Bengals (13-7) vs Rams (15-5)
When: 4:30 p.m. MT, Sunday, Feb. 13
Where: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Calif.
Weather: Sunny with a high of 82 degrees
Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase vs. Rams secondary
After being drafted fifth overall out of LSU last April, Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase took the NFL by storm and provided a lethal downfield threat for Joe Burrow, his former college teammate.
Chase toppled an array of records this season, including Bengals records for most receiving yards in a season and a game, plus NFL rookie records for receiving yards in a game and a postseason.
For the Bengals to pull off a third consecutive playoff upset, Chase will need to continue his elite production. He was limited to six catches for 54 yards in the AFC title comeback win over Kansas City.
To contain Chase, the Rams will likely rely on a mix of zone as well as man-to-man coverage. Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey has asked his coaches to give him the 1-on 1 assignment against Chase. After again proving himself as one of the league’s top cover corners — and trash-talkers — during the regular season, Ramsey rose to the task of covering elite wideouts during the Rams’ playoff run, taking on Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans in the divisional round and San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel in the NFC title game.
If Ramsey and the Rams can neutralize or minimize Burrow’s top target, it could cool the quarterback’s hot hand and let the vaunted L.A. pass rush get to work. But if Chase isn’t contained, Cincinnati has an inside track to hoisting its first Lombardi Trophy.
Who has the edge?
Joe “Cool” Burrow has been unflappable during the Bengals’ playoff run, keying them to upsets over No. 1 Tennessee and No. 2 Kansas City. After a dozen years of paying his dues in Detroit, veteran Matthew Stafford’s first year in L.A. sets up for a storybook finish. Edge: Even
The Bengals feature workhorse Joe Mixon, who was third in the NFL with 1,205 rushing yards and has 190 rushing yards in three postseason games. He provides balance for Burrow. Los Angles uses a combination of Cam Akers and Sony Michel. Edge: Bengals
In addition to the dynamic Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals boast another deep threat in Tee Higgins. Tight end C.J. Uzomah sustained an MCL sprain in the AFC title. L.A.’s Cooper Kupp won the NFL receiving triple crown. Tight end Tyler Higbee is doubtful (knee). Edge: Even
Rams left tackle and former longtime Bengal Andrew Whitworth, 40, continues to defy time as the anchor of the Los Angeles O-line. Guard Quinton Spain and the Bengals’ O-line is leaky, as evidenced by Tennessee’s nine sacks in the divisional round. Edge: Rams
Tackle D.J. Reader and end Trey Hendrickson give the Bengals consistency and physicality up front, not to mention two capable playmakers. But the Rams have future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald, who demands extra attention and can take over a game. Edge: Even
Former Broncos star Von Miller, traded to the Rams at midseason, gives the Rams ammo off the edges opposite of Leonard Floyd. The Bengals have middle linebacker Germaine Pratt and former Wyoming star Logan Wilson (30 tackles in the playoffs). Edge: Rams
Former CU star Chidobe Awuzie is one of the Bengals’ top corners along with Eli Apple, while safety Vonn Bell’s pick in overtime helped the Bengals beat K.C. Jalen Ramsey anchors L.A.’s secondary, while safeties Nick Scott and Taylor Rapp are also key. Edge: Even
Rams kicker Matt Gay is 32-of-34 this season but had one miss each in the past two games. The Bengals wouldn’t be here without rookie kicker Evan McPherson, who is a perfect 12-of-12 this postseason, including the walk-off kick in the AFC title game. Edge: Bengals
Tale of the tape
|Total offense||337.3 (8th)||399.7 (3rd)|
|Rush offense||88 (9th)||94.3 (7th)|
|Pass offense||249.3 (6th)||305.3 (3rd)|
|Points per game||24 (5th)||28 (4th)|
|Total defense||371.0 (9th)||274.7 (2nd)|
|Run defense||127.3 (10th)||54 (1st)|
|Pass defense||243.7 (7th)||220.7 (3rd)|
|Points allowed||19.7 (5th)||18.3 (3rd)|
*Playoff stats, rankings out of 14 teams
By the numbers
1-5 — The teams’ combined record in six total Super Bowl appearances; the Rams are 1-3 (won Super Bowl XXXIV) while the Bengals lost Super Bowls XVI and XXIII to the 49ers.
15 — The number of touchdown passes of at least 30 yards that Joe Burrow threw in the regular season, the most ever in that category by a Bengals QB. That means 44% of his 34 total TD passes were “big” plays.
2,333 — Cooper Kupp’s receiving yards in 20 games played this season — the most by a wideout in a single season plus playoffs. Kupp also broke the NFL single-season plus playoffs record for receptions at 159.
18.8% — The third-down conversion percentage allowed by the Rams defense in three postseason games, compared to Los Angeles’ 41.3% third-down conversion rate allowed during the regular season.
70.4% — Joe Burrow’s completion percentage in the regular season, which led the NFL. That rate has dipped slightly in the playoffs to 68.8%.
26.35 — The Rams’ average age at the start of training camp, making Los Angeles the youngest team in the NFL entering the season.
Line: Rams -4
Cincinnati is fed up with the underdog narrative, but the Bengals will have to quash it once more as betters see the Rams as the clear favorite. But the Bengals will play well enough to cover, continuing the trend of dramatic action seen during the past two playoff rounds.
Prop bet: 48.5-point over/under
Bet the over. Even if the game starts slow, both offenses are too dynamic to pin down for the entire game. There will be bursts of scoring, and each defense is capable of forcing turnovers to create more TD opportunities as well. This one’s getting past the 50-point mark.
Fantasy play: Rams WR Cooper Kupp
No one has stopped Kupp yet, so what makes the Bengals capable? Even when everyone in the stadium knows the ball is going to Kupp — i.e., when Kupp caught a 44-yard pass to set up L.A.’s last-second field goal in the divisional round — he still gets open and hauls it in.
Mark Kiszla, columnist: Bengals 24, Rams 23
If quarterback Joe Burrow can transform the Bengals from the NFL’s worst team into league champs within two years, imagine what Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson could do for the Broncos.
Kyle Newman, beat writer: Rams 27, Bengals 24
Joe Burrow puts on another show to keep Cincinnati in the game, but Cooper Kupp remains uncoverable and Von Miller and the Rams defense get critical stops in the fourth quarter to win the game.
Ryan O’Halloran, beat writer: Bengals 23, Rams 21
Joe Burrow throws two first-half touchdown passes and then converts two fourth-down plays in the final minute to set up rookie kicker Evan McPherson’s third field goal of the game. McPherson is voted Most Valuable Player.
Sean Keeler, columnist: Rams 30, Bengals 27
Love my Cincy chili (Gold Star over Skyline, kids). Love the Cincy story. But Joe Burrow can’t beat you when he’s on his back. Or running for his life. Von Miller comes to play on the big stage and grabs another ring.