The biggest game of the American Football calendar is rapidly approaching. Not the Cambridge Pythons' massive game in Greenwich next weekend, but the Super Bowl. This game pits the winners of the AFC and NFC to decide, as the Americans like to declare, the world champions. Super Bowl LVI will see the Cincinnati Bengals face the Los Angeles Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday night (13/02).

With many loving the famous half-time performances but struggling to grasp the ins and outs of the on-field action, I plan to give a quick preview of the game, as well as all the useful information needed to pretend you understand what’s going on whilst vibing to the halftime show featuring Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar.

Two quick tips before diving into the heavy stuff. Firstly, watch the game with other people. You want people to talk to during the breaks in play, and you also need to be able to show off the expertise gleaned from this article. Secondly, have a light dinner. It’s a great sport for snacking and drinking (responsibly, of course), but the time is a little anti-social for the UK, starting at 11:30pm.

Team history

Bengals: Founded in 1967 (the same year as the first Super Bowl), the Bengals have never won the Lombardi Trophy. They have reached the final twice before, defeated on both occasions by the San Francisco 49ers - LA’s divisional rivals. The Bengals have been poor to mediocre for as long as I’ve been watching the sport and it’s weird for them to suddenly be good.

Rams: The Rams were originally established in Ohio as the Cleveland Rams in 1936. They moved to Los Angeles in 1945, and then to St Louis in 1995. The Rams won two championships before the league merger and lost their first Super Bowl appearance in 1979 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the early years in St Louis were arguably their most successful period. They won their first Super Bowl in 2000 with a prolific and dynamic offense yet lost to the ascending Patriots two years later, before new owner Stan Kroenke moved the team back to LA in 2016. The Rams made the Super Bowl three years ago, losing again to the Patriots, the last championship of their dynasty.

Some basics for new viewers

Not understanding what happens is part of the fun, but here’s some basic stuff.

Downs: Teams have four attempts to advance the ball at least ten yards, and possession will be turned over if they are unsuccessful after these four. Successful conversion will “move the sticks” and give them a new set of downs. On fourth down, teams will generally punt when in their own half to prevent the opposition getting the ball with good field position, and kick a field goal in the opposition’s half to get some points out of a drive.

Yellow flags: Referees throw these to mark a penalty.

Red flags: Coaches can throw these to challenge a call.

Turnovers: Fumbles are when a player with possession drops the ball, and it can then be picked up and possessed by any player. Interceptions are when a defensive player catches and possesses the ball.

What is a catch? We don’t have time for this.

What to expect in the game

Key battle: The Bengals’ interior offensive line vs. Aaron Donald. I could have simply said the Bengals’ offensive line against a loaded Rams D-line, but the three-time Defensive Player of the Year could wreak havoc on Cincinnati’s guards. Jackson Carman, the second round pick out of Texas, in particular, has struggled at right guard, allowing six pressures against the Chiefs despite not starting the game. They may double team him, but I think Donald can trump the Bengals’ weak protection. They allowed a playoff-record nine sacks in the divisional round against the Titans and LA’s pass rush could be an even tougher opponent.

Bengals offense: Outside of the weakness in protection, the Bengals’ offense is cooking. Quarterback Joe Burrow has been sensational throughout the playoffs and young receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have both continued their impressive form through the post-season.

Bengals defense: The defensive line has improved in the post-season despite injuries, with defensive ends Trey Hendricksen and Sam Hubbard combining for 5.5 sacks. Cincy’s linebackers have looked comfortable in coverage and the defensive backs have generally played well, but it seems that every week one plays poorly. Eli Apple struggled against Kansas City, while Chidobie Awuzie allowed 137 yards against the Titans.

Rams offense: Cooper Kupp is incredible, and the Rams have several weapons to expose any gaps in the Bengals defense. The O-line is solid but has occasionally struggled in the run game, which has averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Matthew Stafford has performed well but his decision-making has been lacking at times, leading the league in interceptions during the regular season.

Rams defense: Beyond Aaron Donald, linebacker Von Miller is a former Super Bowl MVP and one of the several major acquisitions by the Rams this season. Jalen Ramsey will also be hugely important, most likely up against Ja’Marr Chase. The rest of the Rams’ secondary may be susceptible. The Rams’ D is elite on third down, as opponents have gone just 6 for 32.

Phrases that will make you sound smart without actually understanding what’s going on

“This game will be won in the trenches”: ‘The trenches’ refers to the offensive and defensive lines. It also makes things sound even more violent.

“The Rams should keep Burrow under pressure”: Pretty obvious. If you don’t give Burrow time to throw the ball you might have a good chance to win. Also the aim of the pass rush.

“The Bengals must stay disciplined on defense”: Another intuitive one. Many pundits praised the Bengals D’s discipline after they limited Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship. But all this means is they didn’t mess up. 

“Establish the run”: Nothing better than watching people smash into each other at full speed. Sounds smart no matter what, running always wins.

“These receivers are fun to watch”: ‘Fun’ is a sneaky description because it can mean anything. They can be fun because they’re incredible or comically bad.

Also, if you can know where a couple players went to college you sound super knowledgeable. For instance, “Oh yeah, I watched Burrow and Chase for LSU in the National Championship against Clemson, they have great chemistry.”

Vital statistics

  •     Despite Matthew being one of the most common names for an NFL quarterback, no Matthew has ever guided their team to a Super Bowl victory. The closest are Matt Cavanaugh (the backup on two championship teams), Matt Hasselbeck (who lost Super Bowl XL to the Steelers as a Seahawk), and Matt Ryan (who lost in Super Bowl LI).
  •     Joe Burrow is the sixth starting quarterback named Joe to reach the Super Bowl. Joe’s have five Super Bowl MVPs, including one for Joe Montana against the Bengals in 1982
  •     This is just the second meeting of quarterbacks picked first in the draft in the Super Bowl.
  •     This will be the youngest head coaching contest in the Super Bowl. Sean McVay is 36 and Zac Taylor is 38. Taylor also worked under McVay as QBs coach in 2018.

My prediction: Rams 24-27 Bengals

Lots has been happening in American Football lately and, if someone else were willing to do my degree for me, I’d love to discuss the recent coaching hires, NFL awards, and the Senior Bowl. Alas, I’ll leave you with one final sneaky thought: the Bengals have promised to win for Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla that was shot and killed at Cincinnati Zoo back in 2016. Do with that information what you will.