By MIKE HERNDON
Sometimes, the obvious answer is obvious for a reason. Sometimes, the conventional wisdom is right.
As Super Bowl LVI approaches, I must tell you that if the last two years are any indication, you’d be wise to read this column and then head straight to your local sportsbook and bet against whoever I pick. I’ve backed the wrong horse in each of the last two Super Bowls, but I think I know why.
Hell, I even had it in the headline of one of those columns: “A contrarian prediction.”
If you look closely enough, you can find reasons to go against the grain of conventional wisdom in any matchup. Who wants to predict the same outcome as everybody else?
So two years ago, I predicted the 49ers would be able to ride ball control and a strong defense to an upset of Kansas City. Last year, I and everyone else with eyes knew the matchup between Tampa Bay’s edge rushers and the two backup offensive tackles thrust into the Chiefs’ lineup would be a key. But I made the case that KC would surely give those poor OTs some help and find a way to win anyway.
The Niners controlled the ball for a while, but not long enough. And those KC OTs? They got left on an island with Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul for most of the night and the Chiefs paid the price.
You wouldn’t have to stretch your imagination very far to envision a scenario where the Cincinnati Bengals, 2-14 just two years ago, upset Matthew Stafford and the “all in” Los Angeles Rams. Just re-watch the clinic that Lou Anarumo and the Bengals’ defense put on in the second half of their AFC Championship Game win over the Chiefs, holding Kansas City to 3 measly points in the second half while rallying from a 21-3 first-half deficit and rendering Patrick Mahomes practically helpless.
Joe Burrow has been unflappable. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd have been explosive. The Bengals defense has been up to the task.
But after reaching for contrarian straws the last two years and coming up empty, I’m going to choose to focus on the obvious in this Super Bowl. A Bengals offensive line that got roasted for nine sacks in the divisional round against Tennessee is facing an LA defensive front featuring Von Miller, Leonard Floyd and the baddest man on the planet, Aaron Donald.
Burrow overcame those nine sacks to beat the Titans. But sooner or later, as we saw last season, a suspect offensive line is going to get you beat. Donald and Miller seem like just the kind of guys to make sure of it.
The pick: Rams 28, Bengals 24