Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
Los Angeles Rams (-4, 48.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
After 54 years of no team playing in the Super Bowl in their home stadium, we now get two in a row with the Rams hosting the 56th edition of the Big Game.
It's not a classic home-field advantage, not only because the Rams have a "newish" fan base, returning to L.A. in 2016 after 21 seasons away in St. Louis, but also because it's only the first year with fans in the new stadium.
So the Rams don't yet have a fanatic home fan base, but will be playing in their own locker room, so that counts for something, right?
A matchup not many of us saw coming has fascinating storylines. The Rams are chock-full of big NFL names that fans have known for the last decade ... Donald, Stafford, Miller, Beckham, Ramsey, Floyd. The Bengals are a blank canvas with young players like Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase.
The Rams built the team preseason and during the season in a way that hasn't really worked in the past. "All-in" hasn't led to Super Bowl championships. You might say Tampa Bay did it somewhat last season, but not in the same manner as Brady, Gronk and others came aboard in the offseason and they had time to work together. Usually the method the Rams used falls short of its goal, but maybe not this time.
We know the list. Matthew Stafford, heralded in the offseason trade. Von Miller, has won a Super Bowl in Denver. Odell Beckham Jr., arrived midseason with a lot of fanfare to add to the homegrown talent of Hall-of-Famer-to-be Aaron Donald, one of the biggest names in the game.
We are here at the world's largest stage and it seems to have worked. In the meantime, the best story might just be that Stafford, after midseason missteps that included numerous pick-sixes on national primetime games, has turned it around. I was always a fan of his when he was with the Lions, as he kept his mouth shut, did the best he could with what he had in Detroit and never complained. I am happy for him, all of Detroit is happy for him and now the City of Angels is on board. Attaboy, Matt.
Along the way, the Rams stumbled onto a homegrown, unheralded wide receiver in Cooper Kupp, who put together one of the best seasons of all time, achieving the triple crown of receiving. The Rams come in as a known quantity. They finally are what they have been advertised to be.
The Bengals come, well, out of nowhere. Right in through the garage door, but they completely earned their entry onto the big stage. The most impressive thing about Cincy's run is that no moment has proven too big. Maybe that speaks to what Burrow has shown by example -- he changed the Bengals' culture -- or maybe it's because Burrow and others have played on the biggest college stages and didn't get stage fright then either.
They stared down a 21-3 deficit late in the second quarter on the road at the defending AFC champion Chiefs, only to outscore them 24-3 to win the game in overtime, but they also did it a month earlier to the same Chiefs team. We can't overlook the fact that Burrow got sacked nine times in a playoff game the week before on the road against top-seeded Tennessee and still won!
Not only do Burrow and rookie kicker Evan McPherson seemingly have ice in their veins, but they also seem to have the ability to have offensive explosions as they have shown in numerous second halves when needed. Just as important for this big game, they won two lower-scoring playoff games vs. the Raiders and Titans.
Another area where they traditionally have been weak for years now was special teams. Not anymore.
This points to a close Super Bowl from two different flavors of ice cream. Two different degrees of freshness: Cincy's first appearance on this stage since the late '80s. vs. the Los Angeles Rams, who have never won a Super Bowl in L.A.
Somebody will have a "first" win Sunday night. How will it turn out? After all of us have marveled over how special the division and conference rounds were in providing us with two of the greatest weekends of all time, how could it not go down to the wire?
What may tilt the balance ... the Rams' defensive wall against an average Cincy line, which did a great job vs. the Chiefs but the defensive front of Donald & Co. is a different challenge. This time, it's Rams Pro Bowl kicker Matt Gay's game-winning kick on familiar turf to give the "home team" a thrilling win.
Swami Sez: Rams 27, Bengals 24