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Super Bowl Preview: Who will win, Bengals or Rams?

Will the state of Ohio win a Super Bowl?

Super Bowl - press conference NFL boss Roger Goodell Photo by Maximilian Haupt/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Super Bowl LVI takes place this Sunday, February 13, at 6:30 PM ET from SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. The game will air on NBC.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals finished the season 4-11-1. Now, they are competing in a Super Bowl. It’s a bittersweet taste for Cleveland Browns fans and the rest of the teams in the AFC North. Although Joe Burrow seemed very promising as a rookie last year, it looked like the Bengals were still quite a ways away from being a Super Bowl contender, especially with the breakdowns on their offensive line.

Cincinnati Bengals Fan Rally Ahead Of Super Bowl LVI Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Here’s the thing, though: the Bengals didn’t miraculously solve their offensive line woes. Burrow is just that good, and so are his receivers, rookie Ja’Marr Chase and fellow youngster Tee Higgins. Chase caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 1 touchdowns. Higgins caught 74 passes for 1,091 yards and 6 touchdowns. Even their third receiver, Tyler Boyd, caught 67 passes for 828 yards and 5 touchdowns. I think we’ve seen a shift in the NFL back to valuing explosive receivers, and that’s what the Bengals have. Compare that to the Browns’ wide receivers this year. Their top receiver in yardage was Donovan Peoples-Jones, who caught 34 passes for 597 yards and 3 touchdowns. It pales in comparison.

The Bengals’ defense also made great improvements. After being ranked 26th in yards allowed a year ago, they jumped up to 18th in yards allowed this year, with their run defense being particularly stout. It was impressive how for two games against Patrick Mahomes, they made great second-half adjustments to completely shut him down. They are still a somewhat vulnerable group, when you consider what Mahomes did against them in the first half of games twice, what the Browns did to them, and a few other games. But they are riding a nice wave of momentum right now. Their other not-so-secret weapon is kicker Evan McPherson, who has transformed overnight into the new Justin Tucker, making every clutch and long-distance kick with ease and confidence.

Super Bowl LVI - Los Angeles Rams Practice Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

What about the Rams? They have been contenders all season, utilizing their future first-round picks to be in a win-now mode. They are spearheaded by Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp on offense, and then Aaron Donald and Von Miller on defense. Miller was a midseason acquisition via a trade, and then by virtue of the Browns’ debacle with Odell Beckham Jr, he ended up on the Rams as a free agent signing.

The Rams’ star receiver is Kupp, who had 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns during the regular season. He has built upon that with 25 catches for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns in the postseason. The addition of Beckham has been pretty decent for the Rams. They seem to have a limited role for him still, but it’s been effective to take advantage of him around the goal line. Between the regular season and postseason, he has 6 touchdown catches with Los Angeles. I’m not rooting for or against Beckham; there are way too many more players on the Rams who are deserving (like Stafford) for me to hold a grudge like that.

The biggest question of this game boils down to whether the Bengals and Burrow can survive the pressure from Donald and the rest of the Rams’ pass rush. We saw Tennessee sack Burrow left and right, only for Cincinnati to pull out a victory anyway. It’s tempting to root for the state of Ohio to win a Super Bowl, and it would be a feel-good story for Cincinnati. However, I know there is still a level of inconsistency that can exist with that team. The Browns exploited it with solid coverage on Chase and the defense delivering big and clean hits. Stafford and the Rams’ offense can hang with the pace of any opposing team, and they’ll win a close one here in their home stadium. Rams 26, Bengals 21

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Rams are favored by 4 points, and the over/under is 48.5.