Colour Commentary: Wrapping up the 2021-22 NFL season

An unorthodox Super Bowl matchup, and Tom Brady ends his chokehold on the rest of the NFL

The epic conclusion to the 2021-22 NFL season will feature a matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams. 

The matchup everyone saw coming heading into the season, right? Here are my thoughts ahead of the Feb. 13 championship game.

Super Bowl LVI Prediction

The Rams will be hosting the Super Bowl in their home stadium, only the second time that’s happened in the league’s history (oddly enough, the first occurrence was last year’s championship game, where the Buccaneers prevailed at home). 

On paper, the matchup against the Bengals just isn’t fair. Los Angeles has spent the last few seasons trading away first-round picks in the draft to upgrade their roster through superstar acquisitions. Their list of talent on both sides of the ball is something pulled straight out of a video game. 

They have a young, transcending coach in Sean McVay, who has already been handed the torch by his football peers and the media for his unique offensive mind. They also traded for a veteran quarterback in Matthew Stafford, who probably deserves a ring more than anyone else in the league. Finally, they arguably have the best player in football by the name of Aaron Donald. 

On the other hand, the Bengals have had their backs against the wall for the entire postseason. They already overachieved in the regular season, winning the AFC North division in Joe Burrow’s third season. Frankly, it was impossible to predict this outcome for Cincinnati, considering Burrow was coming off of a torn ACL in 2020, one of the most difficult injuries to manage and fully recover from in sports. 

Suddenly, the Bengals are one win away from cementing themselves in NFL history as champions. Entering the playoffs, Cincinnati seemed to be a year or two away from true contention, but proved me wrong every step of the way. The Bengals are well ahead of schedule, considering the team will have plenty of cap space to work with in the coming seasons, with Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase still on rookie deals. 

Most people without a dog in this race want the Bengals to win. It’s hard not to root for this build of a team, one which carries themselves with youthful swagger. Even their rookie kicker Evan McPherson is hitting game-winning field goals in the playoffs with ice in his veins. 

I’m going with the Bengals in this one, simply because they’ve already made it this far and they’ve done the improbable in back-to-back rounds against the Titans and Chiefs. I worry about the Bengals pass protection, as they’ve been overwhelmed in the past and won’t get any breaks against the likes of Von Miller, Leonard Floyd and the aforementioned Donald. Lastly, I expect an entertaining back-and-forth contest, seeing as both teams have struggled to play consistently for four quarters this postseason (especially the Rams, who turned the ball over at an alarming rate against the Buccaneers, and were begging Tom Brady to add to his comeback resume).

Speaking of Mr. Brady…

The end of the Brady era

On Tuesday, Brady announced his retirement from football on social media. The 44 year-old played in the NFL for 22 seasons and redefined longevity in a physical sport that typically sees its superstars only don their uniforms for half of that time. Brady continued to spearhead a potent Buccaneers offence while ranking among the league’s best passers. It’s crazy to think, but he could have easily pressed on. Instead, he chose to move on after dedicating half of his life to the NFL (literally). 

Brady’s G.O.A.T. case is unassailable. He appeared in 10 Super Bowls, won seven of them, and was the MVP for his team in five instances. He owns so many records but those aforementioned numbers are all that matter. Football is the ultimate team sport, with so many moving parts in the salary cap era that make it extremely difficult to win titles, let alone multiple. 

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever, but there are players who can conceivably fight for his throne. Wayne Gretzky might never be beat from a statistical standpoint, but I can’t rule out the possibility of another hockey player joining the conversation. In baseball, Babe Ruth was a trendsetter who paved the way, but there are wildly unique players in today’s game that are bringing new elements to the table. 

Brady will always be the greatest football player ever. I truly believe there’s no one that can reach the success he was able to achieve. I was never a huge fan of his, but I am an admirer of greatness in sports, and I’m grateful to have witnessed history unfold firsthand.  

 

Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

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