The Cincinnati Bengals have the opportunity to win their first Super Bowl, something they haven’t had a chance at in 30 years. They overcame two opponents, the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, where they were definite underdogs due to their inexperience. Even their lone home game during the wild card round, against the Las Vegas Raiders, they were a popular pick to be upset. They overcame it all; previous playoff experience be damned.
As a devout Seahawks fan, they have become an easy team to root for in their upcoming match-up against the Los Angeles Rams. In two short years, Joe Burrow has taken the NFL by storm after bringing the NCAA to its knees and could soon be the first person to win an NCAA title, the Heisman, and the Superbowl (all within two years). He’s surrounded by an impressive amount of offensive firepower, as Jamarr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon continue to blast the door off opposing defenses.
Unfortunately, though, the Rams pose a severe hindrance to the Bengals’ quest for football immortality. The most prominent being that their strengths match up perfectly with Cincinnati’s weaknesses.
Most notably, the Bengals’ offensive line is awful. Not quite 2015-2017 Seahawks bad, but still pretty bad. Three of their five starting offensive linemen are graded as below-average by Pro Football Focus – their starting center Trey Hopkins, left guard Hakeem Adeniji, and right tackle Isaiah Prince. While left tackle Jonah Williams and guard Quentin Spain are pretty good, neither are world-beaters. As a unit, they’ve given up 55 sacks. They rank 30th in ESPN’s pass block win rate. This mash unit is all that stands in front of Joe Burrow and absolute desolation.
In just two weeks, those five guys will stand in front of 3x Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, master sack artist Von Miller, and the perennially underrated Leonard Floyd. This trio isn’t just good; they can and have won games for the Rams consistently. As opposed to the unit they’ll be lining up across, they rank at the top of the league in Pass Rush Win Rate, overpowering offensive lines 53% of the time. They notched 50 sacks in the regular season, good for about three a game. It’s not a question of will the Rams get to Joe Burrow, but how much.
On the flipside of the ball, the unheralded Bengals defense will be forced to try and stop a Rams offense that ranked 4th in the league according to DVOA, averaging 27.1 points per game. Led by Matt Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Odell Beckham Jr, the Rams are not an offense to underestimate.
What the Bengals’ defense lacks in star power, it certainly makes up for in-unit cohesion. Trey Hendrickson heads a sneakily good defensive line that should be able to pin its ears back and get after Stafford. The Ram’s running game has struggled this year, and the Rams offensive line isn’t that great. At 40, left tackle Andrew Whitworth is still pretty good, as is right tackle Rob Havenstein. The interior is very vulnerable, though, and the Bengals should be able to punch their way through.
The biggest question is whether Cincinnati can keep Cooper Kupp contained. Chidobe Awuzie is the Bengal’s best corner, having emerged as one of the NFL’s best. Unfortunately, he’s not a corner that travels with the other team’s best receiver. Kupp’s true value relies on his versatility, which is a problem, considering Mike Hilton and Eli Apple are not the same tier. Hilton can maybe hang with him at times in the slot, but anytime Apple is matched up with him, the Rams will be at a massive advantage. Odell Beckham Jr has re-emerged, but Cincinnati matches up much better with him.
From a pro-Seahawks standpoint, a Los Angeles Rams win would suck. It means Sean McVay would most likely be people’s best coach in the NFC West and would make them the favorites in the division going forward. The Bengals are a team Seattle hardly ever plays, and Burrow is one of the most likable teams in the NFL. Seattle should be standing with Cincinnati on February 13th.