Super Bowl 56 Expert Picks, Predictions & Odds
This is now my eighth consecutive year of writing an in-depth Super Bowl breakdown—I’m 5-2 predicting the outright winner so far. For those of you who haven’t read any of my past Super Bowl previews, I include a ton of in-depth statistics and data-focused analysis, with the goal of making the game more predictable with context. At the end, I’ll be including my favorite bets and which sportsbook offers the best odds on it.
Super Bowl LVI Matchup
- Matchup: Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals
- Date: Sunday, February 13, 2022
- Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
- Spread: Rams -4 / Bengals + 4
- Moneyline: Rams -191 / Bengals + 165
- Over/Under: 48.5
*Consensus current odds. Click here for the most up-to-date odds.
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When the Bengals Have the Ball
Every time I think about this matchup I question how the Bengals got here. They have been outgained in yards per play in all three games and have four interceptions off of tipped passes the past two games. It’s pretty amazing they won one of those games, let alone all three. Despite that, I think it’s important not to look at how lucky they are to be here in this matchup. This is a fresh slate. Anything can happen in a one-game sample. Like playing roulette, every spin is independent of the last. In other words, just because the ball landed on red number five three times in a row prior, it means nothing for the next spin.
The Bengals had 29 first-down plays last week against the Chiefs. They ran the ball on 17 of them and passed the ball just 12 times. This translates to a 59% run rate. On the season, it would have been the second-highest rate in the league. It’s one thing to run the ball on first down if you are good at it, but the Bengals aren’t. They rank just 15th in adjusted line yards, 22nd in rushing success rate and 21st in rushing EPA. Straight up, if they do this against the Rams, they will lose. The Rams' run defense during the regular season was sixth in EPA, sixth in adjusted line yards, seventh in explosive run rate allowed and fifth in rush defense DVOA. During the playoffs, their current run defense EPA would have ranked first in the regular season. The opposing team’s rushing stats against the Rams during the playoffs have been abysmal:
- 49ers: 50 yards on 19 carries (2.63 yards per carry)
- Bucs: 51 yards on 14 carries (3.64 yards per carry)
- Cardinals: 61 yards on 18 carries (3.38 yards per carry)
I’m not saying an all-out passing attack is the solution to beating the Rams, but it certainly isn’t running the ball on first-down 60% of the time, as they did against the Chiefs. When they do run the ball it will be Joe Mixon leading the way. Last week, he received 17-of-19 running back carries. Mixon has largely been inefficient as of late, failing to clear 4.0 yards per carry in seven straight games prior to a 4.1 yards per carry clip against the Chiefs.
The Bengals' passing game has enough weapons to present major issues for the Rams. Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd make up a diverse trio with different strengths and capabilities. It’s difficult to lock all of them down. We saw the Chiefs devote extra attention to Chase last game. Higgins went for 103 yards on six receptions—it could have been much more if he hauled in his near one-handed touchdown. Per Sports Info Solutions, the Rams utilize man coverage at the lowest rate in the league and rank third in the amount of two-high shells they use. They also rank first in the rate of “light boxes” they utilize (77%). A lot of this has to do with their dominant personnel up front and ability to stop the run without loading the box. On the other hand, the Bengals’ passing attack is actually set up to succeed if the Rams' trend of light boxes continues. Joe Burrow ranks No. 1 in the league against teams with 6-or-fewer rushers in completion rate (70%), catchable pass rate (89.8%) and yards per attempt (8.6 YPA). This is despite getting pressured at the sixth-highest rate in those scenarios. If we zoom in on this even further, against Cover 2 defenses playing zone with 6-or-fewer in the box (how the Rams play about 70% of their snaps), Joe Burrow has completed 75% of his passes while averaging 9.7 yards per attempt. This is only on a sample size of 69 pass attempts but there are certainly reasons to believe Burrow can have some success throwing the ball. I also believe the Rams are forced to play with lighter boxes because of the Bengals' tendency to play 11-personnel at a rate that ranks only behind the Rams themselves.
Against that type of defense (light box, zone defense), the target share is fairly condensed with Boyd seeing 16 targets, Higgins at 14, and Chase at just 11. C.J. Uzomah actually leads all Bengals pass-catchers in targets with 17 in this scenario but his status is questionable heading into the Super Bowl. Despite seeing just 11 targets in that scenario, Chase turned them into seven receptions for 206 yards. The Bengals' offense ranks fifth in explosive pass rate while the Rams rank 10th in explosive pass rate allowed. I believe Chase has a chance to burn a team over the top because of his elite connection with Joe Burrow.
The biggest challenge will be the vaunted Rams pass rush. They rank eighth in adjusted sack rate and the Bengals' offensive line is a complete disaster. Burrow has played against six teams who rank in the top 10 of adjusted sack rate.
His sack totals in those games:
- Week 1 vs. Minnesota: 5 sacks
- Week 2 vs. Chicago: 5 sacks
- Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh: 0 sacks (18 dropbacks)
- Week 12 vs. Pittsburgh: 2 sacks (24 attempts)
- Week 14 vs. San Francisco: 5 sacks
- Divisional Round vs. Tennessee: 9 sacks
Burrow still saw another 13 pressures against the Chiefs' mediocre pass-rush last week but was able to escape and only took one sack. Finding ways to protect Burrow will be very important. I expect them to utilize a lot of short dropbacks to try and make it more difficult for the Rams rather than just a straight dropback. They led the league in short dropback percentage (77%), so this lines up. There are paths for the Bengals' offense to succeed, but the question revolves around whether or not they try to do that or if they get tricked into running into deceptive light boxes.
When the Rams Have the Ball
Heading into the season, everyone was extremely excited to see a competent and exciting quarterback like Matthew Stafford playing in the Rams' explosive offense. The sports betting market reflected that bullish sentiment with their Super Bowl odds hanging anywhere from 12-1-to-20-1 to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. The Rams didn’t disappoint, ranking sixth in offensive EPA, highlighted by their second-ranked passing offense. They also received strong offensive line play, ranking seventh in adjusted line yards and sixth in adjusted sack rate allowed. This bodes well against Cincinnati’s pass-rush, which ranks 19th in adjusted sack rate and ninth in adjusted line yards allowed. The Rams have stud players on both sides of the ball and were able to scoop up Odell Beckham Jr. after his mishaps in Cleveland at a similar time as the Rams lost Robert Woods. With Cooper Kupp nearly breaking the NFL receiving record and showing near-flawless rapport with Matthew Stafford on a weekly basis, this offense is multiple and explosive.
The Bengals’ defensive year-long metrics are not that impressive. They actually only rank in the top 10 in one efficiency metric I track: adjusted sack rate (they rank 9th). The narrative is that their defense has played substantially better in the playoffs and when adjusting for opponent that may be true, but the numbers don’t show as extreme of a shift. During the regular season, they ranked 11th in defensive EPA (-0.014). During the postseason their EPA is -0.018. That would have moved them up two spots in the regular season and is likely just small sample noise. One of their biggest weaknesses on the season was allowing explosive plays. They rank 25th in explosive pass rate allowed and 24th in explosive run rate allowed. This is a fairly big mismatch with a Rams offense ranked 10th and seventh in those same categories. A large part of that is Cooper Kupp, who ranks eighth in explosive play rate among all players with 100+ targets. This is even more impressive when considering he has seen a whopping 223 targets through the regular season and playoffs. The other factor is that with rate stats, he not only had a high explosive play rate, but he also maintained it in the face of volume. Kupp has played 88% of his snaps either in the slot or lined up tight versus outside. This means he’ll likely draw coverage from Mike Hilton for the majority of his snaps, although the Bengals tend to play zone more than man with a 66% rate of zone coverage this past season. Hilton has been above average but is certainly no match for Cooper Kupp.
The Rams may force the Bengals to play more lighter boxes as well considering their league-leading usage of 11-personnel. This means the Rams play with three wide receivers, one running back and one tight end more often than anyone else (84%). The Bengals already only put seven-or-fewer defenders in the box on 88% of their snaps, so this shouldn’t cause too many issues for them. Using the same methodology as my research with Burrow, Stafford has completed 67.4% of his passes (12th), while averaging 8.3 yards per attempt (3rd) against opposing teams with seven-or-fewer defenders in the box.
The best matchup among all Rams’ wideouts is Van Jefferson, who should see a heavy dose of burnable corner Eli Apple. Not to mention his off-the-field comments are probably receiving a bit more attention than anyone on the Rams defense would like. Odell Beckham Jr. probably draws the toughest matchup of the three pass-catchers against Chidobie Awuzie. The reality is that since the Bengals play a lot of zone and all of the pass-catchers move around to some extent, none of them will be shadowed by these corners. However, I do expect them to receive the majority of the aforementioned players’ attention in coverage.
The Rams' running game has been uneven, to say the least. They rank 28th in rush offense EPA, a pretty hefty drop-off from their second-ranked pass offense. Despite this, the Rams have passed the ball just 52% of the time in the playoffs and 57% in one-score games. This is down significantly from a 60% pass rate in both categories during the regular season. This may have been gameplan-specific but is worth noting. This coincided with Cam Akers's borderline-miraculous return from an offseason Achilles tear. Unfortunately, his success story doesn’t go much further than getting on the field and being handed the ball. He’s averaging just 2.8 yards per carry with two fumbles in three games as the starter. He also suffered a mid-game shoulder injury against the 49ers and was used sparingly thereafter. Sony Michel played more in his brief absence but remained on the field despite Akers getting cleared. Even with Akers back and commanding touches, I’m slightly concerned about the workload distribution. They could have some success against a mediocre Bengals run defense ranked 11th in run defense EPA and 15th, but given their own strengths skewing pass-heavy, that could be sub-optimal in this situation.
Both teams are more efficient at passing the ball than running and the matchup suggests each team should as well. The issue is both coaches seem to have an affinity for running the ball in the playoffs, which is what got them here. Whoever decides to skew slightly pass-heavy (I’m not saying even 80% or anything, more like 65/35) will have the upper hand. When it comes down to it, I’m more confident that Sean McVay decides to skew pass-heavy than Zac Taylor and think the Rams are able to figure out ways to get explosive plays against the Bengals' defense. I expect another slow start for the Bengals with their furious comeback attempt stifled this time as they dig themselves into too deep of a hole early on.
Prediction: Rams win by a score of 24-20
Super Bowl 56 Best Bets
Cam Akers Under 64.5 Rushing Yards
We played this at 65.5 in the Discord. Sony Michel out-snapped Cam Akers last game (partly due to injury) but even in the fourth quarter, they leaned on Michel a bit more.
While his return is a feel-good story, Akers has averaged 2.8 yards per carry in the playoffs and has been wildly inefficient. He has gone under this in each of his playoff games so far.
We have 37 rushing yards projected for Michel and 58 for Akers. I also took Michel over 20.5 rushing yards at even money but that has since been taken off the board. We’ll see it resurface once practice reports come through next week but I would play that up to 22.5. I think there is a bit more uncertainty surrounding both of their roles heading into this game.
Joe Burrow Over 10.5 Rushing Yards
Our own Sam Hoppen got on this first but Joe Burrow will likely be forced to scramble a bunch given the massive mismatch in the trenches. As Ryan Noonan and I have capitalized on throughout the playoffs, quarterbacks tend to be more willing to scramble and are more aggressive in the playoffs than they are during the regular season.
*You can find more of my bets in our Discord. Check out the rest of our staff's betting picks and props.
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