LOS ANGELES (AP) — The previous time the Rams were in the Super Bowl, they benefited from one of the more egregious officiating errors in NFL history. Then they were flatter than the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf in a loss to Tom Brady and New England.
The previous time the Bengals were in the Super Bowl — who remembers?
So let’s discard history when it comes to this game.
As for advantages, well, the Rams are playing in their own stadium and haven’t had to leave California for weeks. The Bengals needed to escape Cincinnati’s winter and headed west two days before they were scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles. Of course, if the organization had built an indoor practice facility …
No matter. The Bengals are here and actually are designated the home team because of the conference rotation for the big game. They don’t appear in awe of, well, anything.
“This is what you work so hard for,” rising star quarterback Joe Burrow said. “We didn’t go into last season saying that we have to have a great offseason to make it to the Super Bowl next year. I think everyone just went into it and knew they had to get better as players so we could be better as a team.”
Mission accomplished — with one huge step remaining.
LA has the experience and, appropriately, within reach of Hollywood, most of the established stars in this matchup: Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey on defense; Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. on offense.
Yet the Bengals won the awards contest, Burrow (Comeback Player) and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (Offensive Rookie) against Kupp’s top offensive player honor.
Quite often it’s the bigger names who stand out in the Super Bowl. But some of the intrigue here centers on guys who seemed to have made breakthroughs in these playoffs. Many of those are on Cincinnati’s side: rookie kicker Evan McPherson, perfect on all his kicks, including two winning fields goals on the final play; tight end C.J. Uzomah, emerging in his seventh pro season; defensive end Sam Hubbard; and linebacker Logan Wilson.
Even Cincy’s coach, Zac Taylor, has risen toward the heights of the profession after a 6-25-1 mark in his first two seasons.
“It’s awesome,” says Rams coach Sean McVay. “Zac’s a great coach. I think the resilience, the mental toughness, the things that they’ve gone through to get to this point is great. I think it’s such credit to his leadership.
“I love Zac Taylor. I’m so happy for him. I think that team plays with a swagger and a confidence similar to the way Zac carries himself. He’s so steady. He’s always so neutral.”
Of course, Taylor worked under McVay for two seasons before the Bengals came calling. And McVay, still only 36, is in his second Super Bowl and has taken his team to the playoffs in four of his five years in charge.
One worry about the Rams is how they keep some games closer than maybe they should be. Turnovers, poor play calls and poorer decisions have damaged them, though not enough to keep them from winning the NFC.
Overall, it’s hard, maybe impossible, to argue that the Bengals are more talented than the Rams. Indeed, Cincy might not rank in the top eight or so in the NFL in that area.
But talent isn’t always the deciding factor. Resolve, versatility, confidence and even luck play a role. Sometimes a big one.
That said, the Rams are 4-point favorites according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Pro Picks can ride with them.
Last Week: Straight up: 0-2. Against spread: 2-0.
Season: Straight up: 184-100-1. Against spread: 159-122-2.
Best Bet: Straight up: 12-7-1. Against spread: 13-7.
Upset Special: Straight up: 15-3. Against spread: 15-3.