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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Super Bowl LVI preview

A recap of the championship round and a preview of the biggest matchups to look for in this year’s Super Bowl

By GABRIEL CARABALLO — sports@theaggie.org

After an epic few weeks of NFL playoffs, it’s finally time for the Super Bowl. This year’s playoffs showed just how competitive these teams were. It was a divisional round unlike any other, in which all games ending regulation on a field goal attempt gave high hopes to football fans for the upcoming conference championships. They delivered with two spectacular playoff games. 

Starting off Conference Championship Sunday were the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game. It seemed as though the Chiefs had control of the game, leading 21-13. Until late in the third quarter, the Bengals defense stepped up and forced a crucial interception. The Bengals’ pass rush was too much for the Chiefs’ star quarterback Patrick Mahomes. 

Mahomes threw the interception to defensive tackle B.J. Hill — Mahomes’ first pick in an AFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, it was a turnover that eventually led the Bengals to the end zone. After a successful two-point conversion, the Bengals tied up the contest at 21-21. By the end of regulation, it was tied 24-24, where only overtime would settle this match. The Chiefs won the coin toss and the Bengals felt a wave of despair. 

“Yeah, I mean, usually when you lose a coin flip to those guys, you’re going home,” Joe Burrow, the Bengals quarterback, said in a postgame interview. 

However when confronting an animal, never put it in a corner. The Bengals were able to lock up the Chiefs’ offense and secure another interception almost immediately after overtime began. Cincinnati won the game 27-24 with a field goal and secured their place in the Super Bowl — their first appearance since 1989. 

Following this emotionally swaying event was the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. A close game throughout the entire contest, the 49ers led late into the second half but were only able to score once more against the Rams’ tough defense, making the score 17-7.

The Rams added veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions almost immediately after their season ended last year. The Rams needed him to pull off a comeback to make their second trip to the Super Bowl in four years. He did just that, by moving the chains and passing for a touchdown, making the score 17-14. The 49ers were unable to score for the remainder of the game, courtesy of the Rams’ defense forcing punts. Stafford got the Rams to get in field goal position twice and were able to capitalize on the moment, making both attempts as the Rams now led 20-17

In a last-ditch effort to win the game, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took a snap and was immediately swarmed by blue uniforms. Rams star defensive end Aaron Donald almost came up with a sack but Garoppolo was able to get rid of it. However, he threw it to the wrong side as the ball was thrown to Rams linebacker Trayvon Howard, sealing the game for the Rams and sending them to the promised land. 

“Long time coming, you know? Spent a lot of years in this league and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Stafford said after the game. Solemn words for someone who’s spent the last 12 seasons playing for the Detroit Lions. An experience he’s been chasing since he was first drafted into the league now became a reality. 

With both conference championship games done and both won by one possession, they are set and anchored with some of the best players in the sport. For starters, each team’s starting quarterback is a former first overall pick. The Bengals with second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, who threw for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns during the regular season. Burrow seems to be immune to the sophomore slump and has played well throughout the playoffs, gallantly leading his team from the wild card round to the Super Bowl. 

Their opposition, the Rams, have a different story with Matthew Stafford. A veteran in the league and one-time pro bowler, he threw for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns this past year. Stafford has remained consistent throughout his career and is finally in a winning position. These two quarterbacks should showcase an offensive battle like a cage match between wild animals, especially with their weapons on the offensive side. 

Each team has a star wide receiver running routes for them: the Bengals with rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase and the Rams with the league’s best receiver Cooper Kupp. Chase grabbed 13 touchdown passes and racked up 1,455 yards. These are great stats especially for a rookie. Kupp on the other hand snagged 16 touchdowns and received for 1,947 yards — almost breaking the single season record. These two receiving giants are the main weapons for their respective quarterbacks. 

Although offense is quite prevalent in today’s game, defense is what wins championships. The Rams’ defense is stacked with the likes of defensive end Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and veteran safety Eric Weddle, who came back to the NFL after being retired for two years and provided a spark at safety — all of which make their presence known on the field. 

The Rams’ pass rush is one of the best in the league and the Bengals’ offensive line has struggled to keep Burrow protected, even giving up nine sacks in their playoff game against the Titans. The Rams’ defense brought down opposing quarterbacks 50 times during the regular season. With pressure like that and a shaky offensive line, the Rams’ strength will surely be a key factor in the overall outcome. 

Then even if the Bengals can control the pass rush, there’s still the passing defense. With stars like Jalen Ramsey and Eric Weddle patrolling the lines, it can be tough to find open receivers, so the Bengals’ second and third best receivers might be key here. 

It seems like the Bengals have the worst of it, but the Rams aren’t out of the woods yet. The Bengals may not have household names on their defense, but they’re made up of some key players. Veteran safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell have been great this year, with good cornerbacks Eli Apple and Tre Flowers also defending the passing zones. Then with a pass rush of B.J. Hill and Trey Hendrickson, who have been playing great this postseason to add consistent pressure on Stafford, the Bengals have a defense that has rocked the playoffs by forcing the most turnovers

As it stands now, the Vegas Insider’s Super Bowl odds have the Rams favored at roughly -200 and the Bengals at +165. It seems Vegas is counting the Bengals out after probably making a lot off them post-conference championship. The Rams will have home field advantage since the Super Bowl is being hosted at SoFi Stadium. Either way, football is an unpredictable sport in which anything can happen. Especially when the biggest game is a cage match between two beastly clubs, this one is setting up to be a great matchup.

Written by: Gabriel Caraballo — sports@theaggie.org 


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