaron Donald (pictured) a Super Bowl victory is the one thing missing for him in the game

For Aaron Donald (pictured) a Super Bowl victory is the one thing missing for him in the game

Another three-time All Pro, cornerback Jalen Ramsey was typically cocksure when asked if he wanted to shadow Ja’Marr Chase. ‘Of course, that’s what I’m asking for. That’s what I want. Whoever you think their best man is, put me on him. Let me help the team win this game. That’s what it’s all about.’

Running back Cam Akers had surgery on a torn right Achilles in July. Not only is he back, but he’s taking the majority of the workload, rushing for 96 yards from 37 carries against the Bucs and the Niners.

Who’s in charge?

Let’s not start giving Ron Torbert a hard time ahead of his first Super Bowl

No, the coaches…

Ah, gotcha. The Rams have a clear advantage. Sean McVay is widely considered a genius. A man capable of recalling exact downs and distance of situations from seven years ago. Now in his second Super Bowl after being stifled by Bill Belichick four years ago, he’ll look to become the NFL’s youngest head coach to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

He will be pitting his wits against Zac Taylor, who spent two season on McVay’s staff. He called that time ‘two of the best years of his life’ but has reached the Super Bowl in his third year in Cincinnati. Much of that is down to his humility in letting Joe Burrow run the show.

If he is inspired, the Bengals have a chance. If it’s a coaching battle, the Rams have a considerable advantage.

Sean McVay - the LA Rams coach - is widely considered a genius within the game

Sean McVay - the LA Rams coach - is widely considered a genius within the game

Sean McVay – the LA Rams coach – is widely considered a genius within the game

Hasn’t the Super Bowl been in LA before?

Yes, it is the eighth time Los Angeles is hosting the game, but the first since 1993.

The first was in 1967, when there were around 30,000 empty seats and tickets cost $6. In the AFL-NFL World Championship (later known as the Super Bowl) the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs at Memorial Coliseum. Six years later, the Miami Dolphins completed the first and only unbeaten season, beating Washington. The Rose Bowl hosted the game five times in 17 years, with the likes of John Madden, John Riggins and Jimmy Johnson adding to NFL folklore.

But when the Rams left for St Louis in 1995, the NFL was absent from LA for 22 years. But now they’re back, baby!

Sounds great. Can I get a ticket?

Of course. If you have about $10,000 to spare.

Does anything happen at half time?

No, not really. They probably throw cups of tea around in the locker room. Kidding.

Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J Blige and Kendrick Lamar will perform together for the first time for the Pepsi half-time show. It will be the third time Dre’s Roc Nation have produced the half-time show in part.

Before all that, country musician Mickey Guyton will sing the national anthem.

Kendrick Lamar is among the big names who will perform during the half-time interval

Kendrick Lamar is among the big names who will perform during the half-time interval

Kendrick Lamar is among the big names who will perform during the half-time interval

Big crowd?

It will be a full house. 70,240 fans will be in attendance – and all will be vaccinated and wearing N95 masks.

How can I follow it?

On the telly? It is being broadcast by the BBC, or you could watch on NFL Game Pass. Or Sky Sports.

If you are driving somewhere or prefer to listen to sport, it is being broadcast on both BBC Radio Five Live and talkSPORT.

Your prediction?

It would be wise to look elsewhere. My predictions are uniformly terrible. Everyone here is saying the Rams. They have the pass rush, the receivers, the coach. The whole caboodle. But the Bengals have Joe Burrow and it just sort of seems like his time…

Source: DailyMail

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