A star-studded Los Angeles Rams team will seek to deny the giant-killing Cincinnati Bengals a Hollywood ending in the Super Bowl on Sunday as an NFL season full of plot twists reaches its climax.
The first NFL championship game of the post-Tom Brady era sees the Rams play host at their gleaming $5.5 billion SoFi Stadium against a Bengals side chasing a first Super Bowl crown.
Around 100 million Americans are expected to tune in for the biggest annual event on the U.S. sporting calendar, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. local time (2330 GMT).
“It’s game day!” the National Football League proclaimed on Twitter. “It all comes down to this moment.”
The perfectly scripted season finale will see a duel between two talented quarterbacks playing in the Super Bowl for the first time, with Rams veteran Matthew Stafford pitted against the rising Bengals star Joe Burrow.
A Bengals victory would complete one of the most striking turnarounds in NFL history.
Last season, the team finished with four wins and 11 defeats, only slightly better than their 2019 campaign, which ended in a dismal 2-14 record.
But under head coach Zac Taylor, and buoyed by the arrival of No.1 draft pick Burrow in 2020, the Bengals are a team transformed.
A dogged, never-say-die approach characterized their post-season campaign, which saw them shock AFC top seeds Tennessee before another upset on the road over mighty Kansas City sealed their Super Bowl berth.
Whether Burrow is afforded the time and space to craft one more Bengals upset is another question altogether, however.
A porous offensive line allowed him to be sacked a whopping nine times during the playoff win over Tennessee.
That is a stat that the formidable Rams defense, led by the human wrecking ball Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the NFL, and veteran pass rusher Von Miller, will have taken note of.
On the offensive side, meanwhile, the Rams have more than enough weapons to puncture the Bengals defense.
The 34-year-old Stafford, playing in his first Super Bowl, has an array of targets to aim for, including Cooper Kupp, the best wide receiver in the NFL this season, and Odell Beckham, Jr., the charismatic former New York Giants and Cleveland Browns receiver who has flourished since joining the Rams in mid-season.
As well as enjoying home advantage in what is the first Los Angeles-area Super Bowl since 1993, the Rams also have the benefit of having recent experience of the NFL Championship game.
Many members of Sunday’s line-up were on the losing side when the Rams were beaten 13-3 by the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2019.
Rams head coach Sean McVay — who at 36 years and 20 days old would become the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl with victory on Sunday — was upbeat after overseeing a final team walkthrough Saturday.
“We’re very confident,” McVay said. “We’re ready to go. There’s a good look in their eyes.
“I think there’s a good urgency, but also I just have a good feel about this team. I feel excited to watch them go and do their thing.”
The Rams will be playing in front of a packed crowd of 70,000, while the traditional half-time music concert will feature the likes of Eminem, Mary J. Blige and hip-hop icons Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar.
The capacity crowd also contrasts with last season’s Super Bowl in Tampa, where attendance was limited to around 25,000 fans due to COVID-19.
While the omicron variant surge is in retreat in Los Angeles, authorities are requiring all attendees Sunday to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, with masking mandatory.