I’m about to compare the upcoming Super Bowl’s match-up of Los Angeles and Cincinnati with Super Bowl 43 between Arizona and Pittsburgh, and if you think you know which historical team relates to which current opponent, you might be mistaken.
Yes, the L.A. Rams have a previously-overlooked QB (at least insofar as Super Bowl bids were concerned) and a dominant wide receiver, comparable to Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald of the runner-up Cardinals. But consider that the ’22 Cincinnati Bengals possess a superior quick-strike passing game, and a defense that’s been set-upon too many times by the offense’s lack of running prowess in comparison, in-turn brought upon by an average OL.
That’s just about the scenario that the Big Red were in before charging to the NFC crown and facing the Steelers, except that Cincy tailback Joe Mixon is carrying the ball and not an aging Edgerrin James.
I grew up watching the Cardinals lose a lot in the previous decade, and can recall when Arizona – about as mediocre on the offensive line as Cincinnati has been accused of this season – was so demolished on the LOS that the Cards finally turned to a journeyman guard/tackle named Rob Selby. Selby was just under 300 pounds, not particularly quick up the field, and not a proven starter. “Yet another lineman with nothing special about him,” I told an experienced season-ticket holder, mimicking the typical fan blather. “Where do we get these slugs from?”
“Eh,” replied the long-time fan. “Come playoff time, I’d take 5 Rob Selbys. He’s versatile, durable, doesn’t get rattled, and when you’re moving the ball he can block downhill just like anyone can.” Sure enough, the OL did begin to play better with Selby on it.
Cincinnati’s blocking effort can be described that way. “5 Rob Selbys.” But as the grizzled fan pointed out, a terrific aerial game and just enough 3-4 yard rushes up the middle can combine to give a “Selby Squad” the chance to become a disciplined, effecitve unit in the postseason. Combine that with Joe Burrow’s amazing (and newfound) scrambling ability, and you’ve got an offense that can finally start to buoy its defense, just like the ’09 Cardinals did.
None of this to say the Bengals are a sexy underdog on Super Bowl Sunday. The game’s steady point spread of (-4) on L.A. feels pretty accurate, and Cincy’s (+166) moneyline is no grand bargain.
That doesn’t mean the public isn’t misled, as usual, on the likely outcomes of a Super Bowl. In fact, this February, the best main market pick might be an “opposite sketch” from how Lombardi Trophy gambling against-the-public usually plays out.
WagerBop’s Main-Market Prediction for Super Bowl 56 (LVI)
As of the Friday before kickoff, betting odds on the upcoming NFL title are remaining stable. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been shifts in the numbers, however. Over/Under point total lines for the L.A. Rams vs Cincinnati Bengals kickoff at SoFi Stadium fell a full point to (48.5) since action opened earlier this month.
The lack of movement for the Super Bowl’s moneyline and point spread may be because L.A. came so close to fulfilling FanDuel Sportsbook’s forecast in the NFC Championship Game. The Los Angeles Rams could not cover the point spread in their victory over the San Francisco 49ers, falling a point short of covering (-3.5) picks ATS despite a 20-17 comeback win. The NFL odds-makers at FanDuel are all but mimicking the conference title game’s moneyline odds and point spread, marking the NFC champions a (-4) point favorite over the Cincinnati Bengals (+166).
The league’s best pass rush may prove to be a challenge for Cincinnati’s offense. QB Joe Burrow’s pass blockers were improved against Kansas City after giving up close to 10 sacks to Tennessee in the AFC Divisional Round, but the Bengals still struggle to create rushing lanes for RB Joe Mixon, and Burrow has been forced to scramble out of pressure to keep drives alive.
Von Miller, Aaron Donald, and the Rams’ bruising front-7 potentially can’t be blocked by Cincinnati’s blue-collar OL, and as alluded to in our intro, Cincy guard Jackson Carman is not at 100%.
On the other hand, the underdog’s defense was so impressive in the AFC Championship Game against KC that FanDuel’s opening O/U point-total line had already fallen a whole point following the first morning’s action. While the Rams have shown that no amount of injuries in the defensive backfield will prevent opposing QBs from going down, the Bengals have demonstrated an ability to shut down elite receivers and pick-off excellent passers.
Speculators may not care to think about what L.A. will do if Cooper Kupp is successfully limited by Cincy’s disciplined cornerbacks, but it’s an angle that serious handicappers must investigate prior to making confident picks on the Rams.
Does Super Bowl 56 have an official best main-market pick? L.A.’s odds of 1-to-2 won’t inspire many high-rollers. After all, there are no other NFL games to parlay the Rams’ thin odds with. Los Angeles’ (-4) point spread is the better option for favorites’ gamblers, as Sean McVay’s team isn’t built to win games by 3 points and would like to avoid doing so on Sunday.
There aren’t many “fail safe” scenarios provided by Cincinnati’s (+4) point spread compared to a typical bet ATS. Yes, the Bengals can lose by a field goal and still win on the spread, but the Rams know that the “visitors” can’t easily respond to a 14-point deficit and will be prepared to gamble on 4th down looking for touchdowns, not FGs, as per the NFL’s current trend. Offensive lines that can block downhill are formidable against any front-7, but if Cincinnati’s ground game gets off to a bad start, we expect that Burrow’s already-dodgy pocket will collapse even quicker against L.A.’s defense.
Super Bowl 56 gamblers have rejected their “fan” tendencies in choosing the low-side of Over/Under bets for this Sunday. A dropping O/U number can be viewed as a sure-fire sign that public sentiment leans to the “Under,” since there is always a contingent of big-game bettors who pick the “Over” simply to cheer for exciting plays and more points.
But alternatively, a different kind of psychological betting trap could be luring sportsbook clients to forecast a low-scoring contest at SoFi Stadium. Standard bets on the Super Bowl can only be won or lost, with no penalty for “bad beats” or terrible off-the-mark predictions. But no one likes to be embarrassed by a seemingly ridiculous pick that loses by 30 points. Super Bowl gamblers may be deferring to the “sober” O/U pick out of fear of another “12-7” outcome.
Los Angeles has the defense to beat any NFL team 12-7. But when you throw out the potential specter of a dull, boring Greatest Show on Earth, the fact is that most of the likely outcomes for the upcoming game favor “Over” style bets.
Let’s imagine that the L.A. Rams light-up Cincinnati in the 1st quarter. Burrow isn’t the type of quarterback to go quietly into defeat, so in that case, we can expect the Bengals to air the ball out and try to produce a high-scoring comeback win. If the Bengals run out to a 14-0 lead, the Rams will not hesitate to get the ball into All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp’s hands.
It is possible that the Rams are looking to throw 60% of the time, regardless of the score in SoCal. Cincinnati was fantastic against Derrick Henry in the AFC Divisional Round, and a limited Cam Akers won’t give McVay confidence that the L.A. backfield can carry the day. Meanwhile, the Bengals are probable to sink or swim with the ball on Sunday, either producing brave scoring drives or disastrous series in which the Rams blow-up the backfield. Once again, Burrow is far too young and full of vinegar to throw a majority of check-down passes if losing the game, even if there’s no real hope of sustaining possession. As a result, the Rams’ defense could score decisive O/U points in a lopsided outcome.
In the biggest moments, NFL teams usually go to their best players. A dull “17-14” Super Bowl score is contingent on cautious offense and extremely-tough rushing yards, and yet it’s hard to imagine neither club taking advantage of its QB-to-WR combinations in an attempt to gain the edge. A very close Super Bowl is likely to produce a barrage of point-scoring in the 2nd and 4th quarters, while an L.A. romp would invite additional points from Cincy.
Recommended Bet: Over (48.5)
Prop Betting Odds and Picks on Super Bowl 56
Odds to Score a Super Bowl TD
Cooper Kupp -190
Cam Akers -120
Ja’Marr Chase +100
Joe Mixon +110
Odell Beckham +125
Tee Higgins +155
Sony Michel +175
Tyler Boyd +180
Kendall Blanton +240
Tyler Higbee +240
Van Jefferson +260
Drew Sample +300
Samaje Perine +340
C.J. Uzomah +360
Ben Skowronek +470
Los Angeles Rams D/ST +470
Joe Burrow +550
Cincinnati D/ST +500
Chris Evans +850
Matthew Stafford +900
Unless the player in question truly represents a go-to Red Zone weapon for his team, we should be skeptical of the optimistic odds on WRs to score in Super Bowl 56. Cooper Kupp’s tremendous skills and broad popularity may keep the Los Angeles WR’s odds to score a TD in high-risk territory, but Ja’Marr Chase is a 1/1 prop-bet pick who may not be targeted downfield as often by the Bengals on Super Bowl Sunday. The Rams’ dynamite pass rush reducing the seconds that QB Joe Burrow has available to get Chase the football largely explains his negative line-movement over the past 2 weeks.
Wiser bets in the anytime-TD-scorer prop market include RBs like Sony Michel, who could plunge for 6 after a time-consuming drive.
Recommended bet: Sony Michel (+175)
Joe Burrow Passing Yards: Over/Under (276.5)
Cincinnati Bengal QB Joe Burrow is so talented, so smart, and so determined that a 300-yard passing game may be an easy goal on most weekends. But on February 13th, the superstar potential of the quarterback will meet the intimidating pass rush of the L.A. Rams, with the winner of Super Bowl 56’s “game within the game” likely influencing the final score like no other factor.
Aggressive, consistent rushing is Cincy’s only hope of slowing L.A.’s pass rush down, making the prospect of Burrow notching an “easy” 300 yards doubtful. WagerBop’s O/U pick listed above is based in part on a “Bears vs Patriots” factor by which a Bengals comeback attempt could turn into fumbles, interceptions, and lay-up TDs from the L.A. defense. Cincinnati can score enough points to help the point total exceed 50, but will need to be careful about Burrow’s number of downfield attempts in the first 30 minutes.
Recommended bet: Under (276.5)
Both Teams to Score in 1st Quarter: Yes (+126), No (-160)
Both gamblers and bookmakers agree that it’s more likely only 1 team (or no teams) will score in the opening 15:00 of Super Bowl 56. But a “Yes” prop betting pick wagered at likely pregame odds of (+126) could prove favorable.
L.A. and Cincinnati are so well-coached that it’s likely that each team will have “scripted” play sequences to begin the game, resulting in at least a field goal for each team in the maiden frame.
Recommended bet: Yes (+126)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.