We are just a few hours away from the kickoff for Super Bowl LVI, can you believe it? Seems like just yesterday we were debating who the best team in the AFC North was. Not many had the Cincinnati Bengals, but here they are, one win away from glory. The Los Angeles Rams were an interesting story, too. With the trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford, expectations for the 2021 season went through the roof. While there were ups and downs, the former Detroit Lion is just one win away from cementing his legacy.
These are the two teams that emerged on the other end of the grueling 17-game regular-season slate. All of the coaches and players deserve credit for that. From top to bottom, both the Bengals and Rams have talented rosters, but which position groups from these two teams are the most elite? Which position groups are the most lacking?
Below, we will rank the Super Bowl position groups from worst to first. A couple things to note first: The Rams pass-rushers are included in the Rams defensive line section, and then postseason performances were something we relied on in creating this list. Credit to the CBS Sports research team for helping provide the information found in this piece. Let's jump in.
14. Bengals offensive line
The Bengals offensive line has jeopardized Cincy's magical run along the way. Joe Burrow has been sacked a total of 12 times in the postseason, which brings his sack total up to 63 on the year. This includes a record-tying nine sacks taken against the Titans, which easily should have been at least 11. (Burrow took two sacks that did not count.) While Burrow was sacked just once against the Chiefs, he spent a good amount of the time dodging linemen and pulling off miraculous escapes. There's no doubt the Bengals are trying to game-plan to help this unit contain one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL.
13. Rams linebackers
Troy Reeder headlines this group. He had a career year with 91 tackles, six tackles for loss, six passes defensed and two interceptions. He's one of three linebackers this season in the NFL to record at least 90 tackles, five tackles for loss, five passes defensed and two interceptions. He's third on the team with 14 playoff tackles.
12. Rams special teams
The Rams have a solid special teams unit, as Matt Gay made his first Pro Bowl this year and Johnny Hekker has made four total. Gay is 9-for-9 on extra points and 7-for-9 on field goals in the postseason.
11. Bengals special teams
All hail Evan McPherson. He has not missed a kick this postseason, going 12-for-12 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points. He has the most makes without a miss by a kicker in a single postseason -- and he's a rookie! He's coming off of two game-winning field goals in the divisional and championship rounds. Can he make it three?
10. Bengals linebackers
I love this Bengals linebacking corps, but it was tough figuring out where to place them. Logan Wilson has been an absolute monster. He led the Bengals with four interceptions in the regular season and made the game-saving pick against the Titans off a deflection. He led the team in tackles this year with 100, and no one has been better at taking down ball-carriers in the postseason, as Wilson has notched 30 tackles in three games. Germaine Pratt has been big as well, as he's recorded 21 combined tackles in the playoffs and made the game-winning interception against the Las Vegas Raiders to seal Cincinnati's first playoff win in 31 years.
9. Bengals secondary
This unit has made big plays all postseason. In the first two playoff games, it allowed a touchdown apiece to Derek Carr and Ryan Tannehill. Cincy's defensive backs made Tannehill look especially silly, as he threw three interceptions that resulted in the No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans getting upset in dramatic fashion. An interception has saved the Bengals in each round, including against the Chiefs, as Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates teamed up for a nice pick of Patrick Mahomes in overtime.
The most shocking stat of probably this entire article: All three of Cincy's final defensive plays in the playoffs have been interceptions. Talk about clutch.
8. Rams secondary
Jalen Ramsey had another big year, as he led the Rams in passes defensed with 16 and tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. He was the only player in the NFL with 15 or more passes defensed and five or more tackles for loss. Taylor Rapp hasn't played in the playoffs just yet due to injury, but he has a chance to suit up for the Super Bowl. He was the L.A. player Ramsey tied with for most interceptions this season.
Eric Weddle has been solid in Rapp's absence, as he's fourth on the team in postseason tackles with 13. Getting Rapp back will be big, but this unit could be higher on this list if Jordan Fuller was healthy and playing. Darious Williams and the other corners have tough assignments this week as well.
7. Rams offensive line
The Rams offensive line finished seventh in the NFL according to PFF's final offensive line rankings. It's truly incredible that Andrew Whitworth is still one of the best left tackles in the NFL at age 40. Remember after the Super Bowl LIII loss when he gave that wild quote saying everyone will die one day? It didn't sound like he would come back, but he did and he's still playing at a high level. This offensive line as a unit wasn't always dominant in the regular season, getting out-physicaled on occasion, but it's still solid. Stafford has been sacked five times in three postseason games compared to Burrow's 12.
6. Bengals defensive line
There was concern for this unit when Larry Ogunjobi went down with a season-ending injury during Super Wild Card Weekend, but these linemen haven't missed a beat. D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill have both made big plays inside while Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson have been effective on the edge. Hubbard leads the team in postseason sacks with three, with two coming last week against the Chiefs. Hendrickson, of course, turned out to be a huge free-agency addition, as he set a Bengals single-season record with 14 sacks. He hasn't fallen off in the playoffs, either, as he has 2.5 sacks and four QB hits.
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5. Rams defensive line
Aaron Donald obviously headlines this group. He has 1.5 sacks and six QB hits this postseason after leading the Rams in sacks with 12.5 and tackles for loss with 19 in the regular season. Von Miller was also a big pickup for this defensive front, and he has recorded at least one sack in six out of his past seven games. His counterpart, Leonard Floyd, is an underrated pass-rusher, and he has 20 combined sacks in his last two seasons. Additionally, A'Shawn Robinson is tied for the team lead in postseason tackles with 16, and Sebastian Joseph-Day could return for the Super Bowl as well. This is one of the best units in the NFL.
4. Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Bengals fans will be mad to see Burrow listed below Stafford, but Stafford has more yards, touchdowns, a better completion rate and fewer interceptions in the postseason. I don't want to take away from Burrow's rise to NFL stardom, especially since he's done it without much protection.
Burrow has already tied Boomer Esiason for the most playoff wins by a Bengals quarterback with three. He's an effective deep-ball passer, as Burrow led the NFL with 12 completions of 50-plus yards this season, and had the most passing touchdowns of 30-plus yards with 16. He did all this despite being sacked 51 times, which led the NFL and set a franchise record. Burrow is here to stay, and he can take his stardom to another level with a win Sunday.
3. Rams QB Matthew Stafford
I guess that trade with the Detroit Lions worked out. Stafford tied a career-high with 41 passing touchdowns in the regular season, and went a career-best 12-5 as the starter. There were times in the regular season where his play dipped, but he's clearly rebounded to get this team to this point. In the playoffs, Stafford has passed for six touchdowns and just one interception while completing 72% of his passes. He and Kupp saved the day against the Buccaneers to set up the game-winning field goal in the divisional round, and he helped the Rams score 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against the 49ers after scoring just seven points in the first three quarters. There's no doubt Stafford has stepped up as of late, and after the many sad years with the Lions, you can feel as though he's been waiting for this week his entire life.
2. Rams WRs, RBs, TEs
The Rams' weapons are headlined by Cooper Kupp. We don't have enough room to break down all that he accomplished this year, and he should be in the MVP conversation as he became the first player since 2005 to lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He's just the fourth player since 1970 to achieve this, joining Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992) and Steve Smith (2005). He already has four receiving touchdowns this postseason, which is a Rams playoff record. His 13 games of at least 100 receiving yards is an NFL single-season record, and he dominated in all areas, whether it was working the middle of the field or beating defensive backs downfield.
There's not many stats I can give you about Odell Beckham Jr. that will amaze you since he played in just eight regular season games for L.A., but there's no longer any doubt about him still being a legitimate star. He has 19 receptions this postseason, which already ranks third-most in Rams history. OBJ could be hitting his stride at the right time, as he caught nine passes for 113 yards vs. the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Both were postseason career-highs. The underrated wideout of this group is Van Jefferson, who finished second on the team with 802 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season. Sure, he's never had a 100-yard receiving game, but he's a talented route runner who will burn you downfield if you fall asleep.
Sony Michel and Cam Akers are both solid backs for the Rams. Remember, Michel rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown when the New England Patriots defeated the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Akers made a miraculous return to the starting lineup after tearing his Achilles in the offseason. He's just getting warmed up, however, as he led the Rams in rushing in each of the last two games. Tight end Tyler Higbee has an MCL sprain he's dealing with, but Kendall Blanton isn't a terrible replacement. He caught the first touchdown of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month and then caught five passes for 57 yards against the 49ers a couple Sundays ago.
1. Bengals WRs, RBs, TEs
You know Ja'Marr Chase's name by now. The likely NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year burst onto the scene as one of the most effective home-run hitters in the NFL. He had 1,455 receiving yards in the regular season, which was the most recorded by a rookie in the Super Bowl era and ranked fourth overall. He also finished third in the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns. The former LSU star has 279 receiving yards in the playoffs, which is already the most ever recorded by a rookie in any postseason.
You know Ja'Marr Chase's name, but the Bengals have a legitimate big three at wideout. Tee Higgins has at least 95 receiving yards in six out of his last nine games played, and put up 1,091 yards and six touchdowns on 74 catches in the regular season while missing three games. Then there's Tyler Boyd, who has scored a touchdown in four out of his last six games played. He has at least 800 receiving yards in each of the last four seasons, and is just one of 10 players to do so across the NFL.
Another reason the Bengals' weapons are No. 1 on this list is because Joe Mixon is the best running back in this matchup. He had a career year with 1,205 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He's a dual-threat weapon who has scored 17 total touchdowns this season including playoffs, and he is one score away from tying the franchise record. Samaje Perine isn't a terrible backup either, and he had a nice touchdown last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. C.J. Uzomah is a pretty good tight end as well, and while he's dealing with a sprained MCL -- just like Higbee -- the man tore off his brace and threw it away during the Bengals' send-off party, so he's definitely playing.
The Bengals are one of four teams this season with three receivers who put up over 800 yards. The Rams were not one of them.