Super Bowl LVI: 7 Most Compelling Storylines For Sunday’s Big Game

by Chris Haney

On Sunday, football fans across the globe will gather with family and friends or head to local bars and viewing parties to watch Super Bowl LVI. It’s the most-watched game of the year when it comes to American sports, and once again there’s plenty of interesting storylines heading into the Big Game.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams each won their respective conference. However, their paths to SoFi Stadium to play in Super Bowl LVI couldn’t be more different. The Bengals are young and have turned a failing organization around in the matter of two seasons. The Rams are full of NFL veterans and have been here before, but are back with a franchise quarterback that could be the difference maker this time.

If the quality of the NFL playoffs so far are any indication, we could be in for one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent memory. Most analysts are predicting a tight matchup, and Las Vegas agrees. Caesars SportsBook, DraftKings, and FanDuel all favor the Rams with a -4 spread. Yet the game and its outcome won’t be the only thing to pay attention to on Sunday. Here’s seven storylines you need to know heading into Super Bowl LVI.

Second Consecutive Super Bowl a Team Will Play at Home

This year’s Super Bowl will be the second season in a row that one of the teams gets to play in front of their home crowd. In 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made history when they became the first team to ever play at home in the Big Game. Legendary QB Tom Brady didn’t let home-field advantage go to waste as he led the Bucs to their second Lombardi Trophy and his seventh and final title of his storied career.

Only one season later and we already have the second-ever team playing at home in the Super Bowl. The Rams will attempt to follow Tampa’s lead while in L.A. when they run out on their home turf in SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

The Super Bowl Will Look Very Different Than It Has In Almost 20 Years

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Speaking of Tom Brady, we all know how often he’s made it to the Super Bowl during his iconic 22-year career before he recently retired. Since entering the league in 2000, he’s taken his teams to the Super Bowl 10 times and won seven of them. That basically means he was guaranteed to at least make the final game of the season every other year he played… for more than two decades.

With a few more additions, the Super Bowl has looked very similar for the last 18 years straight. Let’s add iconic quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger to the mix. Now throw in the San Francisco 49ers as a team. For the first time in the last 18 Super Bowls, the Big Game will NOT feature at least Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, or the 49ers.

Cincinnati Bengals Go From Worst to First

The Los Angeles Rams have been building a championship contender for years now. Since 2017, the Rams have perennially contended for the playoffs. In fact, they’ve won the NFC West three out of the last five years. However, the Cincinnati Bengals are a very different story.

Just two seasons ago, the Bengals were dead last in the league with a 2-14 record. That earned Cincy the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Bengals took quarterback Joe Burrow out of LSU with the first overall pick, and things have quickly turned around since.

After some growing pains last season (4-12 record) and adding some other key contributors in the offseason, Burrow and the Bengals turned it all around in only two seasons. They went from last place in the whole NFL to winning their division two years later. After a superb run in the playoffs, they’re now playing in the team’s first Super Bowl since 1989. Just to prove how unlikely their turn around has been, previous to the season oddsmakers placed them at 75-1 to make the Big Game. They only trailed two other teams with worse chances to make it to the Super Bowl. Talk about a glow up.

If Cincy Wins the Super Bowl, Joe Burrow Stands Alone

(Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

There’s a reason Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow already has a dozen nicknames in only his second year in the NFL. Although his professional career just began, Joey Franchise is no stranger to winning big games.

During his last year with the LSU Tigers, he led the team to a historic season. LSU went undefeated, won the SEC championship game, and would go on to win the national championship. Additionally, Burrow took home the coveted Heisman Trophy that year.

In the history of the NFL, no quarterback has ever won the Heisman, a national title, and the Super Bowl. On Sunday, Burrow could accomplish something that’s never been done before in only a three-year span. We could be witnessing history in the making this weekend.

Super Bowl LVI: A Long Time Coming For Matthew Stafford

Of course, we had to talk about Burrow’s counterpart in L.A. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford. The two quarterbacks share many similarities, but have taken very different paths to Super Bowl LVI.

For example, each of the QBs played their college ball in the SEC – Stafford at UGA and Burrow at LSU. Both were selected as the No. 1 overall picks in their respective drafts – Stafford (2009), Burrow (2020). In contrast, Burrow’s Super Bowl debut in his second season comes earlier than any other QB ever drafted No. 1 overall. Stafford’s Super Bowl debut will occur later than any other QB drafted at No. 1. The pair may have entered the league in the same position, but they’ve had wildly different journeys to the Big Game.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Stafford is a true NFL veteran that was loyal to the Detroit Lions for 12 underwhelming seasons. Detroit’s inability to win consistently plagued Stafford his entire career. The Lions made the playoffs three times during his time in Michigan and lost each appearance. The 34-year-old’s pedigree is unquestioned, but he never had the playoff experience to match it.

Now, after a blockbuster trade to the Rams in the offseason, Stafford has led L.A. to the Super Bowl in his first year with his new team. Ask almost any NFL fan, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone that isn’t happy for Stafford’s success this season. His trip to SB LVI is well-deserved and long overdue.

Kevin Huber: A Cincinnati Kid Playing For His Hometown Team

NFL punters are rarely going to make headlines in the Super Bowl. Yet Bengals punter Kevin Huber is the feel-good story that the Super Bowl deserves.

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Huber was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He went on to attend the University of Cincinnati where he played his college ball with the Bearcats from 2005-2008. In 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Huber in the fifth round. The 36-year-old punter has spent his entire 13-year NFL career playing in Cincy. Now, Huber is going to the Super Bowl with his hometown team.

Can he help bring home Cincinnati’s first-ever Super Bowl title? If so, it’ll be a storybook ending for a kid from Cincy.

Andrew Whitworth and Joe Burrow’s Unlikely Friendship

Andrew Whitworth is the oldest tackle in NFL history at 40 years old. The former Cincinnati Bengals player spent 11 seasons in Ohio before joining the Rams in 2017. He had never met young Joe Burrow even though they were both standouts at LSU. But in December 2020, injuries brought the two men together as they rehabbed in preparation for the 2021 season.

Burrow tore his ACL and MCL, which ended his rookie campaign in November. Around the same time, Whitworth was dealing with his own injuries – a torn MCL and damaged PCL. They went to the same doctor for their injuries, and he finally made the connection between the two NFL stars.

Despite their 15-year age difference, the two men became fast friends while on crutches. Burrow spent a lot of time with Whitworth and his family at their home during rehab. The young QB even celebrated his birthday at the Whitworth household. In addition, he was there for Andrew’s birthday as well. Now, 14 months later, the two athletes are both healthy and will be competing against each other in Super Bowl LVI.