The 2021-2022 NFL season was arguably one for the ages. At no point during the season was there ever a truly dominant team in either the AFC or NFC.As a result, fans were delighted to some of the …
The 2021-2022 NFL season was arguably one for the ages.
At no point during the season was there ever a truly dominant team in either the AFC or NFC.
As a result, fans were delighted to some of the best playoff football games in decades.
Two years ago, Joe Burrow orchestrated one of the best, if not the best, single season a college quarterback has ever put forth.
In that magical season, he won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship while at LSU.
That led the Cincinnati Bengals to draft Burrow at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft.
Burrow’s impact was felt immediately as he transformed the Bengals into a competitive club, despite not managing to create a winning record.
In Week 11, Burrow tore his ACL, effectively ending his rookie season.
A year later, Burrow has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks, not just in the AFC, but in all of the NFL.
Burrow led the Bengals to a AFC North division title with a 10-7 record.
That record was good enough to land the Bengals a No. 4 seed.
During the regular season, Burrow was as efficient as a quarterback could be, completing 70% of his passes.
He averaged nearly nine yards per attempt and threw for over 4,600 yards. He had 34 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions.
His top target was LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, who had 1,455 yards as a rookie, and had 13 grabs.
The Bengals’ offense was balanced as Joe Mixon led Cincinnati on the ground. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry and totaled 1,205 yards on the ground with 13 touchdowns.
During the Wild Card round, the Bengals had to outlast the Las Vegas Raiders after only mustering up six points in the second half.
That win put Cincinnati on a collision course with No. 1 AFC seed Tennessee in Nashville.
While the headlines surrounding Tennessee was the return of Derrick Henry, it was the Cincinnati defense that put the Bengals in the AFC championship.
Burrow posted a modest, 348 passing yards and completed 28-of-37 attempts, but didn’t have a passing touchdown.
The Cincinnati defense picked off Titan quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times and Evan McPhearson kicked a 52-yard field goal as time expired to send the Bengals to Kansas City.
Like the divisional game against the Buffalo Bills, the Bengals forced overtime.
Trailing 21-3 in the second quarter, the Bengals scored 11 unanswered points and led late in the fourth quarter before Harrison Butker kicked a 44-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.
But it was once again the Cincinnati defense that picked off Chiefs gunslinger Patrick Mahomes and McPhearson once again delivered on a 31-yard field goal to stun the Chiefs and send the Bengals to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989.
While the Bengals found their franchise quarterback with the No. 1 draft pick from 2020, the Rams went after another quarterback who has been stuck in football purgatory for the bulk of his career.
Matthew Stafford was drafted by the Detroit Lions as the No. 1 pick in 2009.
While Stafford has become a reliable quarterback who was able to post big numbers week in and week out, the Lions have never been able to sustain the success and translate it into postseason runs.
In fact, during Stafford’s 11 years with Detroit, the Lions made the playoffs just twice.
So in the 2021 preseason, the Rams made a deal to trade quarterback Jared Goff to Detroit and give Stafford his fresh start.
He rewarded the Rams by leading them to a 12-5 overall record and winning a competitive NFC West division title.
The high-flying Rams offense got its man under center as Stafford completed over 67% of his passes in 2021 and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt.
He threw for 4,886 yards and had 41 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.
On paper, the NFC West looked as competitive of a league in the NFL as any division.
San Francisco returned a large portion of its defense from a year ago, remained loaded at every skill position and featured arguably the best game manager in the NFL with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.
The Cardinals brought back Kyler Murray and loaded up on offensive weapons that were poised to contend against any defense in the league.
And Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll can never be counted out.
In the end, it was the star studded roster of the Rams that locked up the division title over Arizona, who finished 11-6.
Cooper Kupp led the loaded receiving corps with 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Robert Woods, who was another key target for Stafford, tore his ACL during practice in November and set Kupp up in prime position to be the top playmaker on offense.
Out of the backfield, it was a combination of Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson Jr. that led the way with a combined nine rushing touchdowns.
In the postseason, however, it’s been Cam Akers that’s done the bulk of heavy lifting out of the backfield.
During the Wild Card round, the Rams opened the postseason with a convincing 34-11 win over the Cardinals.
By offensive standards, it was a low-performing day for the LA offense.
Defensively, the Rams picked off Kyler Murray twice and secured the 23-point win to advance to the divisional round, where Tom Brady and the defending world champion Buccaneers waited.
Having to go on the road and face the defending Super Bowl champions, the Rams couldn’t have asked for a better start.
By halftime, LA built a 20-3 lead and sat in firm control of the game’s momentum and extended the advantage to 27-3 mid-way through the third quarter.
But one can never count out Tom Brady.
Brady rallied the Bucs from a 24-point deficit and Tampa Bay scored 24 unanswered to tie the game at 27 apiece on a Leonard Fournette run with 42 seconds left in regulation.
With the game and a trip to the NFC Championship on the line, Stafford delivered two darts downfield in the final minute to set Mat Gay up for a game-winning 30-yard field goal, which effectively ended Tom Brady’s career.
Like the Bucs did a week prior, the Rams rallied in the second half against San Francisco and scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning field goal with 1:46 left to send the Rams to the Super Bowl.
While the Buccaneers were the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium a year ago, the Rams join that club in 2022, although LA isn’t officially the “home” designation.
Every year, the home team alternates between the NFC and AFC champion.
The storylines couldn’t have been scripted any better during a year.
Burrow enters the Super Bowl a year after tearing his ACL and the Bengals limping to a 4-11-1 record.
Stafford finally finds himself fighting for a championship after so many disappointing years in Detroit.
In a postseason ripe with close games, overtimes, game winning field goals and heartbreak, it seems to reason that Super Bowl LVI will continue the trend of close games, much to the delight of fans.
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