21 weeks of football down and the only teams left standing are the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles in Super Bowl LVI. As usual, we’re going to run down the game from a top-down fantasy stance. With just one game, we’ve had more room to focus on the players involved. Having that extra time has allowed us here at Sharp Football to delve deep into the teams, players, and matchups between these teams for the Super Bowl Worksheet.
|37.31%||4||Opp. Rush %||38.28%||5|
|62.69%||29||Opp. Pass %||61.72%||28|
Against the Spread
Rams ATS as Favorite: 7-10
Bengals ATS as Underdog: 8-3
The Bengals have ended a number of postseason droughts on their current run to the Super Bowl, winning their first postseason game since 1990, then winning their first two games in franchise history on the road in the playoffs to get here. They will now look to end one last drought, winning their first Super Bowl ever, one of the remaining 12 teams in the league yet to lift the Lombardi Trophy.
The Bengals hit the Super Bowl winning six of their past seven games, with their lone loss over that span coming in Week 18 when they rested the majority of their roster. Cincinnati has been battle-tested this year, sporting the league’s best record against teams with a winning record (7-3) while going 7-2 against 2021 playoff teams, with both losses coming in overtime. The Bengals have also won a league-high seven games this season as an underdog.
Cincinnati has scored on 56.7% (17-of-30) of their postseason possessions, up from their 44.3% in the regular season (12th). They have struggled a bit to put the ball in the end zone on those drives, scoring a touchdown on 16.7%, down from their 28.7% mark (11th). Defensively, everything is in line with their regular season production, allowing a score on 38.7% of possessions (34.4% in the regular season, which was sixth) and allowing a touchdown on 19.4% of playoff possessions, after ranking 11th in that department in the regular season (22.0%).
The Rams are in their second Super Bowl in five seasons since hiring Sean McVay in 2017, winning 61 games since he joined the organization, a mark only bested by the Chiefs (68 wins) over that time span. Los Angeles also hits Sunday on a hot streak, winning eight of their last nine games, with their only loss over that span coming in overtime in Week 18 to the 49ers.
They enter the big game with a 15-5 record overall, going 6-5 against teams with a winning record this season and 5-5 against 2021 playoff teams. While not as impressive as the Bengals in that area, they still have won all of the ones that have mattered the most to get here.
The Rams were a high-level offense all season, averaging 37.7 yards per drive (fourth), scoring on 49.4% (third) and a touchdown on 30.4% (sixth) of their possessions in the regular season and rolled that over to average 36.5 yards per drive in the playoffs, scoring on 45.5% and a touchdown on 24.2% of drives.
Defensively, the Rams allowed a touchdown on 19.8% (sixth) of opponent possessions in the regular season but were more modest in yards allowed per drive (32.7, 17th), and scoring rate per drive (36.7%, 12th). In the playoffs, they have stepped things up, allowing just 22.9 yards per drive with a score on 28.6% (10-of-35) and a touchdown on 17.1% (6-of-35).
We also have a lot of symmetry here between these teams as Zac Taylor was hired by the Bengals in 2019 after he worked under McVay during his first two years with the Rams. With that, these offenses share some similarities. Both of these teams are the top two teams in the league in offensive snaps in 11 personnel while both carry nearly identical pass/run splits. The Rams play faster (11th in seconds per play) compared to the Bengals (30th), but both are middle-to-bottom of the league in plays run per game on offense. The Bengals (+1.5 yards) and Rams (+1.4 yards) are first and third in yards per pass attempt over their opponent, yet each is middle of the pack in passing aggressiveness.
Some of their overlap in tendencies nearly prevented both from being here. After trending more aggressive to close the season as highlighted in this article week, the Bengals reverted to a cautious approach in the AFC Championship, the Bengals ran on 17-of-29 first down plays, producing 3.6 yards per play on those play calls. The Rams had a more even split (16-15 rushing) in first down but managed just an anemic 2.2 yards per play on those downs running the football. As a byproduct, both teams needed their quarterbacks to pull them out of consistently poor spots.
The Rams ran 29 plays (64.4%) of their non-first down plays needing seven or more yards and ran nine third down plays needing five or more yards. The Bengals ran 56.8% of their non-first down plays needing seven or more yards with 11 third downs needing five or more yards. This is a large reason why the game total has already dropped two full points since opening at 50.5.
Joe Burrow: Burow is coming off his best fantasy game of the playoffs (20.5 points) despite his lowest completion percentage (60.5%) in a game since Week 13 and his fewest yards per pass attempt (6.6 yards) in a game since Week 11.
That came against a Kansas City defense that was 23rd in the league in EPA allowed per dropback while the Rams rank seventh in that department. That is also the best rank for a pass defense in that category that Burrow has faced this season. The Rams are third in the league in passing points allowed per attempt (0.33). Burrow has faced just two teams in the top-10 in that area this season, with those two games among his five lowest-scoring fantasy weeks of the year versus the Broncos (12.8 points) and the Titans (12.4 points). The Rams have allowed just five passers this season to throw multiple touchdown passes with nobody throwing more than two against them this season.
A huge narrative surrounding this game is how the Bengals will hold up on the offensive line versus the Rams’ defensive front. After allowing nine sacks in the Divisional Round to the Titans, Burrow was sacked just one time by the Chiefs, but the amount of pressure created by Kansas City still impacted the game. Burrow was pressured on 40.5% of his dropbacks, connecting on 8-of-14 passes (57.1%) for 5.6 yards per pass attempt. In the postseason, Burrow is 16-of-31 (51.6%) for 5.2 Y/A with one touchdown under pressure compared to 59-of-78 (75.6%) for 8.7 Y/A with three touchdowns when kept clean.
The one thing you do not want to do is be forced to blitz Burrow to generate that pressure, however. For the season, Burrow leads the NFL in yards per pass attempt (11.2 Y/A) against the blitz, while the next closest quarterback is at 9.3 Y/A. Burrow is third in completion rate (72.1%) against the blitz. Teams in the playoffs have only blitzed Burrow on 21-of-125 dropbacks (16.8%) while he has averaged a gaudy 13.6 Y/A on those dropbacks while completing 85.0% of his passes. When teams have not blitzed Burrow during these playoffs, he has produced 6.4 Y/A while completing 65.2% of his passes.
The Rams do get aggressive with the blitz on occasion, sending extra rushers 28.3% of the time (11th), but that can be a fast way to giving up production here and open up things for Burrow. We should expect them to dial their pressure calls back based on Burrow’s splits if they are smart. That may not be a hindrance as the Rams have still created pressure on 32.5% of opponent dropbacks without blitzing, which is eighth in the NFL. Offensively, the Bengals rank 23rd in pressure rate (32.4%) and dead last in sack rate (8.8%) allowed when teams do not blitz.
Burrow still sports the third-highest passer rating (99.5) when teams do not blitz and play zone coverage (which the Rams play at the league’s second-highest rate on 77.3% of dropbacks) so he can find his way to success here, but it all comes down to how the Cincinnati front can handle things. On those same dropbacks without a blitz and without man coverage, Burrow’s completion rate drops from 79.3% to 55.9%, his yards per attempt drop from 8.7 Y/A to 6.4 Y/A, and his rating goes from 106.2 down 76.3 when kept clean versus facing pressure on those dropbacks. It is not an understatement by many highlighting that the performance of the Cincinnati offensive line is the largest catalyst for this passing game in the Super Bowl.
Matthew Stafford: Stafford has played some of his best football in the playoffs, completing 72-of-100 passes with 9.1 yards per pass attempt while throwing six touchdown passes to one interception. Stafford has scored 20 or more fantasy points in all three games after failing to hit 20 fantasy points in each of his final four games in the regular season.
For fantasy, the Bengals ranked 23rd in passing points allowed per game (15.3). Stafford has played 11 games this season against teams in the back half of passing points allowed per game. In those games, he has averaged 19.4 fantasy points per game, throwing multiple touchdowns in nine of those games.
Like Burrow, you do not want to send extra pass rushers at Stafford. He ranks first in the league in completion rate (74.4%), second in yards per attempt (9.3 Y/A), and second with 15 passing touchdown passes against the blitz this season. In the playoffs, Stafford is 23-of-31 (74.2%) for 333 yards (10.7 Y/A) with two touchdowns against the blitz with opponents blitzing him on 29.1% of those dropbacks. Both the Cardinals (42.9%) and Buccaneers (39.0%) sent extra heat at him to their detriment while the 49ers stayed true to their approach and only blitzed Stafford on 7-of-48 dropbacks (14.6%), where he went 5-of-6 for 49 yards (8.2 Y/A).
The Bengals incorporate a very similar approach on defense as San Francisco. The Bengals have blitzed 20.5% of the time, which is 26th in the league. In the playoffs, the Bengals have blitzed Derek Carr, Ryan Tannehill, and Patrick Mahomes on 22-of-131 dropbacks (16.8%). Despite not blitzing often, the Bengals are third in the league in pressures with a four-man pass rush while 12th in pressure rate (30.8%) without blitzing.
Cincinnati took that a step further in the AFC Title game, sending three or fewer pass rushers on 18 of Mahomes’s dropbacks, holding him to 7-of-14 passing for 33 yards on those dropbacks. The Bengals have had success dropping back in coverage, ranking third in the NFL in rate of plays using a three-man rush (11.5%) while allowing a 61.7% completion percentage and 6.5 Y/A on those dropbacks as opposed to a 66.5% completion rate and 7.3 Y/A otherwise.
12 of those 18 dropbacks in the AFC Championship using a three-man rush came in the second half after Mahomes had his way with the Bengals in the first half. Those in-game adjustments have been key for the Bengals this season. Cincinnati has allowed a 69.1% completion rate (26th), 7.3 yards per attempt (25th), and a 96.0 rating (21st) in the first of games this season but have come back to allow a 62.9% completion rate (10th), 6.9 Y/A (14th), and an 84.1 rating (ninth) in the second half of games this season.
Stafford has the second-most dropbacks this season against teams that do not blitz and play zone coverage behind only Mahomes. He ranks fifth in yards per pass attempt (8.2 Y/A) on those dropbacks, but the crux of his mistakes have come on those downs, with Stafford having a 15-to-14 TD-to-INT rate and throwing all but four of his interceptions on those plays. Stafford has faced a three-man rush for 43 dropbacks this season and teams have found some success on that small sample, with Stafford completing 21-of-40 passes (52.5%) for 156 yards (3.9 Y/A) with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His 57.9 rating against a three-man rush ranks 27th in the league while his completion rate was 28th and only Sam Darnold (3.1 Y/A) and Mac Jones (2.9 Y/A) had a lower rate of yards per attempt when facing a three-man rush (grain of salt for sample sizes).
Joe Mixon: Rushing 21 times for 88 yards in the AFC Championship, Mixon posted his most yards on the ground since Week 12 while his 4.2 yards per carry were his best mark since Week 11. Mixon tacked on three catches for 27 yards, putting him over 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the past two games.
Mixon has now rushed for 3.5 yards per carry over his past eight games, but he continuously has stacked touches. Mixon has accrued over 20 touches in every playoff game while averaging 21.0 touches per game this season. As the season has reached crunch time, he has shared even less work, handling 88.9%, 90.5%, 91.3%, 90.9%, and 88.9% of the Cincinnati backfield touches over his past five games played, handling 108-of-120 backfield touches over that span. The only area Mixon gets shorted in is third down receiving work, as he has run just 33 pass routes on third down this season while Samaje Perine has filled that role (110 routes).
Mixon will need to carry his high workload here because the Rams have consistently been strong versus the run all season. They are allowing 3.65 yards per carry to running backs (third) and just 0.91 yards to backs before contact (also third). They allowed just two 100-yard rushers this season while they have allowed just two backs (both Elijah Mitchell) to reach 80 yards rushing in a game since Week 4.
Cam Akers: A week after handling 27-of-30 backfield touches against Tampa Bay, Akers was banged up due to a shoulder issue in the NFC Championship and shared more work with Sony Michel. Akers handled 14-of-25 backfield touches for 50 yards. That shoulder issue kept Akers out of practice all of last week, so keep tabs on it closing out this week.
Akers has only rushed 59 times for 154 yards (2.6 YPC) since returning from his Achilles injury, but over that span, the Rams have faced the 49ers twice (second in run success rate allowed), the Buccaneers (eighth), and the Cardinals (13th). All three of those teams also rank in the top four in EPA allowed per rushing play. The Bengals are 18th in success rate (41.1%) and 15th in EPA allowed per rush (-0.070). Cincinnati also has allowed 4.44 yards per carry to backs out of 11 personnel (15th), including allowing 5.17 yards per carry on 24 carries against 11 personnel in the playoffs. 47 of Akers’ 59 carries have come out of 11 personnel while 76.6% of all running back carries for the Rams have come out of 11.
While that is a solid signal that Akers and the Rams can find more success here running the ball better than they have over the previous month, Akers still comes with some potential red flags for fantasy that can leave him rushing yardage dependent.
The first is that the Rams have not thrown to their backs much at all this season. They are 31st in target rate (12%) to their backs. This would be a great spot to involve them since the Bengals are 20th in success rate (49%) and 20th in yards allowed per target (5.8) to backs, but that takes a step of faith.
The Rams also are one of the pass-heaviest teams near the end zone, which has played into them carrying a 47-to-12 split (79.7%) in passing touchdowns to rushing touchdowns, the highest passing touchdown rate in the league. The Rams lead the league in passing rate inside of the 5-yard line (65.8%), while ranking second inside of the 10 (60.3%) and third inside of the red zone altogether at 60.5%.
Finally, Darrell Henderson is expected to be active in the Super Bowl for the first time since Akers returned to action, further potentially gumming up the workload in this backfield and adding fragility to Akers receiving that touch rate we saw three weeks ago in the Divisional Round.
Cooper Kupp: Kupp has spilled over one of the greatest regular season receiving seasons right into the playoffs. Kupp has started the postseason with games of 5-61-1, 9-183-1, and 11-142-2, receiving 38.9%, 30.6%, and 33.3% of the team targets in those games.
Kupp also has plenty of touchdown equity, scoring in each of his past five games played and in eight of his past nine. It also does not hurt that the Bengals are 26th in receptions (8.1) and 25th in yards allowed (99.9) per game to opposing slot wide receivers.
Ja’Marr Chase: Chase has rolled over one of the best rookie receiving seasons into the playoffs, starting his postseason career with games of 9-116-0, 5-109-0, and 6-54-1. He already has the most receiving yards (279) for a rookie wideout in one postseason in playoff history while he needs just three receptions on Sunday to set a new mark for a first-year player in one postseason.
Everyone will wonder how the Rams will approach defending Chase. Both the Titans and Chiefs attempted to cloud Chase and as a result, he was out-targeted by Tee Higgins in both games.
The Rams have the ability to approach things in a unique fashion because they have Jalen Ramsey. Since the Rams’ Week 11 bye, Ramsey has moved away from the “star” position that he was in to open the season has played nearly exclusively as a boundary corner. Ramsey has played 425 snaps outside compared to 86 in the slot over that span. Prior, it was a 370-to-253 split outside and inside. In the playoffs, Ramsey has played 14 snaps in the slot.
It will be interesting to see if they feel like they need to use Ramsey exclusively in shadow coverage on Chase, deploy him naturally, or choose to use him more on Higgins and roll coverage towards Chase.
Chase has eviscerated man coverage this season, averaging 3.59 yards per route against man as opposed to 2.38 yards per route against zone coverage. The Rams do play a ton of zone coverage (second in the NFL), so it may not be an exclusive shadow in the first place, even if Ramsey is following him. Chase and the Bengals have not drawn a strong schedule of elite defensive backs this season, with Denzel Ward and Casey Hayward as the standouts. In the three games involving those defenders, Chase failed to reel in any of his four targets in the coverage of those two players.
At the end of the day, even with Ramsey playing in multiple roles, we have seen lead wideouts find fantasy success against Los Angeles. The Rams are 24th in the league in points allowed per game to opposing WR1 options (16.3). Over their past six games played, we have seen Justin Jefferson (8-116-0), Deebo Samuel (4-95-0 and 4-72-1 receiving) and Mike Evans (8-119-1) find their way to productive games.
Tee Higgins: Since the Week 10 bye, Higgins only has six fewer targets (76), four fewer receptions (53), and 30 fewer receiving yards (869) than Chase. Chase does have three more touchdowns as a separator, but Higgins has out-targeted Chase in five of those 10 games played with both on the field, including the past two weeks as the Titans and Chiefs made it a point of emphasis to not let Chase beat them downfield. Higgins has received 25.7% (7-96-0) and 27.8% (6-103-0) of the team targets in those games.
Playing off the same line of thoughts above, the Rams have options here in how to approach things. They can use the Ramsey on Chase or potentially go the old Bill Belichick route and use Ramsey on Higgins and play multiple defenders on Chase. If Ramsey does end more in the area of Chase, that would mean that Darious Williams (5’9” and 187 pounds) would continue to be a target, especially against the 6’4”, 215-pound Higgins. In the playoffs teams have gone the other direction, targeting Williams a team-high 32 times in coverage.
Odell Beckham: Beckham is coming off his best game with the Rams, catching 9-of-11 targets for 113 yards in the NFC Championship. Beckham’s targets, receptions, yardage, and 26.2% target share were all highs since joining the team. In the playoffs, Beckham has now received 22.2%, 22.2%, and 26.2% of the team looks in the passing game.
The Rams are an interesting opponent for the Bengals because Cincinnati has faced a ton of opponents that have driven targets to their running backs and tight ends, something that is not what the Rams have done all season. The Bengals have faced the third-lowest target rate to opposing wide receivers (55%) compared to 30th to running backs (22%) and 25th to tight ends (23%). The Rams are first in the NFL in wide receiver target share (72%). Despite the Bengals not facing a high target to opposing wideouts, the Bengals are 20th in yards allowed per target (8.1) to wideouts while ranking 27th in catch rate (65.7%) allowed to the position.
Van Jefferson: Jefferson pulled in 2-of-5 targets for nine yards in the NFC Championship, further pushing out production as a clear ancillary and big-play dependent option in the passing game for the Rams. Jefferson now has just 28 targets (10.8%) over his past eight games, catching two or fewer passes in seven of those games. Jefferson is still out there and capable of a big play, however. He has still run a pass route on 86% of the team dropbacks over that stretch.
Jefferson also leads the team in vertical routes, running 120 routes this season that are go, double move, or post routes. Both Kupp (54) and Beckham (55) have combined for 109 of those routes. As a byproduct, Jefferson leads the team in targets (12) and touchdowns (three) on throws 30 or more yards downfield. Matthew Stafford has the most pass attempts (38) and completions (17) of 30 or more air yards on the season. The Bengals are 24th in the league in completion rate allowed on those throws (37.1%).
Tyler Boyd: Boyd secured 4-of-6 targets for 19 yards in the AFC Championship while receiving 16.7% of the team targets. That was the 11th time that has failed to reach 40 yards receiving in a game this season, including in each of his past four games played.
Boyd has not had more than six targets in a game in any of his past seven games played. There may be potential that Boyd will benefit the most with the Bengals being forced to deploy a quick passing game, but we do not have a lot of evidence of that this season. Boyd has hit a 20% target share in just three of his past 15 games played since Higgins returned from an early-season injury.
We need him to reach the end zone for fantasy against a team that is third in the league in touchdown rate allowed (2.7%) to opposing wideouts and have allowed five touchdowns to opposing slot receivers this season, third in the league.
Rams TEs: Tyler Higbee suffered an MCL injury just 14 snaps into the NFC Championship and is expected to be doubtful for Sunday. Higbee was becoming a larger part of the passing offense prior to injury. He had three targets on those 14 snaps while seeing 20.6% of the team targets over his previous six games.
With Higbee going down, Kendall Blanton stepped into similar usage, catching all five of his targets for 57 yards while running 36 pass routes. Down both Higbee and Johnny Mundt from earlier in the season, Blanton will potentially log every snap on Sunday against a Bengals defense that has allowed a 72.7% catch rate (26th), 8.2 yards per target (27th), and a 6.1% touchdown rate (22nd) to the tight end position.
Bengals TEs: Similar to the situation above, C.J. Uzomah was forced from the AFC Championship after just nine snaps due to an MCL injury. While his status remains up in the air, Uzomah has hinted that he will not miss the game. That does not mean he will be back playing full-time as he was prior, however, even if he does dress.
In the playoffs, Uzomah was a contributor, posting games of 6-64-1 and 7-71-0 before the injury. Prior to injury, he had seen 6.1 targets per game over the previous seven weeks with 17.6% of the team targets over that span. He also had at least 15% of the team targets in all seven of those games.
Uzomah largely lived as being a player that never came off the field, running a pass route on 73.1% of the Cincinnati dropbacks, which is 11th among all tight ends in the league. The injury compromises his playing time, making him more of a flyer to snag a touchdown. We also cannot count on his replacement Drew Sample: Sample caught just one pass for four yards in the AFC Championship game while he was targeted just twice on 28 pass routes. This coming after averaging just 2.5 catches for 21.8 yards per game in 2020 with Uzomah sidelined.
The Rams have allowed 6.9 yards per target (14th) and a 71.4% catch rate (20th) to tight ends, but just a 3.2% touchdown rate (fifth).