Chaos — it’s one of many words that aptly describe the 2022 NFL playoffs. From heartbreak in Kansas City to bitter clashes in California, nothing could have prepared us for the spontaneity that has led to the 2022 Super Bowl in Los Angeles.
Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, the No. 4-seeded Los Angeles Rams will take on the No. 4-seeded Cincinnati Bengals. Will Matthew Stafford win a Super Bowl in his first ever postseason appearance after 12 years locked away in the Lions’ shadows? Or, will Joe Burrow pose for yet another iconic photo with a cigar in one hand and the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the other? Only time will tell, but at the very least, we can try to predict the chaos before it begins. Here are The Daily Californian’s thoughts and predictions on the 2022 NFL playoffs and the 2022 Super Bowl.
As evidenced by nail-biting divisional rounds and conference championships, anything can (and will) happen. What has been your favorite game or memory of the 2022 NFL playoffs so far?
AJ Alany: For any die-hard NFL fan, picking a favorite game in this year’s playoffs is a tall task. That being said, I believe the Bills-Chiefs game had the most to offer in terms of entertainment value, star power and overall matchup: A lights-out performance by two quarterbacks that are sure to duel many more times, this back-and-forth offensive shootout was marked by the incredible 13 second drive. For perspective, ESPN’s game cast had the win probability shoot from 82% for the Chiefs, to 93% for the Bills, back to 82% for the Chiefs, and 91% Bills — all in the final 2 minutes of regulation. Needless to say, this game will be remembered for a long time.
Jasper Sundeen: It’s almost an afterthought now, but the Raiders’ loss to the Bengals was one to remember. One team had to break its run of bad luck — it was just a matter of who. Cincinnati and Las Vegas had been a combined 49 years without a playoff win. Those stakes are sky high, and in a game that went down to the wire, hearts were bound to break. Once again, those hearts were wearing silver and black.
Ryan Chien: I am a Los Angeles local currently residing in the Bay Area — so naturally, my favorite memory is watching the Rams strike gold against the 49ers. There I was, in the middle of Pappy’s Grill and Sports Bar, cheering on a team from SoCal with zero Rams fans around me. Though I could feel myself tensing up at halftime, Aaron Donald’s pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo and the ensuing interception by Travin Howard solidified my loyalties to LA. As I jumped up in the air celebrating, everyone just stared at me — so many faces of defeat had never looked sweeter.
Ali Fazal: The Bills and Chiefs may have had the most action, but the ending didn’t quite stick the landing like the 49ers-Cowboys wild-card game. And to think, all that chaos resulted from just one error in judgment on who to give the ball to. In a sense, the finish, which was the first of several NFL videos that were titled “Insane Playoff Ending!”, was a precursor to the craziness that would follow: All of the divisional and conference championship games were decided on a game-winning drive.
Stars from both teams will grace the field for the final time this season, many of whom have become household names as a result of their recent plays. Who is poised to have a breakout game Sunday?
AA: A trend that past Super Bowls have seen is unknown players becoming X-factors due to game plans that are intended to neutralize star players. A stand-out example of this is Malcolm Butler, who caught an interception in the goal line to win New England a Super Bowl. Another example is James White, an otherwise average receiving running back who made a case for MVP one superbowl. A breakout candidate for this game is the Bengals’ Tyler Boyd. With standout receivers Rashard Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, the Rams are likely to play Cover-2 defense to neutralize both options. This will provide third receiver Boyd with many opportunities with minimal coverage.
JS: All eyes are on Chase and Kupp. They have dominated the league in unprecedented ways and their faceoff could be titanic. But the biggest games have a way of finding the biggest personalities. After years spent looking for the right team, Odell Beckham Jr.’s twisted road has led to the City of Angels. Beckham Jr. has steadily increased his targets, receptions and total yards in the last three playoff games, culminating in 113 receiving yards in the NFC championship game. All the greats have great moments. An MVP-caliber performance from Beckham Jr. would make him more than a ring chaser.
RC: If you think for one second that Cooper Kupp is going to have an off night in the biggest game of his career, you’d be dead wrong. The former FCS wide receiver boasts the most receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns than any player in the NFL, and hasn’t been slowing down whatsoever in these playoffs. Averaging 15.4 yards per reception, it should go without saying that his route-running ability is unparalleled. If the Bengals want any chance of containing Kupp, Mike Hilton will likely be the X-factor in weathering the storm.
AF: With Ja’Marr Chase occupied with Jalen Ramsey, Tee Higgins should be in line for a productive game. Darious Williams is the Rams’ No. 2 corner, and while he does possess good coverage skills, he gives up plenty of height to a 6’4” Higgins. Burrow isn’t afraid of targeting Higgins as of late — he has 19 targets over the past two games — and assuming the Rams continue to employ a zone-heavy defense, the second-year wideout has the potential to pass the century mark again. It’s just a matter of if the offensive line allows Burrow enough time to find the holes.
The Rams have home-field advantage at SoFi Stadium. But the Bengals are no slouch at upsetting teams on the road. Who has the upper hand in the 2022 Super Bowl and what is your final score prediction?
AA: On paper, there is next-to-no-way to rationalize picking the Bengals to win this game. With a woeful O-line that gave up nine sacks in the divisional round matching up against what is likely the NFL’s best pass rush, this game could get out of hand for the Bengals. While they have been able to overcome this several times, they have had an incredible deal of good fortune with several tipped interceptions at key points of games. All in all, to pick the Bengals is to concede the existence of football gods, which this year’s playoffs have shown is not an outrageous thought. That said, on paper, this matchup appears to be heading towards a narrow 28-24 Rams victory.
JS: Los Angeles has been hunting a Super Bowl trophy for years. This was why the Rams moved to Los Angeles, why they burned through draft picks like cheap matches and why LA has more superstars than the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Burrow and the Bengals will have years to compete, but for Stafford and this veteran Rams team — Feb. 13 is the end of a long and winding rainbow. The Rams have come home for the Lombardi. LA 32, Cincinnati 27.
RC: The Rams by a slim margin. Though Stafford has a tendency to turn the ball over when taking shots deep downfield, the Rams’ offensive line and Bengal’s defensive line are comparable. The converse? Not so much. As one of the best defensive linemen in NFL history, Aaron Donald will be a matchup nightmare for the Bengals. After all, the visiting team’s porous O-line has allowed 12 sacks on Burrow in the playoffs compared to Stafford’s five. Pressuring Burrow will be key to winning this game, as the sophomore sensation’s completion rate has dipped to a mere 47.6% in the playoffs while under duress. Burrow is no joke, but he can’t do it all alone. I’ve got LA defending its home turf with a 37-34 victory over Cincinnati.
AF: The Bengals will win because the Simpsons predicted it. In all seriousness, the 2021 Super Bowl proved we shouldn’t base predictions on just the quarterback position. The Rams’ top-ranked pass rush should fare well against a Bengals offensive line that ranks 30th in pass block win rate. Granted, Cincinnati pulled out wins against top-ranked pass rushes this postseason, but it was aided by a defense that excelled at getting pressure on three-man rushes. With their pass block win rate at the top of the league, Stafford’s Rams can have a good game against a team that rarely blitzes. Prediction: Rams 30, Bengals 27