Super Bowl LVI could be one-and-done shot at title for Rams, Bengals
This isn’t like Tom Brady’s 2001 Patriots or Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs arriving two years ago. Neither the Rams nor Bengals are presumably at the start of a dynasty.
LOS ANGELES — As overpowering as the Rams have been and as remarkable as Bengals young quarterback Joe Burrow has played, Super Bowl LVI isn’t necessarily the onset of a dynasty for either team.
This is much different than when the Patriots made their first Super Bowl with Tom Brady in February 2002 or when Patrick Mahomes took a loaded Chiefs team there two years ago. Neither team playing Sunday should make any assumptions about how many chances it will get.
The Rams went all-in on this season by trading for quarterback Matthew Stafford after making previous expensive deals such as the one that brought in cornerback Jalen Ramsey and ponying up massive contracts to keep stars such as Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and Leonard Floyd.
That gamble has paid off. Regardless of the future salary-cap squeeze and dearth of draft picks they’ll have to navigate, it was worth it for one great shot at the title.
The good news is they’ll have coach Sean McVay either way, and he seems capable of figuring things out. His worst season was going 9-7 in 2019, and he’s 55-26 during his five-year tenure.
‘‘That man knows everything you need to know about football,’’ Donald said. ‘‘He’s a genius.’’
He’ll have to be enough of a genius to develop new talent and make tough decisions as the Rams grapple with the price tag of keeping this going. He also will have to manage his star quarterback being 34.
Stafford is well-worn as he wraps up his 13th season and accrued most of his mileage in those hard seasons with the Lions. He already has endured major shoulder and back injuries. While he played every game this season and last, there’s no guarantee of how long he’ll stay at the top of his game.
On the other side, the Bengals have an incredibly talented core of young, cheap offensive players that opens the possibility of sustained contention. But the question is whether their run truly signals an arrival.
They’re a team that went 10-7 and lost to the Bears and Jets during the regular season, and — hold on, receiver Tee Higgins would like a word about the Jets beating them 34-31 in Week 8.
‘‘OK, yeah, the Jets, we were [BS-ing] and we didn’t play up to the standard,’’ he said after practice Friday at UCLA. ‘‘But after that, we were like, ‘Let’s turn this [thing] around and be who we are.’ Sure enough, that’s what we did.’’
Point taken. Nonetheless, the Bengals were a couple of bad breaks from not making the playoffs in the first place, and their postseason victories against the Titans and Chiefs came on the final play.
It has been a fun, remarkable ride, but it’s not enough to stamp them as a perennial contender yet. When quarterback Nick Foles caught fire during the Eagles’ championship run, it didn’t make him a Hall of Famer, as Bears fans found out in 2020.
Whether this is a fluke by the Bengals or a spark that propels them to the top of the NFL is to be determined. They’ll have to prove it’s more than just hope.
‘‘We don’t take this for granted to be here on this stage,’’ coach Zac Taylor said.
There are other threats to the Bengals and Rams, too. Mahomes isn’t going anywhere, and neither is Patriots coach Bill Belichick. If Aaron Rodgers plays next season, whatever team he’s on will be among the favorites. Josh Allen and the Bills are built for a long run. The pressure is on both teams to cash in while they can.