With the Chiefs focused on 2022, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams will square off in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday. Here’s why you should consider pulling for the Bengals.
Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Two years ago the Bengals were a dumpster fire. Cincinnati’s front office was trying to decide who they would take with the number 1 draft pick in April after finishing the 2019 campaign at 2-14. The decision was a fairly easy one – Joe Burrow had led LSU to an undefeated season and a National Championship, winning the Heisman Trophy in the process of leading a team that many consider to be one of the best in college football history. That was about a month before Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54 for the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship in 50 years.
Burrow had a very good rookie year for the Bengals in 2020 before shredding his knee midseason. With a comeback on his mind, he led the Bengals to a 10-7 record in 2021 squarely behind his connection with former LSU teammate and Bengals rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase, won the AFC North, and made a run through the AFC playoffs to find himself one win away from being the first quarterback in league history to win a college football national championship, a Heisman, be drafted number 1 overall, and win a Super Bowl. All in a 2 year span. We all know how he got here – by defeating Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Championship game. While many will say that the Chiefs collapse is more of the reason the Bengals are here than their play, they are here nonetheless with an opportunity to take down the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 56.
The Bengals find themselves here on the back of an explosive offense led by Burrow and Chase, but also behind a running back spearheaded by running back Joe Mixon. Mixon was top 5 in the league this year in rushing, and the Bengals offensive line is certainly more geared towards running the ball than protecting the quarterback. Burrow was sacked 51 times in 2021, and the Bengals offensive line will have a real treat on their hands on Sunday with Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Leonard Floyd ready to attack from all angles. Getting the Rams fierce defensive front on their heels with the running game will not just be important to the Bengals offense, it will be a necessity.
Defensively the Bengals were sound in nearly every facet of the game in 2021. Their rush defense was one of the league’s 5 best. Against the pass their metrics weren’t fantastic, but schematically they found ways to make the proper adjustment and win enough games to get to the sport’s biggest stage. Against the Chiefs in the AFC championship game, Patrick Mahomes lit the Bengals up to the tune of 3 passing TD in the opening half and a QBR of 98, to no touchdowns and 2 picks in the second half and overtime with a QBR of 1.4. That is the definition of night and day, in part because Mahomes struggled mightily and seemed skittish in the pocket, but mostly due to the strategy that Cincinnati implored in the second half of the AFC title game. They rushed just 3 a majority of the time, dropping 8 defenders into coverage with a spy on the Chiefs signal caller. It was not a simple 8 man drop either, they essentially played it as an 8 robber defense, flashing defenders to different areas of the field preventing Mahomes from knowing when and where his receiving targets would be open.
Typing out the first three paragraphs of this blog made me both mentally exhausted and retroactively angry. I had gotten over this loss in the week following the AFC championship game, but now I’m back in my feelings over the Super Bowl that should be a third straight for KC. While the Chiefs prepare for an offseason full of new additions from free agency and the draft and to build a roster than will more than likely compete for a Super Bowl appearance in 2022 (the Chiefs and Bills are tied with the best betting odds to win next year’s Super Bowl at the moment), the Bengals and their extremely lucky cast of characters prepare to take on the Rams in Los Angeles. Bitter? Nah, not me. Never.
Yesterday’s blog was very hard to write, today’s is even harder. I thought this one would be easier considering my long standing disdain for the Rams franchise, but harkening back on the loss to Cinci less than 2 weeks ago is digging up some bones that I wasn’t prepared to dig up. But, as any good blogger would, I’m going to put on my emotional blinders and bring you people what you want the most – a few reasons to cheer for the team that just ripped our hearts out 11 days ago. Our second ever collablog might not talk you all the way into getting on the Bengal bandwagon, but it will certainly give you some things to consider leading up to Sunday’s big(ish) game.
Disclaimer for all Mizzou and K-State fans reading this – I do not endorse Jarrod’s takes here, but with a large contingency of Chiefs Kingdom being Jayhawks fans somehow, the points are valid and compelling.
Jarrod’s Case for the Rams (follow Jarrod at @JarrodChiefsFcs)
A portion of Chiefs Kingdom includes fans and alumni of the University of Kansas. Because another large portion of Chiefs Kingdom is fans and alumni of the University of Missouri and the two schools have a long-standing rivalry, that causes some tension among fans. My reasoning for rooting for the Bengals is specifically for the Kansas fans, though if you’re a Missouri fan you can use this as a reason to not root for the Bengals. The Bengals have three former Jayhawks involved in some way with the franchise.
Hakeem Adeniji is the starting right guard for the Bengals. Adeniji was a two-time All-Big 12 tackle at Kansas and a four-year starter. In his two years in the NFL, he has played in 24 games, starting in 14 of those games.
Pooka Williams Jr. is a rookie wide receiver on the Bengals’ practice squad. Williams played running back at Kansas, however, before moving to wide receiver early in the 2021 season. He was named 1st team All-Big 12, a conference that is known for having talented running backs, as a freshman and sophomore. As a freshman, he was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. He entered the 2021 NFL Draft after opting out of the 2020 season after 4 games and went undrafted, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Bengals almost as soon as the draft ended. He left Kansas 9th all-time in rushing yards. Keep in mind, this is the same school that has produced running backs like Pro Football Hall of Famers Gale Sayers and John Riggins, Candian Football League Hall of Famer Jon Cornish, and Tony Sands who held the Division I single-game rushing record for 23 years.
Darrin Simmons is the Bengals Special Teams coordinator. He’s served in that role with the Bengals since 2003 and is by a large margin, the longest-tenured member of the Bengals coaching staff. He’s been there through all the playoff disappointments under Marvin Lewis. Simmons is actually a Kansas native. He is originally from the small town of Elkhart, which is in Southwest Kansas, near the Oklahoma state line, or about 260 miles west of Wichita. He was a punter at Kansas from 1993 to 1995. He was named 2nd team All-Big Eight his senior year in 1995. That season, Kansas finished ranked 9th in the country and defeated UCLA in the Aloha Bowl.
For Chiefs fans that are KU fans, it’s pretty easy to root for Jayhawks in the Super Bowl. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.
Jake’s Case for the Rams (follow Jake at @JakeWhite58)
The Cincinnati Bengals are a hard team to root for unless you’re from the area or grew up as a Bengals fan. I mean, they aren’t the lowly team you root for (Detroit Lions) or that team always on the cusp but never winning the big game (half the NFL). But you can’t hate them; they’re not the evil empire (New England Patriots), their fans aren’t atrocious (Dallas Cowboys), and they have a few greats that are fun to have around (Chad “OchoCinco” Johnson). But why should we root for them over the Los Angeles Rams?
Well, they won. They beat our beloved Kansas City Chiefs, and the proper mid-western thing to do is cheer for your conference ally. If we aren’t in it, we root for the team that plays in our conference. Like in college sports, most of us cheer for the Big 12 or SEC (depending on what side of the state line you’re on) regardless of whether your team is involved. They beat the Chiefs in a grueling overtime game that they earned. So we can appreciate that and hope we lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champions.
I won’t do that. I’m a sore loser and I can’t cheer for someone other than my team winning their conference. So we have to find another reason. And that reason is Patrick Mahomes. I’ll cheer for the Bengals because this will be another game that Mahomes can add to the arsenal. If the Bengals win that means Joe Burrow, Joe Cool, Joe Shiesty, will be hailed all offseason as the Mahomes Killer. He beat him TWICE. And even in overtime! I mean If you haven’t thought about it since the Conference Championship, you’ll hear about it all offseason. And any true KC fan will tell you, number 15 is petty. He remembers when he was drafted, what the scouts said about him, and he’ll remember what they’ll say about him all offseason.
So if you cannot find a reason to root for the Cincinnati Bengals, maybe look at it as preparation for the Revenge Tour.
Charles’ Case for the Rams (follow Charles at @CRob5769)
This is a very rah-rah thing for me to try to sell you on and forgive me if you think this travels too far down the path of seeing things through rainbow colored lenses. Because it definitely does. But this is a thought that my fiancé dropped on me in the hours after the AFC championship game that has kind of stuck with me, and truthfully why I myself will be rooting for the Bengals on Sunday. Yes, I am rooting for the Bengals to beat the Rams. There are many reasons I want this to happen – I hate the “NFC is better” narrative, I can’t stand Sean McVay, I despise the Rams organization and think Stan Kroenke represents most of what is wrong with professional sports…to name a few.
But put yourself back in your own shoes from February 2, 2020. The Chiefs hanging on to a 24-20 lead over the 49ers when all of a sudden Damien Williams breaks off a long touchdown run that seals the game, seals his place in Chiefs history, and delivers a dream to a city that has waited 50 long years to break the shackles of being “loveable losers” and is finally back on top of the football world. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs delivered a Super Bowl championship to a long-suffering fan base in a small market with some of the most diehard fans in all of sports.
The Cincinnati Bengals have never won a Super Bowl. They haven’t been to one since 1989. The last championship the city experienced at all was the Reds winning the 1990 World Series. This long-suffering fan base in a small market with some diehard fans (take twitter interactions out of this people, that is not the real world) is craving a Super Bowl so bad, and it is so close they can taste it. Does this sound familiar? The people of Cincinnati and the Bengals franchise have the opportunity to do essentially the exact same thing this year that the Chiefs did back in 2020. Win the Super Bowl against a NFC West opponent and bring a Lombardi to a city that will inevitably go crazy over it behind a first round quarterback drafted to be the face of the franchise. While there are many differences between the two teams and cities, there are a lot of similarities there as well. On the Chiefs Focus 1st and 10 podcast following the Chiefs collapse in the AFC title game two weeks ago, I brought this up and ended my thought with the rhetorical question “How cool is that going to be for those fans?”
If they win, it will be something that none of them ever forget, just like we will never forget where we were, who we were with, and what we did when Damien Williams broke that long run. I personally put my head down and wept, as I was convinced (at the age of 31) that I would never see a Chiefs Super Bowl championship in my lifetime. I was wrong, and I hope there is some maniacal 31 year old lifelong Bengals fan who gets to feel the same thing I felt two years ago on Sunday.
That wasn’t as hard as writing the Rams blog – taking a trip down memory lane to the Super Bowl 54 win will always be something that brings a smile to my face. Like I mentioned yesterday, it’s always beneficial to try to find the good aspects of bad situations. The Chiefs sitting at home while the Bengals and Rams play for the Lombardi is definitely a bad situation, but it’s one that we should all be able to find some good in. There’s one more football game for the world to (somewhat) enjoy on Sunday, and we hope we’ve given you some valid reasons to pull for the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI.
We’ll be back tomorrow with everyone at Chiefs Focus’s picks for Super Bowl 56!