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Super Bowl 2022 preview: The most interesting storylines for Rams vs. Bengals

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We’re nearly at the end of the biggest season in NFL history, and by the end of Sunday we’re either going to see the Cincinnati Bengals as first-time Super Bowl winners or the Los Angeles Rams become the second team in a row to capture the Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium.

DraftKings Sportsbook has the Rams as 4-point favorites, so once again the Bengals have underdog status. Even though this is a “neutral-site” game officially, this is effectively the third straight road game for Cincinnati and they’ve won their previous two in stunning fashion.

I’ll spare you the normal game preview of matchups, film analysis, etc. and talk about storylines. This is not the sexiest Super Bowl when compared to the thought of Kansas City or Buffalo against the Rams, but we love a good Cinderella story and the Bengals fit the description. And even with this unexpected pairing, there’s still plenty of intrigue and side stories to explore.

Joe Burrow - From Heisman winner and national champion to Super Bowl champion in three years?

Only two quarterbacks have ever started and won both an NCAA title and a Super Bowl: Joe Namath and Joe Montana. We could see a hat trick of Joes but unlike the other two, Burrow has a Heisman Trophy to his name. If Burrow pulls off the upset then he’ll have won the Heisman, the national title, and the Super Bowl in the span of less than three years. That’s legendary.

Matthew Stafford - Will a Super Bowl win start a push for Canton?

This sounds a bit iffy on the surface because before this season there’s absolutely no one who would’ve said Matthew Stafford is a Hall of Fame quarterback. Yes, he’s put up damn good numbers throughout his time with the Detroit Lions, but no playoff wins as a starting quarterback pretty much nails on you aren’t getting into the Hall of Fame.

Well he changed teams, has played brilliantly this postseason, and is a win away from a title. If he gets a ring, that may change how Stafford’s career is viewed.

Assuming Stafford has a few more seasons left in him, he’ll likely finish in the top-10 all-time in touchdown passes, and passing yards, and he’s already 5th in 4th quarter comebacks. What works against Stafford is he has just one Pro Bowl selection (should’ve been two this year but whatever) and no All-Pro or MVP votes. He’s rarely been considered a top-5 QB in the league but perhaps if he keeps up this level of play in Los Angeles there might be a chance he gets into Canton.

How quickly will the Browns look to trade Baker Mayfield if Odell Beckham Jr has a monster Super Bowl performance?

Okay this one is tongue-in-cheek. Sort of.

Eric Weddle - Off the basketball court and into his first Super Bowl

Weddle was retired after the 2019 season, but two years removed from his last game and due to Jordan Fuller’s injury, the veteran safety was called up off the basketball court to help his old team out in the playoffs.

This is Weddle’s first Super Bowl appearance. His best years were with the San Diego Chargers, who came closest to a Super Bowl in his rookie season in 2007, only to run into the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship while Phillip Rivers played on a torn ACL. He then spent three years with the Baltimore Ravens from 2016-2018 (with no playoff wins in the process), and when he joined the Rams it was the year after they made the Super Bowl and they missed the playoffs.

It’s a hell of a ride for Weddle and now fate has put him in a spot where he’ll be the signal caller on Sunday.

Andrew Whitworth, going out a winner against his old team?

The Walter Payton Man of the Year winner spent his first 11 seasons with the Bengals. Or another way to put it, Andrew Whitworth spent his first 11 seasons in the NFL without a playoff win. As the first left tackle in NFL history to play in his 40s, his career is winding down.

This is probably his last chance at a Super Bowl, and he could win it against a team he played for most of his career. For all we know it might be his last game regardless of outcome, but there’s a storybook ending for him that’s very possible. Despise the Rams all you want, but Whitworth is a top-class man and if LA does win it all then I’d be really happy for Andrew.

Can Tre Flowers make an impact in his limited snaps?

In defense of Tre Flowers, the oft-criticized former cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks, we shouldn’t be piling on him well after he’s left the team and really it’s not his fault he was played out of position essentially his entire career. The failings of Flowers at outside corner are the fault of the coaching staff, who handled the departure of Richard Sherman in such a ham-fisted way that Flowers went from safety to Week 1 starter.

Cincinnati has treated Flowers more like a big nickel than an outside corner, where they already have two starters. He’s played a grand total of 187 defensive snaps, and 66 of them were in a meaningless game at the Cleveland Browns in the regular season finale. Flowers is mostly tasked with covering tight ends, which means this postseason he’s dealt with Darren Waller and Travis Kelce. With no Tyler Higbee in the Super Bowl, Flowers will most likely be defending Kendall Blanton, a more forgiving matchup in theory.

I’m glad Flowers has found his role in Cincinnati and maybe, just maybe, he can do the Seahawks a solid and have a surprise impact play to help deny the Rams a title. And besides, the player whose previous fanbase(s) loathes his play the most is Eli Apple.

Zac Taylor vs. Sean McVay

The immediate success of Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams generated rapid-fire interest in his assistant coaches, such that it’s become a running joke that being in the general vicinity of McVay is enough to get you head coaching interviews. Zac Taylor and Matt LaFleur were hired by the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers respectively in 2019, and while LaFleur has had everything but a Super Bowl appearance in his first three seasons, Taylor had to endure two awful seasons to hit the jackpot in year three.

McVay was eliminated by LaFleur in last year’s Divisional Round meeting. Will Taylor be able to best his former boss in the big game? If he does, he won’t have to buy another drink in Cincinnati for as long as he’s in town.

Sean McVay’s last hurrah (for now)?

You’ve probably seen the story of McVay potentially leaving for television. He’s getting married this summer and he’s pondered his future after this year’s Super Bowl. His contract is up in 2023 and there have been rumors of networks wanting to hire him as an analyst. We’re used to NFL coaches being lifers who often sacrifice a lot of their personal time to be at their tireless job for decades. Perhaps McVay could be an exception, and all the best to him if he wants to be a family man when it’s nearly impossible to do so in his current occupation.

See y’all on Sunday in the game thread!