The must-follow storylines for Super Bowl 2022 week

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The uniqueness of the Super Bowl one year ago went well beyond seeing Tom Brady participating in a uniform other than that of the Patriots. 

Due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, there were fewer than 25,000 fans permitted in attendance inside Raymond James Studium to watch Brady earn his unprecedented seventh career championship in his first season with the Buccaneers in their decisive victory over the Chiefs. 

A few smaller COVID-related restrictions still apply one year later, but the NFL is expecting a full house when another hometown team, the Rams, face the upstart Bengals on Sunday in Los Angeles in Super Bowl 2022. 

With the week of hype set to begin surrounding the two starting quarterbacks, the two 30-something head coaches, the former local players and the established stars participating in the game, here are 10 storylines to follow before the next NFL champion is decided on Sunday: 

Home, sweet home

No NFL team had appeared in a Super Bowl in its home stadium before Brady and the Bucs grabbed the title one year ago in Tampa. Now, the Rams make it two years in a row, even though the Bengals technically are listed as the home team this week at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood because the conferences alternate years as that designation. As such, there was speculation the Rams might have to vacate their usual locker room, but the NFL confirmed last week that the Bengals instead will use the clubhouse typically used by the Chargers, who share SoFi with the Rams during the regular season. 

OBJ looking super… 

A multi-team pariah no more, former Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has been an excellent pickup by the Rams following his release earlier this season by the Browns. OBJ, whom the Giants dealt to Cleveland in 2019, has been the perfect complement to the NFL’s leading receiver, Cooper Kupp and had nine receptions for 113 yards in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers. The three-time Pro Bowler also caught a TD pass and completed a 40-yard throw to Cam Akers in the wild-card round against Arizona. 

Odell Beckham
Odell Beckham had 113 receiving yards in the NFC Championship game.
Getty Images

…And the other ex-Giants 

Another former first-rounder traded away by the Giants, cornerback Eli Apple, has reemerged as a contributor on the Bengals’ defensive unit. The 26-year-old Apple made news during the playoffs by tweeting that he was unsure which fan base he hates more between the Giants and New Orleans, where he was traded in 2018. He had up and down moments in Cincinnati’s AFC Championship win over Kansas City, including a pass interference penalty in the end zone and a dropped potential interception, but also a key stop of Tyreek Hill outside the end zone to end the first half. 

Defensive tackle B.J. Hill, dealt by the Giants to the Bengals for offensive lineman Billy Price in August, matched a career-high with 5.5 sacks during the regular season before adding another 1.5 in the AFC playoffs. 

We’re No. 1 

The quarterback matchup features two former No.1-overall draft picks for only the second time in Super Bowl history, with Matthew Stafford (2009 by Detroit) leading the Rams and emerging second-year star Joe Burrow (2020) fronting the Bengals. The only other time that happened? Six years ago, when Peyton Manning and the Broncos defeated Cam Newton and the Panthers. 

There rightly will be plenty of attention paid to the immediate success of and “Joe Cool” vibe exuded by Burrow, who is barely one year removed from the ACL/MCL knee surgeries that prematurely ended his 2020 rookie season. The former Heisman Trophy winner at LSU can join Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson as quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in their second NFL season. 

Joe Burrow, Matthew Stafford
Joe Burrow, Matthew Stafford
Getty (2)

Conversely, Stafford hadn’t won a playoff game (0-3) in his first dozen seasons with Detroit before an “Out Like a Lion, In Like a Ram” trade to LA in January 2021. Another cool nugget we’ll undoubtedly hear about Stafford is that his childhood and high school teammate in football and baseball growing up in Texas was three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who is expected to be in attendance on Sunday. 

Teacher vs. student

Sean McVay, the Rams’ 36-year-old wunderkind head coach, still doesn’t feel old enough to have a protégé running the opposing team, but Bengals head coach Zac Taylor — the former Rams offensive assistant — has remodeled the Bengals from a 2-14 punching bag in 2019 to Super Bowl participants during his three seasons in Cincinnati. Taylor actually is nearly three years older than McVay, who is making his second title-game coaching appearance after losing 13-3 to the Patriots three year ago in the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history. 

Catching on

The respective No. 1 receivers on each team took different paths to the top tier of their position. LA’s Cooper Kupp was a third-round pick out of Eastern Washington of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, while dynamic rookie Ja’Marr Chase teamed with Burrow at LSU before becoming the fifth-overall selection in the 2021 draft. 

In his fifth NFL campaign, Kupp posted the second-most receptions (145) and receiving yards (1,947) in a single season in NFL history before adding 25 more grabs for 386 yards and four touchdowns in three NFC playoff contests. Including the playoffs, the 21-year-ol Chase has posted 101 catches for 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns during his rookie season. 

Cooper Kupp celebrates the Rams' Super Bowl birth.
Cooper Kupp celebrates the Rams’ Super Bowl birth.
Getty Images

A tight window

Both teams still are hoping to get back their starting tight ends after Tyler Higbee of the Rams and C.J. Uzomah of the Bengals departed their respective conference title victories with knee injuries. Both players were diagnosed with MCL sprains and their availability will be updated throughout the week. Higbee was Stafford’s second-favorite target behind Kupp during the regular season, with 61 catches for 560 yards and five TDs in 15 appearances. Uzomah also found the end zone five times among 49 receptions for 493 yards, and he also scored against the Raiders in the wild-card round. 

Bank, Aaron

The Rams have added some serious star power to their defensive unit via blockbuster trades in recent years with five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey (from Jacksonville in 2019) and eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller (from Denver in November). Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner over the previous four seasons, still is their defensive leader and organizational lynchpin. Adding a championship ring only would further cement Donald’s legacy as perhaps the NFL’s top defensive player of his generation and should lead to an upward reworking of the final three years of the $135 million extension he signed in 2018. 

Aaron Donald.
Aaron Donald
Getty Images

The Flores lawsuit

There expectedly should be plenty of questions and discussion about the racial-discrimination lawsuit former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed last week against the NFL and its teams, including the Giants, over minority hiring practices and “The Rooney Rule.” There was one black head coach in the NFL — Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin — before Miami tabbed 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is biracial, on Sunday. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell vowed to “reevaluate” the league’s policies and practices in a memo last week to the 32 clubs, but let’s see what he specifically has to say about it and other matters during his annual address ahead of the sport’s signature event. 

Media matters

Speaking of the yearly buildup to the big game, Radio Row returns to Super Bowl Week after its noted absence last year due to COVID-19 precautions in Tampa. But not all media-related traditions will be back to pre-pandemic levels this week in Los Angeles. For those who enjoy the yearly offbeat questions from nontraditional “reporters” dressed in wedding dresses and other wacky outfits, there will be no formal in-person “Media Day” for a second straight year. Instead, it will be replaced again by a virtual-only “Media Night” interview setup on Monday evening. The Bengals aren’t even arriving in Los Angeles until Tuesday after holding a fan rally at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati the previous night.

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