Super Bowl LVI predictions: Guardian writers’ picks for Rams v Bengals in LA | superbowl

What the Rams need to do to win…

Play clean. The Rams have the talent advantage. Their defense ranks first in the league in pressure rate, and gets almost all of that with a four-man rush. Putting that up against this flaky Bengals offensive line? Yikes. Favorites lose Super Bowls by way of bone-headed plays, dodgy time management, or unforced turnovers – typically a cocktail of all three. If the Rams can keep the turnover battle even, they have the defense to take over the game. CO

Jalen Ramsey is one of the few cornerbacks fierce enough to go toe-to-toe with Ja’Marr Chase. The rest of the Rams’ secondary has been less than inspiring. But Darious Williams and company must contain Joe Burrow’s other weapons. Tee Higgins, who would be the top wideout on most other teams, torched the Chiefs in the AFC Championship. MJ

Duh. Attack Burrow. He has dragged his team to the league’s final game despite being sacked 12 times in these playoffs, including nine times in the divisional round against the top-seeded Titans. And while Tennessee boast a fine group of pass rushers, they ain’t got nuthin’ on Aaron Donald, unquestionably the best all-around defensive player of the era; and Von Miller, a speedy, bendy, quarterback crusher. TO THE

It’s the duty of this vaunted Rams defense to make Penei Sewell trend on Sunday. If the Rams prevent Burrow from getting the ball off in time, there will be an entire offseason for the Bengals to second-guess themselves for drafting Chase over the offensive tackle. HF

Keep their eyes off the scoreboard and their foot on the accelerator. Sean McVay needs to stick to his offensive script so Matthew Stafford can use his football intelligence to carve up the Bengals with killer throws. GS

What the Bengals need to do to win…

Hit explosive plays on offense. The Rams’ secondary and linebacking corps is shaky in coverage, and that’s where Cincy will look to attack. If Burrow and Co can outpace the Rams in the explosive plays category, while the defense forces the Rams to sustain long, droning drives, they’ll have a shot. CO

Hello, Captain Obvious here… the Bengals must stop Donald, the best player in the NFL. No big deal, right? Cincy’s offensive line continues to be their weak link and the Rams (starring Donald) will be the unit’s toughest test yet. MJ

So far Chase has yet to show there is a corner who can consistently mark him. And even though Ramsey is one of the best, he will have his hands full of him if the Bengals move Chase around their formations. And if the Cincinnati line gives Burrow time to find him. TO THE

Don’t fall behind early. In the AFC championship game, the Bengals held the Kansas City Chiefs to a single field-goal after halftime. That was impressive. They were also down 21-3 in the second quarter. That’s not a repeatable strategy. HF

stuff the run. Cincinnati’s defense is unfairly maligned: they kept the Chiefs in check better than the Bills, after all. San Francisco stopped LA rushing in the NFC Championship and it almost worked. If the Bengals do stifle Sony Michel and Cam Akers that opens up extra coverage from linebackers to help slow down Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. GS

Key player for the Rams …

Aaron Donald is a destructive force for the Rams. Photograph: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock

Jalen Ramsey, cornerback. The big question for the Rams is how they will deploy their star cornerback. It would make sense for LA to double the Bengals’ best receiver, Chase, on the outside and then use Ramsey to take away Burrow’s second option inside. CO

Matthew Stafford, quarterback. After toiling in the football hell otherwise known as Detroit, Stafford was rescued by McVay. He’s clearly an upgrade over Jared Goff but he’s also not a sure thing. He must play clean football, especially given the tiny window the Rams have to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. MJ

Odell Beckham Jr, wide receiver. He’s been an offensive X-factor all postseason. At the Super Bowl now, he has a chance to deliver his biggest career highlight since his NFT-worthy one-handed catch on Sunday Night Football in 2014. TO THE

Jalen Ramsey, cornerback. Ramsey has the talent to go one-and-one with Chase, freeing up the rest of the defense to sniff out other offensive threats. HF

Aaron Donald, defensive tackle Donald will be aiming to destroy the Bengals’ offensive line but Cincinnati will hopefully, for their sake, be planning how they can mitigate his power. GS

Key player for the Bengals …

Tyler Boyd, wide receiver. So often in the Super Bowl, it comes down to a team’s third receiver. The defense doubles one of the top two guys and finds creative schematic quirks to isolate the other. Chase and Higgins will dominate the attention of the Rams D, and so it will fall on Boyd to be the chain-mover and post-catch creator who helps Burrow to move the ball into scoring range. CO

Jessie Bates, safety. Bates is the best-known member of Cincy’s “no-name” defense for a reason. He’s the one player on the Bengals defense who could force McVay into earlier-than-anticipated adjustments. MJ

CJ Uzomah, tight end. While Bengals coach Zac Taylor still has Uzomah as a 50-50 prospect for Sunday, his limited participation in Bengals practices this week is an encouraging sign. Uzomah not only gives Burrow another target to play off of Chase and Higgins, he can chip in on pass protection too. TO THE

Evan McPherson, kicker. It’s tempting to go with Burrow, or Chase, but what about the most clutch kicker in the league? If these playoffs are any indication, everything could come down to a single field goal. There’s nobody I’d trust more in that situation than McPherson. HF

Joe Burrow, quarterback. He never flinches when under pressure while often creating a more explosive play when the defense shuts down the official script. The Rams’ defensive front can be as punishing as they like, Burrow enjoys his medicine from him. GS

One bold prediction…

A special team’s snafu leads to a score. This year’s postseason has been dominated by special teams mishaps. Both the Rams and Bengals are nestled comfortably in the top-eight of special teams units, but the Football Gods care not for such trivial things when there’s a good ol’ narrative on the line. CO

One of the main five performers in the halftime show – Kendrick Lamar, Dr Dre, Mary J Blige, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg – will be a no show after their limo gets stuck in LA’s insufferable traffic. MJ

Taylor’s gonna draw up something crazy. And given Cincinnati’s woebegone history, it feels like it will take a little crazy to beat the Rams in their backyard. TO THE

Our Discourse-poisoned era feels like the perfect scenario for the game to be completely overshadowed by something unrelated to football. Maybe Dr Dre’s halftime show ends up going disastrously wrong or there’s a Super Bowl ad that is so ill-conceived that the on-field action turns into a subplot. HF

Joe Mixon rides to the Bengals’ rescue with a Super Bowl and MVP winning performance. Quick passes galore to the back keep the chains moving as Mixon leads Cincinnati in receiving yards and racks up 150+ yards from scrimmage. GS

The final score will be…

Three of our five writers have the Bengals pulling off a shock.
Three of our five writers have the Bengals pulling off a shock. Photograph: Albert Cesare/USA Today Sports

Rams 24-27 Bengals. This is tricky. The Rams can score points in chunks and have the kind of defense that could elevate any side to a championship. On the other hand, there is Joe Burrow’s coat. There are the cigars. There’s the chain. There’s McPherson’s icy veins. There’s something about this Bengals team that makes you want to ditch any sense of intelligent analysis in favor of picking what’s fun. CO

Rams 35-22 Bengals. I can’t get over the mismatch that is the Rams’ elite defensive front against the Bengals’ below average offensive line. The Rams also have a huge advantage playing in their hometown. No, not because they have a robust fanbase. But because they have spent the week in their facilities, sticking to their routines. The Bengals, on the other hand, are sleeping in a hotel and dealing with the insane logistics that come with the Super Bowl. MJ

Rams 34-28 Bengals. Despite the Bengals’ team-of-destiny vibes, few teams make it to the top without taking some lumps in the beginning. (The legacy of lumps don’t apply.) Meanwhile, the Rams have a prime chance to take their city back – and if they flop a second time, there’s no telling if they’ll have another. GM Les Snead mortgaged the team’s future to win right now. If their stars align, I just don’t see how they miss this moment. TO THE

Rams 24-30 Bengals (OT). The Rams lose without touching the ball in overtime, something which finally forces the NFL to change its silly rules. Everyone wins (except, obviously, the Rams). HF

Rams 21-24 Bengals. The pressure is on but who will blink first? The Bengals have been excellent in the clutch and that will shade the Rams’ flashy roster. McVay’s failure from three years ago could also negatively influence his decisions. Burrow grinds against the odds to set McPherson up and McFearless drills the game-winner home. Who dey think gonna beat them Bengals? Nobody…finally! GS

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