NFL 21–22 Playoffs: And There Were Two…

My apologies for the late article, I was sidelined with COVID for a week but have since fully recovered and am energetic enough to write again.

We’ve gotten through the Conference Championships, another incredibly exciting set of games that ended with a 27–24 Bengals comeback win over the Chiefs and a 20–17 Rams win in a defensive slugfest against their division rival 49ers, a team they’d lost the previous 6 games against.

Firstly, in discussing the Bengals and Rams, we must first decipher how both of these teams got to this point and what they’ve done well this postseason.

Bengals: Improved Defensive Play, Joe Burrow

Cincinnati has done a fantastic (and underrated) job with its defense. Coordinator Lou Anarumo has created a tough unit that has proven itself versatile and smart. After falling behind the Chiefs 21–3 in Kansas City, the defense adjusted to several looks that kept Mahomes from getting the same reads he was getting before, such as cutting off short passes by dropping parts of the defensive line into coverage. Disguising various looks allowed for the Bengals to get more pressure against Mahomes, and they were able to execute 3-man rushes with someone watching Mahomes at all times with perfect execution.

Joe Burrow has played very well, and his connection with Chase is often the basis of a lot of praise, but we should also mention how well he’s been connecting to Tee Higgins. He had 7 receptions for 96 yards against Tennessee and 6 receptions for 103 yards against Kansas City, giving the Bengals a fantastic second option that can come down with a lot of 50/50 balls due to his sheer size.

Rams: All-Star Lineup, Improved QB Play

The talent has always been there for this Rams team, and they were my NFC favorite in the pre-season. That was before they added Von Miller, who has been destroying teams in tandem with Aaron Donald, and Odell Beckham Jr., who has been fantastic in these playoffs. That combined with the addition of Matthew Stafford this offseason has allowed for the Rams to ascend into what we’ve been expecting them to be over these past few years under McVay. The defense with Donald, Miller, and Ramsey, combined with the offense of Stafford, Whitworth, Kupp, and Beckham Jr., has been excellent.

I love watching this team come together, because it wasn’t always certain. If you remember, this is the same team that lost 3 consecutive games earlier in the season: L 28–16 vs TEN, L 31–10 @ SF, L 36–28 @ GB. Stafford was having a rough go of it before fully figuring out the offense, and even later in the season the team was getting criticized after close wins at Minnesota (W 30–23), at Baltimore (W 20–19), and a close loss to end the season in a huge game against San Francisco (L 27–24 OT).

Both of these teams started the playoffs by cruising to wins in the Wild Card, continuing by winning close away games in the Divisional round, and finishing with comeback wins in their respective championships against the Super Bowl teams of 2 years prior. A lot of people are picking the Rams to win the Super Bowl, but don’t count out these Bengals, who’ve shown great confidence, team chemistry, and coaching.

Conclusion

Currently I am 7–5 this postseason on my predictions, which totals 58%. In a crazy postseason like this, I am thankful to be even close to 60%. I will say, however, that I think this Rams team matches up decently well to this Bengals team. The Rams’ ability to rush 3 and still get pressure on the QB will be a massive issue for this Bengals offensive line, and their receivers will have to get quick separation against this strong Rams’ secondary to counter that. The Bengals have played fantastic defense and could get a turnover or two, but I expect Stafford to have a relatively clean pocket while his fantastic route-runner receivers Beckham Jr. and Kupp are able to get separation, along with Jefferson being able to serve as a deep threat. I love this Bengals team, but I think the Rams match up well against them, so for now, I’ve got Rams 27, Bengals 23 in one of the most entertaining Super Bowls we’ve seen in a while.

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