I know neither the Rams nor Bengals have punched their way into the Super Bowl yet, but just look at what would be happening if both teams won on Sunday.
1) Two teams, one that is only a few years removed from having the first overall pick in the draft, and another that, in its last two postseason appearances, lost in the Super Bowl and the divisional round, would go against one another.
2) Both teams would feature quarterbacks that were taken first overall, both of whom were drafted out of SEC schools. One of the quarterbacks had to enter the transfer portal in college, where they would eventually win a Heisman trophy and BCS national championship with their new university. The other never won a Heisman or a national title but was still considered a generational prospect.
3) One of the quarterbacks has a career narrative of choking in big games and constantly losing to an all-time great, but the moment he leaves the team that drafted him for a different team already loaded with talent, the narrative shifts.
Who am I talking about? Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford? No, no, no.
I’m talking about Cam Newton and Peyton Manning, AKA the same quarterbacks that competed against one another in Super Bowl L in 2016.
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Oh, what’s that? There’s also a generational pass rusher on the team with the quarterback who’s known for choking in big situations? You don’t say.
Funny. Both Manning and Stafford threw 17 interceptions during the regular season? Well, I’ll be damned.
Obviously, not everything has a parallel. For example, Stafford never got replaced by Brock Osweiler, Burrow isn’t going to win the MVP this year, and the Panthers didn’t have arguably the best receiving tandem in the NFL. In fact, there wasn’t a single wide receiver on that Panthers team that amassed over 800 yards receiving. Newton was getting it done with Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess, and Jerricho Cotcher (now, that’s a name I bet everybody thought they’d never hear again) with a lot of help from Greg Olsen of course. Still, the storylines that do line up can’t be ignored.
Of course, there’s also the fact that the Bengals have sort of become this lovable team that everyone roots for. Their last opponent prior to the Super Bowl would be the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the most despised franchises in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers took on a similar role in the 2016 playoffs when they defeated one of the league’s most despised teams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Legion of Boom in the divisional round.
So, if this is in fact our Super Bowl matchup, what would happen based on the results of Super Bowl L? Well, the Los Angeles Rams would win in pretty convincing fashion thanks to a terrific defensive performance from star pass-rusher Aaron Donald, who would win the Super Bowl MVP Award, and a solid ground game. That’s not going to happen though.
Don’t get me wrong. Aaron Donald will likely have a massive impact on the game and could very well win Super Bowl MVP should the Rams win. However, in Super Bowl L, Manning only completed 13 passes for 141 yards and no touchdowns. He was clearly in the twilight of his career and the Broncos knew they couldn’t rely on Manning to carry them to victory. Stafford, on the other hand, hasn’t had a single game without a passing touchdown this season. He’s also not expected to retire at the end of the season. If it weren’t for his 17 interceptions, he might have even been the MVP frontrunner. Not to mention, the Rams were ninth in pass play percentage during the regular season. In 2016, the Broncos ranked right in the middle of the league in that category, and they only really started throwing more when Osweiler took over for Manning in the middle of the regular season.
Sure, every other matchup might have some other form of enticing storyline based on team history.
49ers-Chiefs: rematch of Super Bowl LIV
Rams-Chiefs: rematch of the 2018 game that saw the Rams win 54-51 in thrilling fashion all without Stafford under center
49ers-Bengals: rematch of Super Bowls XVI & XXIII
Yet, the Bengals-Rams might be the most enticing of all in my eyes. For one, it means we won’t have to see Jackson Mahomes at the Super Bowl for the third straight year. Everybody outside of Kansas City should be hoping for that. Second, do you really want to see a Jimmy Garoppolo-led team in the Super Bowl again? Yeah, I didn’t think so. And third, seeing a nationally beloved quarterback in Joe Burrow versus an overlooked quarterback who kept getting overshadowed by Aaron Rodgers would make it extremely difficult for most fans to choose who to root for. Do you go with the young, fun Bengals? Or the team that gave away almost all of their draft picks the next two seasons in a last-ditch effort to win a title?
It’s got all the makings of an instant classic for the NFL. It would be sure to split the nation. Plus, if all goes well, it would wind up being a lot closer than Super Bowl L was.