There’s just one game left on the NFL schedule, which means one last chance for our staff to give you our game picks.
Below, our crew will pick winners, scores and MVPs. Then scroll down for our bold predictions, an annual MMQB tradition in which our writers and editors go a little further out on a limb.
Here are our pickers:
Albert Breer, senior NFL reporter
Conor Orr, staff writer
Greg Bishop, senior writer
Michael Rosenberg, senior writer
Andrew Brandt, business of football columnist
Gary Gramling, senior editor
Mitch Goldich, editor/writer
Rams 27, Bengals 24
MVP: Matthew Stafford
The defensive lines will be a bigger factor than people realize and, I think, make this one a nip-and-tuck affair into the fourth quarter. From there, the quarterbacks will take command, with Joe Burrow and Stafford trading blows until the clock shows zeroes. The all-in Rams will walk away having won it all, becoming the second straight team to do so at home (after 54 years of a team never even having made it to a Super Bowl in its home stadium).
Bengals 33, Rams 30
MVP: Joe Burrow
Burrow Magic lives on. How can you possibly bet against this team now? I’m not quite sure how it will happen—especially how the defense will slow the Rams down—but let’s say unlike the AFC championship game against the Chiefs, the Bengals will establish a running game early. Cincinnati will get into an offensive rhythm and go ahead by two scores. A late comeback from the Rams won’t be enough, and Burrow will seal the game with a third-down conversion to Ja’Marr Chase. A star is born.
Rams 27, Bengals 21
MVP: Aaron Donald
It's hard to look at this game and see a significant advantage the Bengals hold over the Rams. I typed that knowing it might potentially be embarrassing, but where is it? If Cincinnati wins this game, it will be because of Burrow, because the offensive line does enough, because the Bengals’ wideouts star and because the Rams make some fatal mistakes. Otherwise, all signs point the other way. The Rams’ pass rush vs. the Bengals’ offensive line? Check. Overall talent level? Check. Depth? Check. Experience in the Super Bowl? Check. I applaud anyone who picks otherwise, and I also wonder: Do they possibly believe that to be true? The bet here is that Burrow will keep it close, but this isn't his time—yet.
Rams 37, Bengals 20
MVP: Matthew Stafford
Of all 14 teams that played in this postseason, the Rams average the lowest yards per carry (2.9) and the most rushes per game (32.3). This is a problem, and it does not reflect well upon Rams coach Sean McVay. McVay is a phenomenal coach with a brilliant offensive mind, but he has leaned on his running game too much at times in the last month. Perhaps he was spooked by Stafford’s late-season interception streak. The Rams have handed the ball to Cam Akers 54 times and thrown to Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. a combined 55 times—that's targets, not completions. That is just not sound strategy, and it would be a terrible mistake against a Bengals team that is more vulnerable to the pass than the run. If McVay goes into this game determined to score as many points as he can, the Rams should win.
Bengals 27 Rams 24
MVP: Joe Burrow
To be honest, I have no insightful reasons why I am picking the Bengals other than the belief that there is something special about this team. While many have said throughout the playoffs that they should feel good about how far they've come and that they’re a year away, they don't act like that nor play like that. They are like an NBA team that hit bottom and then turned it around with two high draft picks; the way that Burrow and Chase have transformed this offense is spectacular, even with a porous offensive line. And it sounds wrong, but I trust young Burrow over old Stafford. And Evan McPherson, the kicker who mistakenly celebrated a missed kick against the Packers earlier this year, will brazenly win another playoff game, this the biggest one of all.
Rams 28, Bengals 21
MVP: Von Miller
A nation will weep as McPherson doesn’t get to attempt a single field goal on Super Bowl Sunday. But mostly, the Rams will ride an opening-drive touchdown and some utter destruction on the right side of the Bengals’ offensive line to a comfortable two-possession lead for most of the night. A Drew Sample touchdown in the final minute will thrill over bettors everywhere.
Rams 33, Bengals 22
MVP: Aaron Donald
As the only person on our staff who correctly picked the Bengals to win the AFC when we filled out our brackets before the playoffs started, I was tempted to stay on the bandwagon. But I just can’t bring myself to pick them here; I’m going with my head instead of my heart. I think the Rams are better in most areas, and I’m going to take the more talented team instead of the team of destiny. I think it’ll actually be quite comfortable, with the Rams getting out to a big lead and the Bengals clawing back a bit late.
The ballyhooed quarterback matchup will be a slog for three quarters, only to blow up down the stretch, with touchdowns on the final three possessions—Rams, then Bengals, then Rams—deciding this one.
Burrow will walk away with the MVP award, and the pass-catcher we’ll all be talking about the most in this game is … C.J. Uzomah! The tight end will put on a masterful performance, throwing a critical, heroic block on Miller during a highlight-worthy Burrow pass and then scoring two of Cincinnati’s four touchdowns. Uzomah will dominate a talented but thin Rams secondary that will put most of its focus into doubling Chase and then allocating Jalen Ramsey on either Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd. The result will be an amped-up veteran tight end who has been a silent emotional catalyst for this Bengals team all year breaking the game wide open.
The Super Bowl record for sacks in one game is 3.0 (since sacks were made official), and it's currently held by four different players. On Sunday, it will be broken by Donald, who will double it, nearly making a run at the Titans’ nine sacks in the divisional round by himself as he takes home MVP honors.
Ramsey will intercept a Burrow pass and return it for a touchdown. Ramsey has not had a pick-six since his rookie year in 2016. But he is the kind of player who seems made for a stage like this: an elite and supremely confident talent who wants the spotlight. He dropped what would have been a huge interception against the 49ers in the NFC title game. This time, he’ll hang on to the ball and take it back.
No one threw more pick-sixes in the NFL this season than Stafford, and he saved one more for the Super Bowl. Chidobe Awuzie will be the defender to take one of his passes back the other way.
With the Bengals consistently devoting double and triple teams to Donald, Miller—though often working the left side of the Bengals’ O-line against the steady Jonah Williams—will collect a Super Bowl–record five sacks. Four of them will be the product of Donald’s pressure pushing Burrow into Miller’s waiting arms. The feat will surpass L.C. Greenwood’s unofficial record of four in Super Bowl X and all but erase the legacies of Kony Ealy and Darnell Dockett, who had shared the modern record (post-1982, when sacks became an official stat) with Reggie White.
Burrow will lead the Bengals in rushing yards, something he has never done before. Sure, the Bengals will think about running the ball with their actual running backs. But after they see how that goes, and fall behind early, they will abandon the strategy and look to the skies. Like Patrick Mahomes last year, Burrow will spend much of the game scrambling around—leaving him with options to chuck it to his receivers or simply move the chains himself when he can.
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