Super Bowl LVI kicks off on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET, with the Cincinnati Bengals facing the Los Angeles Rams. The two teams each emerged from their conference’s No. 4 seeds after winning their respective divisions. The matchup represents the first time since 2003 that participant teams enter with a combined zero or one Super Bowl titles, and the two quarterbacks — Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow — are each trying win their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in their debut postseasons with their teams.
Our NFL team has you covered with everything you’d ever want to know for Rams-Bengals, including team previews, bold predictions and game picks. We also provide betting advice from our ESPN Chalk experts, game-plan breakdowns from our analysts and in-depth statistics from our ESPN Stats & Information team. We look at the two quarterbacks, the head coaches, key rookies and some X factors as well. We even preview the officiating, halftime show, injury report and top Super Bowl MVP candidates.
It’s all here in a handy one-stop cheat sheet. Let’s dive in, starting with an overview of the exciting matchup.
Previewing Rams vs. Bengals
When you think of a classic Super Bowl matchup, you think of two teams that have dominated their competition and run rampant through the playoffs. This is not that matchup. Both teams trailed in their respective conference championship games as the fourth quarter started. The Bengals needed a dramatic comeback and a spectacular self-destruction from the Chiefs to advance. The Rams blew a 24-point lead in the divisional round against the Bucs and needed 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt to drop a gift-wrapped interception to spur their win over the 49ers.
And yet, these teams are here because their stars did star things. Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase made huge catches to set up game-winning field goals. Jessie Bates III started the divisional-round game vs. the Titans with an interception and sent the Chiefs’ offense to the sideline for the winter by creating another. Aaron Donald finished Jimmy Garoppolo‘s 49ers career with a pressure to force a pick. Joe Burrow ducked through a sure sack to scramble for a critical first down. These teams have weapons on both sides of the ball that can singlehandedly decide games. Whichever team stops more of those stars wins this game. — Bill Barnwell, senior NFL writer
Read more: Barnwell’s ultimate preview … First look at the matchup … How did Cincinnati build this unique roster … Super Bowl returns to its birthplace … FiveThirtyEight’s guide … Tales of Super Bowl nerves
ESPN’s FPI predicts a Rams victory in 66.3% of its simulations by an average of 5.6 points.
Our matchup rating grades Rams-Bengals as a 74.7 on a scale of 1 to 100.
The Rams were No. 6 in FPI this season, while the Bengals were No. 15.
In the preseason, the Rams had a 10.7% chance to make the Super Bowl per FPI, but the Bengals were looking at an 0.4% chance.
Who wins the game?
We asked 76 experts to weigh in on who will win. The Rams were picked by 43 of them (56.6%), while the Bengals claimed 33 votes (43.4%).
What’s at stake
The Rams are trying to write the perfect ending for their Hollywood script — winning a Super Bowl in their home stadium after making an all-in effort. They’re going for the second championship in franchise history (1999) and first since their 2016 move back to Los Angeles, where they’re still trying to win over a lukewarm fan base. It would be redemption for coach Sean McVay, who has lamented some of the mistakes he made in the team’s loss to New England in Super Bowl LIII, and it would give Aaron Donald the one thing his résumé is missing. Given how much the Rams mortgaged their future to win this season, this will likely be their best shot at a Super Bowl in a while. — Brady Henderson, Seahawks reporter (covering Rams)
Sam Acho and Dan Graziano dissect Odell Beckham Jr.’s run to the Super Bowl and how that has changed the perception of his career.
Cincinnati has lost both previous trips to the Super Bowl — losses to the 49ers in 1982 and 1989. If the Bengals can get another upset win in the postseason, Cincinnati will join the 49ers as the only teams that went from worst in the NFL to Super Bowl champs in the span of three seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. With a young core that features quarterback Joe Burrow, Cincinnati should be playing for the Lombardi trophy on a regular basis. The Bengals are in their 54th season, which would be the most by any franchise before winning its first championship in NFL history, per Elias. — Ben Baby, Bengals reporter
Key stats to know
According to ESPN metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats, the Rams ranked first in pass rush win rate this season. The Bengals, meanwhile, ranked 30th in pass block win rate, and they were 25th or worst in pass block win rate at every position (the five OL spots, TE and RB). And this will be the third Super Bowl matchup featuring an offense sacked 50-plus times during the regular season (Bengals) and a defense that racked up 50-plus sacks (Rams).
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (127, first) and Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson (107, third) rank in the top three in first pressures this season, including the playoffs. Hendrickson was 11th in pass rush win rate (21.9%), and the Bengals’ pressure rate fell from 33% with him on the field to 21% with him off it. Donald, though, had the second-highest pass rush win rate this season (26.7%), despite being double-teamed at the sixth-highest rate in the NFL (64%). In fact, Donald’s 23.1% pass rush win rate when being double-teamed was the same as sack leader T.J. Watt‘s overall mark. And when both Donald and edge rusher Von Miller are in the pass rush, the Rams have a pass rush win rate of 54.2% (including the playoffs).
Including the playoffs, receivers Cooper Kupp (Rams) and Ja’Marr Chase (Bengals) are Nos. 1 and 2 in receiving yards this season, making it the first time the top two in that category have met in the Super Bowl. They are also the only two receivers with at least 1,200 receiving yards outside the numbers in a season since 2007. Kupp led the NFL in receptions (145), yards (1,947) and TDs (16) this season. And now he has a handful of single-season playoff records within reach. He needs 161 receiving yards to pass Larry Fitzgerald‘s 546, seven catches to move past Travis Kelce (31) and three TDs to tie Fitzgerald’s seven. One area where he stood out this year was downfield. He had more catches (28 vs. 25) and touchdowns (seven vs. five) on vertical routes this season than in his previous four seasons combined. And then there is Chase, who had 81 catches for 1,455 yards and 13 TDs this season. His 279 receiving yards in the postseason are already the most among rookies in a single playoffs, and he’s the only rookie receiver to have multiple 100-yard receiving games in a playoffs. And like Kupp, he makes the vertical game a threat: Burrow and Chase connected on 14 deep fade routes for 517 yards and six TDs — all of which were the most by a duo over the past five seasons.
Laura Rutledge breaks down all the intricate stats for what you can expect between the Rams and the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI.
This is the second Super Bowl between teams that each finished in the bottom 10 in rushing yards (2008). But Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon was third in the league in rushing with 1,205 yards, and his 16 total touchdowns tied Pete Johnson for the second most in a season in franchise history.
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Bengals safety Jessie Bates III leads the NFL in ball hawk rate (26%) since the start of last season, including the playoffs and among players who saw at least 75 targets.
Will Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey shadow Chase? His highest shadow rates of the season have all come since Week 12 and have been against elite receivers, but the only instance of Ramsey shadowing a player more than 60% of the time was the divisional round (Mike Evans, 69%).
Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is coming off his only 100-yard receiving outing in his past 34 games. His six receiving touchdowns with Los Angeles, including the playoffs, are tied for the second most by a player with a team that he joined during the season. He could tie Amari Cooper (Raiders, Cowboys) for the most if he catches one on Sunday.
Since 2000, there have been nine trades involving multiple first-round picks being exchanged for a player, and the Rams account for two (Matthew Stafford and Ramsey). They are only the second team to make the Super Bowl with such players (2002 Buccaneers with Keyshawn Johnson). Stafford was the 10th quarterback acquired for multiple first-rounders in the common draft era, and his three playoff wins are as many as the other nine had combined on that team. He’s also the first to make the Super Bowl.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald will have two sacks, and the Rams will have four as a team. There isn’t a more glaring mismatch in this game than Los Angeles’ defensive front against the Bengals’ offensive line. Donald was second in the league in pass rush win rate during another typically dominant season, and the game’s best defensive player will at some point take over Super Bowl LVI to ensure he gets his elusive ring. — Henderson
Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd will have seven catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Cincinnati’s slot receiver could get some favorable matchups with the Rams looking to contain the Bengals’ outside receivers. Boyd also gives Burrow a quick, dependable option, as Cincinnati will attempt to contend with the Rams’ league-leading pass rush. — Baby
Bengals running back Joe Mixon will have more than 90 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Six consecutive Super Bowl champions have had a running back post those numbers. Mixon’s rushing totals have increased throughout the playoffs, and he has a reception for at least 15 yards in each of those games. He led his team in yards from scrimmage (115) in the AFC Championship Game, and in Sunday’s big game — where the Bengals will need to control the tempo to keep the Rams’ offense off the field — Mixon could again be the beneficiary. — Stephania Bell, NFL analyst
Bengals receiver Tee Higgins will be the Super Bowl MVP. He has a 53% catch rate and is averaging 7.9 yards per target against man-to-man coverage this season, but those numbers rocket to a 72% catch rate and 10.8 yards per target against Cover 2, Cover 3 and Cover 4. Why is that relevant? Only two defenses have been in zone more often than Los Angeles. A star in the making, Higgins is targeted about as often as Chase and already has two big games during the playoffs. He’s in position for another. — Mike Clay, NFL analyst
The quarterback matchup
Matthew Stafford, Rams
Stafford, 34, spent 12 years in Detroit before joining the Rams via a trade last offseason, and he completed 67.2% of his throws for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdown passes in Year 1 in L.A. And now he can join Tom Brady (2020) and Trent Dilfer (2000) as the only QBs to win the Super Bowl in their first seasons with a team. He could also become the third quarterback to win his first Super Bowl after at least 10 seasons (John Elway, Steve Young). He excelled throwing vertically this season, averaging 8.4 air yards per attempt and connecting on 65 passes that went for at least 20 yards. But he also struggled with turnovers. He could join Eli Manning as the only regular-season interception leaders to win the Super Bowl, after he tied Trevor Lawrence with 17 this season. — ESPN
Joe Burrow, Bengals
Burrow, 25, has the chance to become the first football player to be drafted No. 1 overall and win a Heisman Trophy, a national title and a Super Bowl — and he can do it all in a three-year span. He led the NFL in completion percentage (70.4%) and yards per attempt (8.9) this season, making him the youngest to do it in both categories in the same season. Plus, his 10% off-target percentage was the lowest in the NFL over the past five seasons. And after going 0-for-13 on passes thrown 30-plus yards downfield last season, Burrow has 13 such completions this season, including playoffs, and his seven TDs on those throws have him tied with Stafford for the most in the NFL. In all, Burrow threw for 4,611 yards, 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season, his first full NFL campaign after tearing his ACL during his 2020 rookie season. — ESPN
Ryan Clark discusses how Joe Burrow is unfazed playing in these high-level playoff games.
Read/watch more: Burrow’s ever-increasing number of nicknames … Former Lions teammates living vicariously through Stafford … Why Burrow plays QB like a linebacker … Stafford giving the Rams a shot … Joe Brrr and his swag … Manning breaks down Burrow … Manning breaks down Stafford
Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Chase. The Bengals are 6-1 when Chase goes for more than 100 yards this season. If the Bengals take the Super Bowl, Chase will be the catalyst.
Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Burrow. The Rams’ front won’t make it easy, but Burrow is slippery enough back there to make plays against L.A.’s undermanned secondary and cap off a magical second season by delivering Cincinnati’s first title.
Mina Kimes, NFL analyst: Kupp. I’ve got the Rams winning, which would make Stafford the more obvious pick. But I could also envision Stafford throwing a pick or two that keeps the game close. Kupp, the triple-crown receiver, will deliver a show-stopping performance that’ll earn him the award.
Jason Reid, The Undefeated senior writer: Donald. One of only three players in NFL history to be a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donald will wreak havoc along the interior of the Bengals’ offensive line and make things miserable for Burrow.
Seth Wickersham, NFL writer: Donald. The Rams will force the Bengals to be one-dimensional, and Donald will tee off on Burrow.
Of the 76 experts who weighed in, 30 picked Burrow to win Super Bowl MVP. See all of our experts’ picks.
Stafford is the betting favorite at +120 at Caesars Sportsbook. Burrow is at +220, while Kupp is +700 and Chase is +1200. Donald is +1800.
Inside the game plan
I’m keeping my eye on Aaron Donald and Von Miller against the Bengals’ pass protection. With the Rams’ zone-heavy defense, there are matchup advantages for both Donald and Miller, and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris can scheme defined one-on-ones or use twists and stunts to heat up Burrow in the pocket. The Bengals can use the run game and first-down play-action to counter the pass rush, and we could see more seven-man protection in dropback situations to keep Burrow clean. Cincinnati will need answers against a Los Angeles front that can win on the edges and create interior disruption. — Matt Bowen, NFL analyst
Damien Woody and Rob Ninkovich discuss how the Bengals can contain Aaron Donald and protect Joe Burrow on Sunday.
Rams X factor: Andrew Whitworth, OT
The Rams’ 40-year-old left tackle is coming off a stellar season and will be tasked with shutting down Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who lines up almost exclusively on the offense’s left side. Hendrickson ranked ninth in pass rush win rate at edge and is by far Cincinnati’s best pass-rushing threat. But Whitworth ranked third in pass block win rate at tackle this season and could potentially neutralize him. — Seth Walder, analytics writer
Bengals X factor: Mike Hilton, CB
Considering Cooper Kupp lines up out wide just 31% of the time when running a route, per NFL Next Gen Stats, Hilton figures to line up opposite the star receiver most of the time. Hilton’s nearest defender numbers were a mixed bag, as he allowed an above-average yards per coverage snap but also held opponents to the second-lowest total expected points added among all slot corners (postseason included). Given whom he’ll often be marking, it’s hard not to assume a lot hinges on Hilton’s play. — Walder
Under-the-radar impact player: Greg Gaines, DT, Rams
It has been oft-discussed that the Bengals will need to slow down the Rams’ pass rush. But while Donald and Miller are the household names, Gaines causes all sorts of ruckus and had his best career year as a pass-rusher this regular season. Watch out. — Field Yates, NFL analyst
Read more: Bowen’s game plans for how each team can win … Ranking the top 53 players in the Super Bowl … Can the Bengals slow Donald? … Bengals not worried about offensive line’s mismatch … Ramsey lobbies to shadow Chase
Ernest Jones, ILB, Rams
The early returns on the Rams’ 2021 draft class have been disappointing, but the player who has received the most snaps is Jones. Despite suffering an ankle injury in Week 16, Jones has been productive in spots. The third-rounder had 61 tackles and two interceptions during the regular season. — Jordan Reid, NFL draft analyst
Jackson Carman, G, Bengals
Chase was too obvious, so I’ll highlight Carman, the Bengals’ rookie right guard. He will have a massive task in trying to keep Burrow clean while blocking Donald and the rest of the Rams’ interior defensive front. Carman, a second-round pick in 2021, played in all 17 games this season and had an 87.7% pass block win rate. — Jordan Reid
How to bet Super Bowl LVI
Total passing yards for Stafford: Over/under 280.5
Total passing yards for Burrow: Over/under 276.5
Total sacks by both teams: Over/under 5.0
Total touchdowns in the game: Over/under 5.5
Teams that have covered the spread in the Super Bowl have won the game outright in each of the past 12 Super Bowls, including last year, when the underdog Buccaneers won as a 3-point underdog. In Super Bowl history, favorites are 27-26-2 straight up. Super Bowl underdogs of at least 3.5 points are 6-0 against the spread and 5-1 outright since 2007. The Bengals were 125-1 to win the Super Bowl entering the season, making them just the second team 100-1 or longer to reach it in the past 40 seasons (the 1999 St. Louis Rams were 150-1).
Looking at the over/under, the past three Super Bowls fell short of the total, the longest under streak since four straight from 2004 to 2007. All time, it’s 26 overs to 27 unders and a push (there was no total in Super Bowl I). — David Bearman, ESPN Chalk
Read more: Best bets … Berry’s Love/Hate for betting the Super Bowl … Most popular bets … The props playbook … Best player props … Biggest bets … Betting nuggets … The unlikely play that can swing millions … Most heavily bet game ever? … Printable prop bet scorecard
Who is in, and who is out?
Coach Sean McVay did not paint an optimistic picture of Tyler Higbee‘s status when he said Monday that he doesn’t think the team’s No. 1 tight end will practice this week. Higbee was listed as a non-participant all last week because of the MCL sprain he suffered in the NFC Championship Game. Safety Taylor Rapp, who has missed all three of the Rams’ playoff games, appears to be on track to return from the concussion he suffered in Week 18. — Henderson
Coach Zac Taylor remained hopeful that tight end C.J. Uzomah will be able to play against the Rams. Uzomah has been dealing with a sprained MCL in his left knee that he suffered in the AFC Championship Game against Kansas City. He hasn’t practiced, so even if he does play, he might be available in only a limited capacity. — Baby
Meet the coaches
Sean McVay, Rams
McVay has the unique ability to be relatable and still hold people accountable. What he has done with Von Miller, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jalen Ramsey is remarkable. Getting them to buy in is a force multiplier and will allow the Rams to remain competitive for years to come. McVay has 61 career wins (including playoffs), which is the third most by a coach in his first five seasons. And he could surpass Mike Tomlin as the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl (36), per ESPN Stats & Information research. — Mike Tannenbaum, NFL analyst
Zac Taylor, Bengals
Taylor spent two seasons as an assistant under McVay. I also worked with him in Miami, and he’s a smart problem-solver who has tremendous drive and competitiveness. The stage won’t be too big on Sunday, but he will have to continue to evolve as a strategist with the battles in the trenches. Taylor could be the second-youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl (38), per ESPN Stats & Information research. — Tannenbaum
How the Rams, Bengals got here
The Rams went 12-5 this season and won the NFC West. They started the year 7-1, but November was rough for the Rams, as they lost three in a row. A Week 13 matchup with the Jaguars got them back on track for the first of five straight wins, including a big one over division-foe Arizona. In the playoffs, the Rams got the Cardinals for a third time, beating them 34-11 in the wild-card round. A 30-27 win over the Buccaneers in the divisional round got them to the NFC championship, where they beat the 49ers in overtime, 20-17. They are now seeking to join last season’s Buccaneers as the only teams to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium, and they could become third franchise (Raiders, Colts) to win Super Bowls for multiple cities after winning one in 1999 while still in St. Louis. — ESPN
Dan Orlovsky breaks down how the Rams have heavily invested in a win-now approach and why a loss Sunday would be a failure and an indictment of Sean McVay.
The 10-7 Bengals were AFC North champs. Cincinnati hit its Week 10 bye at 5-4, but its 6-1 record (including playoffs) since Week 15 tied the Bengals with the Rams for best record in the NFL over that span. That includes an impressive post-Christmas two-game stint in which they beat the Ravens and Chiefs behind 971 passing yards from Burrow. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Cincinnati has five wins this season in which the game-winning score came on the final play, including playoffs — tied for the second-most such wins in a season since the 1970 merger. The Bengals saw overtime four times, and all three postseason wins have been one-score games. Cincinnati beat the Raiders 26-19 in the wild-card round, edged the Titans 19-16 in the divisional round and came from behind to beat the Chiefs 27-24 in the AFC championship. — ESPN
Watch: Turning Point
What to know about the officiating
There’s reason to project a minimum of flags in this game. The Bengals and Rams committed the fewest and third-fewest penalties, respectively, during the regular season. In six postseason games, the teams have been flagged a total of 31 times. And referee Ron Torbert’s regular-season crew threw the fourth-fewest flags (12.3 per game), and his mixed crew threw 10 flags in the divisional-round game between the 49ers and Packers. However, referees are mostly responsible for roughing the passer and offensive holding calls, and Torbert finished the regular season tied for the fourth-most roughing the passer flags (11) and fifth-most flags for offensive holding (56). — Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer
Read more: Torbert to serve as lead Super Bowl referee
Who is playing the halftime show?
The most epic, star-studded @Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show trailer is OUT! 📽️🌟
— NFL (@NFL) January 20, 2022
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