Did Rams dodge bullet by facing Bengals instead of Chiefs?

Travin Howard (32) celebrates with Rams teammates after his interception clinched the NFC championship. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Just as in 2018 when Gary Klein said the Rams would reach the Super Bowl, he was right again this season. Question is: Can they win it this time? Los Angeles Times’ Rams beat writer Klein, NFL writer Sam Farmer and columnists Bill Plaschke and Dylan Hernández discuss the Rams’ prospects:

What do you think about the Rams facing the Bengals instead of the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVI?

Plaschke: The Rams dodged a huge bullet when the Bengals beat the Chiefs. First, there won’t be any signs of that racist tomahawk chop chant infecting SoFi. Second, while the Chiefs could beat the Rams, the Bengals can’t — and won’t.

Klein: Any game that does not include Patrick Mahomes is not going to be as attractive as the alternative. Remember the 2018 “Monday Night Football” matchup? The Rams won, 54-51. Now that was super entertaining. But Joe Burrow and the rest of the young Bengals could grow on everyone.

Farmer: That Chiefs-Rams game a few years ago was an all-time classic, but it would have been three Super Bowl appearances in a row for the Chiefs. Time for some new story lines. Now, with two No. 4 seeds reaching the big stage, it’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Hernández: To me, seems like the stars are lining up for the Rams to win this whole thing. I’m sure their former fans back in The Loo — sorry, I mean The Lou — are thrilled that Stan Kroenke’s team is catching a break.

Since Bengals coach Zac Taylor was the quarterbacks coach with the Rams when they went to the Super Bowl in 2018, Cincinnati’s offense has similarities to the Rams’ scheme. Taylor and Rams coach Sean McVay know how each other think very well. Does this offer shades of a matchup with Kyle Shanahan?

Hernández: I don’t think so. Shanahan had beaten McVay in six consecutive matches and really seemed to be in the head of the Rams’ coach. Don’t think that’s the case here.

Plaschke: I think this is the opposite of a Shanahan matchup. In this case, McVay is the mentor, Zac Taylor is the pupil. McVay is probably in Zac Taylor’s head, which doesn’t bode well for the 12th president of the United States.

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Klein: I agree. In this case McVay is the friend, mentor and potential nemesis for Taylor.

Farmer: Meh. Everybody knows everybody’s tendencies in the league. Everybody watches tape. This is just another cool connection. Interesting that three of the four coaches in the conference title games had direct connections, and they all four — including Andy Reid — have some relationship to the Mike Holmgren branch of the coaching tree.

What’s the first issue that comes to mind for the Rams when they line up against the Bengals?

Plaschke: Get to the quarterback. Joe Burrow was sacked nine times by the Tennessee Titans in the divisional playoffs. His offense line stinks. Get to Burrow, beat the Bengals.

Dynamic Bengals rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase made All-Pro in his first NFL season. (Emilee Chinn / Associated Press)

Farmer: And where is Ja’Marr Chase? They will be looking out for No. 1.

Hernández: Matthew Stafford was fortunate to have only one pass intercepted against the 49ers. He should have had another that could have cost the Rams the game. What’s been a key in each of the last three games will be the key again in the Super Bowl: Stafford has to limit his mistakes.

Klein: To quote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Who are those guys?” Other than that, yes, the only issue that really matters is whether Matthew Stafford plays well. If he does, the Rams will win.

Odell Beckham Jr. has proved himself worthy as a replacement for Rams’ injured starting receiver Robert Woods. Are his skills fitting into the same role or does he bring something else to the Rams?

Plaschke: Beckham does one thing better than Robert Woods. He is more of a distracting decoy, more potentially dangerous to opposing defenses, therefore he clears a much broader path for Cooper Kupp, who seems to be wide open about 99% of the time.

Hernández: Not sure Beckham is the blocker Wood is, but it feels like he can catch a greater variety of passes and is more of a threat in the red zone.

Farmer: Robert Woods was a huge loss, so reliable when the Rams were in a pinch. But Beckham might have the best hands in the league. He’s gotten increasingly comfortable in this offense and more and more of a safety valve for Matthew Stafford. OBJ, Von Miller, Cam Akers… In a time when every other team was dealing with attrition, the Rams enjoyed additions.

Klein: Woods has a unique toughness and willingness to dig out tough passes over the middle. He commands teammates’ respect because of his fire, work ethic and professionalism. Beckham is doing the same. As noted by Dylan, he’s probably not the blocker that Woods is. But he has shown his unique skill set on fade routes. I don’t know if the Rams will be able to keep Woods, Beckham, Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson together for next season, but you know Stafford will be lobbying for that.

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) celebrates as 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garappolo walks away dejectedly. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Do you think Jimmy Garoppolo will be in a San Francisco 49ers uniform next season?

Hernández: No. Garoppolo is as mistake-prone as Stafford but doesn’t have the upside. It cost them against the Rams. They have to move on.

Klein: Agreed. No. The 49ers drafted Trey Lance. The “Jimmy G” era is over.

Farmer: The “G” in “Jimmy G” stands for Gone. You don’t use the No. 3 pick on a quarterback (Lance) only to have him hold a clipboard.

Plaschke: I’m not sure any L.A. Times readers care a whit about any San Francisco 49ers right now. They lost, they’re done, finished, over, see-ya-wouldn’t-want-to-be-ya! But to answer the question, Garoppolo is done as a 49er. They can’t trust him to win big games in crunch time. He proved it again Sunday. I bet he is the starting quarterback next season in Pittsburgh.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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