Joe Burrow is used to overcoming adversity. His career has been defined by doing just that. 

Recruited to Ohio State after a stellar high school career, Burrow never achieved his ambition of being the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes, who preferred to give first J.T. Barrett and then Dwayne Haskins the reins to their offense. His response: transfer to LSU and win the National Championship in the 2019 campaign, using his final year in college to put together one of the finest quarterback seasons ever produced at that level.

Five thousand six hundred and seventy-one passing yards, 60 touchdowns and just six interceptions proved more than enough to convince the Cincinnati Bengals he was deserving of the number one overall pick in the 2020 draft.

There was concern that decision would not be vindicated when, in Week 11 of the 2020 season against the then-Washington Football Team, Burrow tore multiple knee ligaments, ending his rookie season prematurely.

It was no secret that Burrow endured his struggles in training camp as he attempted to put the mental and physical pain of that devastating injury behind him, but any doubts that existed in the summer have long since been extinguished by a season in which he has continually thrived in adversity and excelled in the most significant moments.

No NFL quarterback was more accurate in the regular season, Burrow's well-thrown percentage of 85.7 the best in the league among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts, and no quarterback fared better under pressure. He delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 80.1 per cent of his 156 pass attempts under pressure, putting him tops for quarterbacks with a minimum of 50 such attempts. His nearest challenger was Ryan Tannehill (76.5) while the average was 70 per cent.

Burrow does not just excel at being accurate under pressure, he also does a remarkable job of escaping it, his leap out of the clutches of Chris Jones in the fourth quarter one of the defining images of the Bengals' stunning comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

When the odds appear stacked against him, Burrow changes the calculus, and he is the reason why you'll find many in Los Angeles expecting him to spoil the Rams' party and lead Cincinnati to victory in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday.

Kevin Clark, senior NFL writer at The Ringer, is among those selecting Cincinnati to pull off the upset because of Burrow.

"I think it's going to be close, and when that happens it becomes situational football, it becomes third and eight, what's your best play? Who's best equipped for that? For me, that's Joe Burrow," Clark told Stats Perform this week.

"I was leaning Rams because I just believe in talent, a lot of times I say 'there's more blue-chip guys on this roster, I'm picking them' but when I started to look at it, I realised the difference wasn't that great. The Bengals just beat the Chiefs, and they did a nice job against the Chiefs. The idea that the Bengals are some Cinderella story plus Joe Burrow, I don't agree with that."

No quarterback in the NFL with at least 100 attempts on third down in the regular season had a better completion percentage in those situations than Burrow (72.5) while he also led the league in passing plays of 50 yards or more (12) despite his arm strength being a tick below the level of some of his superstar contemporaries.

"I was just reading a book that his college coach wrote, and they were saying in his junior year in training camp he didn't separate himself because his arm just wasn't that strong. You go from that to leading the NFL in 50 plus yards receptions, it's remarkable, it's unbelievable," added Clark.

"I think that's a testament to getting the ball out quickly, knowing exactly where the ball is gonna go, any quarterback can go throw 50 yards, it's whether you can throw 70 yards. If you're in the NFL you can get there and so Burrow, using all of his arm strength, but then you look at what he's able to do with just vision, the placement, it's all there and it's rendering the lack of arm strength quite frankly meaningless.

Burrow's success in overcoming his own supposed physical limitations is also giving his coach, Zac Taylor, freedom to be more aggressive. The Bengals were third in the NFL this season in fourth-down conversion success rate (65 per cent) and the confidence Taylor can afford to have in his quarterback could tilt the coaching matchup with Sean McVay in his favour.

Clark explained: "I think that McVay is obviously a much better coach than Zac Taylor, I think Burrow has liberated Zac Taylor in a way that gives him cover, almost like if you remember with the Ravens and Lamar Jackson a few years ago where the Ravens were getting very aggressive because they had Lamar Jackson, and if there was any question in the media about why this person went for it, the answer was just always Lamar Jackson.

"Joe Burrow is that kind of player where it's fourth and four, they're gonna go for it. I think in the coaching matchup Burrow makes a difference because he's the kind of guy who's going to go over there and say 'coach we're going for it on fourth down' and Zac Taylor is smart enough to say 'this guy's driving the bus I'm gonna let him do it'".

Taylor confirmed as such during the Bengals' media availability on Friday, the Bengals' desire to involve Burrow in the process on gameday and in the offseason allowing both coach and quarterback to feel more comfortable.

"We took with the number one pick so there's obviously some special traits, we know he's a winner, he's a champion," said Taylor. 

"We wanted to make sure that we built this thing around him and how he could feel most comfortable. I think that when a player like that, who prepares like he does and sees the game, really from a coach's perspective, he should be involved in everything we do, and that's opinions on other players that we're adding to the team, that's scheme and game plan, that's adjustments that we make over the course of the game, he's earned that.

"Any time he's involved, he tends to make it work really well. And so I don't think that there's any egos on our staff that say no, we've got to do it the way that the coaches want it done. I want him to feel comfortable on game day, because when he feels comfortable, he plays at a really special level."

Comfortable with how the team operates, at ease in the spotlight and always calm under pressure, Burrow has even earned the blessing of the original 'Joe Cool', Joe Montana, to take that nickname. In what could be the warmest Super Bowl ever, Burrow's composure may turn the heat on the home favourite Rams.

Super Bowl LVI will be a tale of the student versus the master with Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor going against the man he used to work for on the Los Angeles Rams' staff in Sean McVay. They have not worked together since the 2018 season and their two offenses have taken somewhat divergent paths since that point, but the meeting between a coach schooled in the McVay offense and the man whom he learned it from is a fascinating subplot of the NFL's grand season finale.

When two coaches have a strong knowledge of each other and are born of the same scheme, how do they go about manufacturing an edge?

"It becomes a little bit of a game of chess," former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins told Stats Perform.

"Typically I give the upper hand to the Mr Miyagi of the two because you can teach a system, you can put somebody in the system, the longer you're in that system, the more you know, 'I've taught you this so I know how you're gonna approach something because I taught you to do it, I know how to break your own rules', and there will be some gamesmanship and some of the Kyle Shanahan-McVay elements here with McVay and Taylor.

"Ultimately it'll come down to players making plays."

Two of the biggest playmakers in Super Bowl LVI will spend a lot of time face to face, with Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase set to line up against arguably the NFL's elite cornerback in Rams superstar Jalen Ramsey.

Chase, just as he was in college, has been the go-to receiver for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, and it could be the level of success Ramsey enjoys in severing their connection that decides who lifts the Lombardi Trophy.

Cincinnati's vindication

The Bengals may continue to have offensive line problems, but at this point few are still questioning their decision to eschew addressing them and select Chase instead.

In terms of individual awards, the most emphatic vindication has already been secured, with Chase taking home the hardware at Thursday's NFL Honours ceremony.

A decisive performance from Chase would end any debate, and the numbers illustrate the task on Ramsey's hands in attempting to stop him.

Chase's 2021 burn rate, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he is targeted, of 64.3 per cent was just above the NFL average of 62 for wideouts with at least 100 targets.

However, when he has won his matchup, Chase has done so decisively. His burn yards per target average of 13.85 stands below only that of Tyler Lockett (14.72), with his tally of 3.2 burn yards per route good for tied seventh among wideouts.

And when it comes to making big plays, only three receivers have fared better in the 2021 campaign, Chase producing a big play – a 20-yard burn or a burn for a touchdown – on 36.6 per cent of his targets.

No quarterback had as many passing plays of 50 yards in the regular season as Burrow (12) and no wideout had as many receiving plays of that distance as Chase's six.

Chase is not one of the league's elite separators but, when he does get even the slightest step on a defender, the results can be devastating.

In Ramsey, however, he is facing a defender with the ability to lock down receivers for an entire game.

A strength on strength matchup

Team-mate Aaron Donald might feel aggrieved at not winning Defensive Player of the Year on Thursday, but Ramsey also had quite a compelling statistical case and could be considered a snub.

Among cornerbacks with at least 100 matchups with a receiver, only two defenders had a better combined open percentage allowed across both man and zone coverage than Ramsey in the regular season.

His combined open percentage of 17.07 trailed just Bryce Hall (14.61) and Casey Hayward (14.83), with burns for significant yardage rarely something Ramsey gives up.

For cornerbacks with a minimum of 50 targets, Ramsey is top 10 in 2021 in burn yards per target (8.12, sixth) and burn yards per snap (1.39, 10th).

But where does Ramsey excel the most? Preventing the big play.

Indeed, his 2021 big-play rate of 14.2 per cent can only claim to have been topped by Avonte Maddox and Tre'Davious White (both 13.9). Maddox started only five games while White's season was cut short in his 11th by a knee injury.

When Chase lines up against Ramsey, it will be a case of strength on strength, but neither appears to be spending too much time worrying about how to combat the other.

"He's got to check me"

Asked about Chase, Ramsey replied: "I respect his game, I respect how he's played this year, he's come in as a rookie and tore the league up, he has great chemistry with his quarterback and you can tell.

"I'll let the world keep talking about it [the matchup]. We're going to get out there on Sunday; I'll be ready to play, I'm sure he will be too."

Chase undoubtedly appeared ready for the challenge when speaking to the media on Friday, hinting that Ramsey will have the tougher task playing the reactionary role on defense.

"I'm just gonna play my game, he the one gotta check me," said Chase. 

"I'm not playing defense, I'm playing offense, so he got to check me. We're going to go with our matchups and go as we go."

From the evidence of their respective stunning seasons, those matchups may well command the greatest attention when two of the stars of 2021 face off under one of sport's brightest spotlights.

Aaron Rodgers' position as the NFL's premier quarterback was reaffirmed on Thursday when he was named MVP, but could Sunday be the start of Joe Burrow's journey to surpassing him?

The Los Angeles Rams may be in Burrow's immediate sights as he and the Cincinnati Bengals look to pull off the upset in Super Bowl LVI, but long term he is pursuing Rodgers in terms of individual greatness, with this season's MVP award the fourth in the Green Bay Packers star's remarkable career.

"He deserved it, he played great all year," Burrow said when asked about Rodgers on Friday.

"He's been the best player in the league, I don't know if I would say that, [he], Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady have kind of been battling for that the last five years. I'm chasing Aaron Rodgers to try to be the best, he's been doing it for a long time."

Burrow will equal Rodgers' number of Super Bowl wins should he lead the Bengals to victory over the Rams, Rodgers' career partially defined by frustration in the playoffs since the Packers' triumph in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 season.

Trying to stop Burrow on Sunday will be a player who may well feel snubbed after missing out on a fourth Defensive Player of the Year award. Aaron Donald did not receive that honour, which instead went to Pittsburgh Steelers star T.J. Watt, despite a season in which he registered a stunt-adjusted pass rush win rate of 63.83 per cent.

That was not only the highest for all defenders with at least 100 one-on-one matchups, it was over 10 percentage points higher than his nearest challenger, Myles Garrett (53.56). 

Donald and his team-mates on the defensive line, including Von Miller and Leonard Floyd, took over the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter to help the Rams turn a 17-7 deficit into a victory.

So how will Burrow handle the challenge of facing a defensive front led by one of the all-time greats, who could not possibly need more motivation?

Burrow – whose average time to throw from the snap of the ball was 2.58 seconds, faster than the league average of 2.67 seconds (min. 200 attempts) – knows processing quickly will be crucial.

"In my opinion, they're [the Rams' pass rush] the best in the league at what they do, they get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, they get schemed to get a lot of one-on-one matchups," he added.

"So it's going to be partly on me to handle that pressure, get the ball out of my hands quickly and make plays when the opportunities are there."

Consistent domination is difficult to achieve in the NFL. Not since the 1993 season have the same teams played in the Super Bowl in successive years and no team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2004 New England Patriots. Parity is one of the league's primary selling points but, while it largely retains a balance among clubs in terms of results on the field, there can be no doubt there is a scheme establishing dominion over the NFL.

Sunday's clash between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams will mark the third time in the last four seasons that an NFL campaign has come to end with a game featuring at least one team employing a version of the offense run by Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay.

With McVay going up against his former assistant in Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, Super Bowl LVI will serve as a compelling illustration of the pre-eminence that offensive scheme enjoys, and this recent round of coaching hires also painted the same picture.

The Miami Dolphins hired Shanahan's offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, Mike McDaniel, to be their new head coach. Nathaniel Hackett, having worked as offensive coordinator in that offense under Matt LaFleur with the Green Bay Packers, was appointed as the Denver Broncos head coach. Kevin O'Connell, the Rams offensive coordinator, cannot officially be hired by the Minnesota Vikings until the Super Bowl is over, but that agreement has already been reached.

Those hires have taken the tally of offensive head coaches from the Shanahan-McVay tree to five. Robert Saleh was Shanahan's defensive coordinator in San Francisco until 2021, and he took Niners passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur with him when he was hired by the New York Jets. Brandon Staley got the Los Angeles Chargers job last year after one season revolutionising the Rams on defense for McVay.

The fingerprints of Shanahan and McVay are all over the NFL, and they will be overtly smudged over the Super Bowl. One offensive system having this level of influence over the league feels unprecedented, but is it? 

"If you look back at it, I assume if you did the actual lineage of it, the way that the league looked in the mid-90s, early 2000s, most of it probably comes enough from the Bill Walsh tree to say it's similar," Robert Mays, NFL writer for The Athletic, tells Stats Perform. 

"It starts fragmenting because even if you look at the genealogy of the Shanahan tree, it comes from the Bill Walsh tree, because you have Mike Shanahan coming from San Francisco, they combine it with the wide zone running scheme, so now even that DNA is still sort of similar, if you go back far enough it all comes from the same place, but no I can't remember anything like it in this modern era, the last 10 years or so, because there just hasn't been anything similar. There were a lot of the Seattle defensive guys on that side of the ball but it still wasn't as popular as it is right now."

So why is it so popular? The obvious answer is its success.

The 49ers (first), Rams (fourth), Bengals (seventh) and Packers (eighth) all finished the regular season in the top 10 in yards per play. All four were playing on Divisional Round weekend.

But it is more than just the offensive efficiency and the results that have made Shanahan, McVay and now LaFleur assistants attractive to teams looking to turn their fortunes around, it is also a combination of the scheme, the adaptability of the scheme and the willingness of the coaches to take a flexible approach.

"What you have to understand about why the Niners are successful, why Sean is successful, it's not because they run this offense, it's their understanding of defensive rules and how to manipulate them is what makes them really successful, they all just happen to come from the same place," Mays explains.

"I think the quarterback-friendly aspect of it is really important. How they attack the middle of the field, the play-action, I do think it's the easiest way to get the most out of a quarterback in a quarterback-centric league.

Speaking to the quarterback-friendly nature of the offense, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw to an open receiver on 82.5 per cent of his attempts, second behind Patrick Mahomes (85.5) among signal-callers with at least 200 pass attempts. Zach Wilson (79.5), playing in Mike LaFleur's offense, was 10th, and the likely departing 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was still above average on 79.1 per cent.  

It goes beyond the quarterback, though, with wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who played under Shanahan and Mike McDaniel during his time with the Cleveland Browns, enjoying personal experience of how they get the most out of the surrounding talent.

"The thing that anybody who played for Kyle, the Mikes and the LaFleur's and the McVay's, they figure out their offense around the players," Hawkins told Stats Perform. 

"It's traditional for coaches to say 'here's my system' and they're gonna get jobs off their system and they say 'this is my system, this is the way we run it, this is the kind of tight end we need, we need this quarterback to do these things, we need this guy to do this and if they're not these kind of guys I'm gonna go find people who will do what I say, my system bang, bang, bang'.

"Shanahan and those guys, they don't do it that way. They are, I don't want to say true coaches, but to me, they're the best version of it because they'll come into a place and say hey Hawk, you're limited here, but you do these things really, really, really well and although my last receiver might have been 6'4", 215 pounds, your skill set is this so we're going to change things around that fit your skill set and get the best out of you for the best version of our offense it can be.

"That's what you want as a player, you want your coaches to understand your skill set and maybe not ask the 5'7" guy to go make jump-ball catches in the red zone, it's not exactly what I do, it's not my thing, I like to be in space, let's find ways to get me in space and that's what they'll do.

"They'll cater it to their players, to their O-Line, to their running backs, to their outside guy, their inside guy, their tight end, as players you want coaches who are gonna tell you the truth and put you in the best position to win for your skill set. Don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole and those coaches, just by philosophy, do it better most guys in the league."

Agreeing with Hawkins' assessment, Mays adds: "It's interesting because it takes on different flavours, that's the most important thing, you have to understand how it is tailored to your personnel."

And, though Taylor, cut his teeth under McVay, the way he has tailored his Bengals offense to his personnel has made their attack markedly different from that of the Rams.

Burrow did not throw to an open receiver as often, doing so just 76.9 per cent of the time, but that is reflective of a more aggressive downfield passing game that has regularly relied on the ball-winning skills of Ja'Marr Chase and his quarterback's unerring accuracy.

This season, Burrow led the NFL by delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 86.1 per cent of his pass attempts as his skill set meshed perfectly with a more ambitious passing game. No player produced more passing plays of more than 50 yards than Burrow with 12. Next on the list, Stafford, with 10.

"It's very different, it's much more spread out than you would see with Sean's offense, the Bengals are a spread team, they play in the shotgun, they have one of the widest formations on average in the entire NFL, they are not doing a lot of things that the Rams are doing," Mays says of the Bengals' attack.

"I think it's really tailored to, this is what we are, we have a true X receiver on the outside, we honestly have two because of what Tee Higgins is, we don't need to worry about all those bunches and stacks and things like that, and they run very little play-action, you think about the fact that Zac was under Sean in 2018 when the Rams were running play-action 38 per cent of the time or whatever it was, and the Bengals are like under 20 with one of the lowest rates in the entire NFL."

Matt LaFleur weaponised the scheme in Green Bay via the brilliance of Aaron Rodgers, McVay has molded it around Stafford following the trade that sent Jared Goff to Detroit and moved away from play-action somewhat while Shanahan has leaned heavily on the run with the 49ers. McDaniel, O'Connell and Hackett will surely recreate the system to mesh with their respective talent pools and, ultimately, what owners and general managers are buying when they invest in an assistant from the McVay and Shanahan offense is not the scheme, but the ingenuity these coaches gain from their association with two of the most talented football minds of this generation.

"I think what people are searching for when they hire all these Sean assistants, aren't necessarily we want this offensive system, it's we want whatever environment comes with these guys from this place," Mays observes. "Brandon Staley's not an offensive coach and they still hired him to be the head coach.

"I think they're trying to capture whatever this kind of incubator of football ideas is, that I feel like is what they're trying to tap into as much as the actual Xs and Os of the offensive scheme."

Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee has been officially ruled out of Super Bowl LVI.

Higbee will not face the Cincinnati Bengals after he and offensive tackle Joseph Noteboom were placed on injured reserve on Friday.

Running back Darrell Henderson Jr. and nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day were both activated ahead of Sunday's game, but Higbee's absence comes as a blow – albeit one that was expected.

The former fourth-round pick suffered an MCL strain in the NFC Championship Game win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Higbee had 61 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns in the 2021 regular season, adding nine receptions for 115 yards in the playoffs.

He has been targeted 14 times in the postseason, third-most on the Rams behind superstar wide receivers Cooper Kupp (32) and Odell Beckham Jr. (23).

Aaron Rodgers will soon make a decision on his Green Bay Packers future after winning his fourth NFL MVP award and second in a row.

Rodgers seemed set to leave the Packers as the reigning MVP last year as he pushed for a move – and that scenario could yet play out after the quarterback won again for 2021.

But the 38-year-old does not intend for another saga to follow this offseason.

While there is no guarantee Rodgers will be returning to Green Bay, he at least plans to make a prompt call.

Speaking after his MVP recognition, the controversial QB – in the spotlight this season for his vaccine status as well as his future plans – said: "I have not made any decision yet."

Rodgers added: "I'll make a decision in due time and not a ton of time. I'll give the team plenty of time to do what they got to do.

"And I think that time is coming. There will be a decision in the near future. And I'm not going to keep a lot of people waiting."

Fellow great Tom Brady has retired since exiting the playoffs, like Rodgers, in the NFC Divisional Round.

After losing to the sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers, the possibility of a similar decision remains for Rodgers.

"I talked at length at various times about being comfortable walking away and just not playing," he said. "And I don't want to create more questions than I probably already have, but I don't fear retirement and I don't fear moving on.

"I'm very proud of what I've accomplished, proud that I've accomplished it in Green Bay over the last 17 years, and I'm excited about the future, whatever that ends up being or looking like.

"I'm also still highly competitive and still a bitter taste from the Divisional game. So [there is] definitely a lot to weigh."

Bayern Munich head coach Julian Nagelsmann has no favourite for Super Bowl LVI and may well not be awake to take it in regardless.

The Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in California, though it will be beyond midnight in Germany by the time the game starts.

This week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Germany would stage four NFL games over the next four seasons, starting from the 2022 campaign.

Indeed, it will be Bayern's Allianz Arena that hosts the first NFL regular-season game to be played in mainland Europe, with Frankfurt the other venue.

With the Super Bowl dominating headlines in the lead-up to this weekend, Nagelsmann was quizzed on his preference ahead of the Rams-Bengals clash.

"I don't have a favourite. My favourites have all been eliminated," Nagelsmann explained in a news conference on Friday.

"I don't have one favourite team. I have a connection to the Kansas City Chiefs, but I also find the Green Bay Packers interesting."

He then quipped: "Most of the time, when I watch the Super Bowl I fall asleep at halftime because I have a [lot of] work to do."

Asked if he is excited by the prospect of the NFL coming to Germany, following its success of staging games in London over recent years, Nagelsmann joked: "The anticipation in Germany is very great... when I get tickets!"

In total, five NFL regular-season games will be played outside the United States next season.

Three will take place in London, one in Munich and one in Mexico.

T.J. Watt vowed the honour of winning Defensive Player of the Year will motivate him more after the Pittsburgh Steelers star claimed the prize on Thursday.

Watt was announced as the winner during the NFL Honours ceremony in Los Angeles, following in the footsteps of three-time winner J.J. Watt. 

He took the award after racking up 22.5 sacks in 2021 but, following a campaign in which the Steelers were eliminated in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, is only using the accomplishment as further fuel going into 2022.

"I just want to thank my parents. Mom, dad, this is insane," said Watt. "My brothers, Derek and J.J., you guys have pushed me so much to get me to this point.

"My beautiful fiancee, Dani, for being my number one supporter. My team-mates and coaches back in Pittsburgh, this is truly not possible without you guys.

"There are so many guys that put in so much work that goes unnoticed. That's everyone from the guys in the cafeteria to the guys that are taping ankles. This ones for all of you guys.

"I grew up coming to this awards show, I think five or six times, and never came home with hardware. But every time I left more motivated than the time I got here. I promise this only motivates me more.

"I feel like I'm just about to be entering the prime of my career and that's why more than ever I just want to continue to find ways to get better at this game.

"That's why I love football so much. There's always room for improvement and I'm not satisfied. I'd much rather be playing in the Super Bowl this weekend than winning this award for sure.

"To be able to be recognised as the best defensive player in the year is definitely something that I strive to be.

"I'm not huge on individual goals, but it's tough for me not to want that when I saw my brother at the height of his career win the award three times and I always just thought to myself, why can't I do that?

"I'm just so motivated. I'm very honoured to receive this award when there's so many successful and great players in the National Football League."

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been named as the NFL MVP for the fourth time in his glittering career.

Rodgers was confirmed as the MVP for the second successive season at the NFL Honours ceremony in Los Angeles on Thursday. He was not in attendance, choosing instead to spend his week playing golf at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. 

He becomes the first player to win back-to-back MVPs since Peyton Manning achieved the feat in 2009.

It follows another hugely impressive season for Rodgers, one which saw him lead the Packers to an NFL-best 13-4 record and the top seed in the NFC.

However, the season ended in more playoff disappointment for Rodgers as the Packers were upset by the sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the postseason.

That prompted more speculation about his future, Rodgers having entered 2021 after a tumultuous offseason in which made clear a desire to part with the Packers and skipped their pre-training camp preparations.

Despite his play on the field, Rodgers' 2021 campaign was partly defined by controversy after a positive coronavirus test revealed misleading statements about his vaccination status, while his continued spread of misinformation regarding vaccines has unquestionably damaged his reputation.

His on-field play still draws admiration, however. Rodgers finished the regular season with 37 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions, giving him the best touchdown to interception ratio in the NFL. Among quarterbacks with 200 passing attempts, only Justin Herbert (2.30) threw a lower percentage of interceptable passes than Rodgers (2.36).

No quarterback delivered more throws that resulted in a first down than Rodgers, who did so on 40.1 per cent of his attempts, while he was second in passer rating on third down (112.2) behind Kyler Murray (118.5) among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts in that situation.

The combination of his continued brilliance and apparently more amiable relations with the franchise hierarchy may lead to Rodgers staying in Green Bay for at least one more year despite the disappointing finish, the Packers still likely his best hope of adding a second Lombardi Trophy to his growing collection of MVPs.

If the NFL was ever going to give a non-quarterback the MVP this season, it probably would have been Cooper Kupp.

As such, Kupp will have to settle for the Offensive Player of the Year award, which he won on Thursday.

Kupp will hope to add the Super Bowl trophy on Sunday, with the individual and team success he and the Rams have enjoyed just reward for one of the most dominant receiving seasons in NFL history.

Racking up 1,947 receiving yards, Kupp finished just 19 yards shy of breaking Calvin Johnson's all-time record for single-season yardage. Johnson finished with 1,965 receiving yards for the Detroit Lions in the 2012 campaign.

Kupp's 16 receiving touchdowns were also a season high, his ability to excel lined up out wide and in the slot making him a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses.

According to Stats Perform data, he produced a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with his defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.5 per cent of targets, just above the average of 62.

However, no receiver averaged more burn yards per route (4.1) than Kupp, doing so while running more routes (670) than anyone else.

In other words, Kupp did a better job at creating clear separation from his defenders than all of his contemporaries while also taking on the heaviest workload in the NFL.

There are many subplots to Super Bowl LVI, but the receiver battle between Kupp and the man named Offensive Rookie of the Year, Cincinnati Bengals star Ja'Marr Chase, may be the most compelling.

Ja'Marr Chase will head into Super Bowl with the title of Offensive Rookie of the Year, while Micah Parsons won Defensive Player of the Year for his astonishing 2021.

Chase, who will hope to help the Bengals to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history on Sunday, was named as the top rookie on the defnsive side at the NFL Honours ceremony in Los Angeles.

It follows a spectacular regular-season campaign in which Chase broke the rookie record for receiving yards set by his former LSU team-mate Justin Jefferson.

Chase finished the season with 1,455 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns, the third-highest tally in the NFL, justifying the Bengals' decision to reunite him with Joe Burrow, with whom he and Jefferson won the National Championship in 2019, instead of taking an offensive lineman in the first round.

Parsons never reached such heights at Penn State but has quickly established himself as one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL.

Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys as an inside linebacker, Parsons thrived instead in his role as a designated pass rusher.

Parsons finished the season with 13 sacks, the sixth-most in the NFL, while he also racked up 20 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

His pressure rate of 32.2 per cent on 211 pass rush snaps was even superior to that of even Aaron Donald (27.9 per cent). His run disruption rate of 13.7% was fourth among all linebackers.

That extraordinary level of performance did not translate to playoff success for Dallas. Yet Parsons can console himself with some individual success while the Cowboys can rest safe in the knowledge that they have a young stud who can derail opposing offenses, and there are few assets in the NFL more valuable than that.

The Los Angeles Rams are in the Super Bowl thanks to stunning seasons from the likes of Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald, but it turns out Dr Dre might have had something to do with it too. 

Sunday's Halftime Show will be a parade of hip hop royalty, with Dre set to be joined on stage by Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige. 

A cultural icon in Los Angeles, Dre is delighted to be sharing the spotlight with the hometown team, claiming to have spoken their success into existence. 

"Who else could do this show here in LA, who else could perform the Halftime Show other than these amazing artists that we put together for this thing?" Dre said during the Halftime Show media conference on Thursday. 

"Not only that, I've been manifesting the Rams, since the beginning of the season, I'm just thinking about it every day, I'm meditating on it and I'm like: 'Okay, it would be perfect if we are in the Super Bowl performing and the Rams are in the game as well.'" 

Dre promised surprises in the show, though he would not go into any further detail. 

He and Snoop vowed there would be no wardrobe malfunctions. Dre joked he had dissuaded him and Eminem from any provocative displays during the performance. 

Snoop, though, expects to have the greatest impact during the show. 

Asked what he wants the audience to take from the concert, Snoop replied: "[That] I'm the greatest to ever do it. 

"Somebody gotta say it, Tom Brady wouldn't say it, I'm the GOAT." 

And although Snoop is a fully fledged Pittsburgh Steelers fan, he is backing the Rams to keep the Lombardi Trophy at SoFi Stadium. "I gotta go with LA," he said. 

In a moderated conversation, Dre, Snoop and Mary J all emphasised how much work has gone into the show. 

Asked what will be on her mind once the performance is done, Mary J said: "A drink. A really nice tall drink because I've just been so focused on me and the Super Bowl." 

With Dre describing their act as "f*****g incredible" and Snoop labelling it "magnifico", one of the most anticipated Halftime Shows in Super Bowl history appears set to be one not to forget. 

The Los Angeles Rams' preparations for the Super Bowl have been efficient, but they haven't been without issues, albeit relatively minor ones.

Southern California is in the grip of unusual heat for February and the Rams' matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium could be the hottest Super Bowl ever.

Yet the Rams did not feel the full effect of the heatwave at their base in Thousand Oaks, which was hit by winds of around 22 miles per hour during Wednesday's practice.

With those winds expected to increase in strength, the Rams are moving practice for Thursday, by which time head coach Sean McVay will hope to have his voice back.

"I feel great, I just sound like s***," McVay said in Wednesday's media conference after it became evident he had lost his voice.

"Hopefully, we'll get this voice to come back, but it was like yesterday I was in my office for a minute then I went to talk to some of the coaches and then my voice sounded like this, I'm like 'what the hell happened?' I've got the honey, I've got all the remedies. We'll get this voice back."

Undeterred by his vocal cords failing him, McVay also has little qualms about switching practice to Pasadena to escape the difficult conditions.

"We're going to go practice at the Rose Bowl tomorrow, kind of anticipating the winds," he added. 

"If that's the biggest inconvenience of playing the Super Bowl playing at home that we have to get on a bus, we do that pretty regularly anyways going down to SoFi."

An outwardly optimistic person, McVay's swiftness in brushing off such inconveniences is no surprise, and the speed with which the Rams have installed their Super Bowl gameplan can only have helped his mood.

McVay, according to the pool report, said after practice: "Today kind of represented the finality of it. We can tweak and adjust as we go, but they [the players] did a good job of getting ahead of stuff.

"Guys felt really good. We ran through all the different situations that can come up…and then the next couple of days we'll just be tightening up."

McVay will be able to make any tweaks knowing that he will likely have all three of his top running backs available, with Darrell Henderson Jr. appearing poised to return from a knee ligament injury.

"I think Darrell’s going to go," said McVay. "So, you'll have Cam [Akers], Darrell and Sony [Michel]. You'll be able to see a good, three-back rotation, based on how the game unfolds.

"The situations that arise will dictate which one you're seeing. Like anything else, if we're able to get into a rhythm running it, we're going to go with the hot hand."

McVay might be straining to communicate but, with his running back room returning to full health and the gameplan ready, there's every reason for him to be confident of a career-defining victory that would taste as sweet as his honey remedy.

The rollercoaster that was the San Francisco 49ers' 2021 season was one in which calls to go with Trey Lance over Jimmy Garoppolo were frequent. However, former Niners head coach Steve Mariucci believes it will ultimately be beneficial for last year's third overall pick that Kyle Shanahan resisted those calls.

San Francisco enjoyed a turnaround to finish 10-7 after a 3-5 start to make the playoffs, where the Niners upset both the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers en route to the NFC Championship Game.

However, the 49ers let slip a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the Los Angeles Rams in a 20-17 defeat in which Garoppolo failed to move the ball on each of the final two drives, defeat clinched with an interception on a desperate heave under pressure that will likely be the last throw of his Niners career.

Lance made two starts in relief of an injured Garoppolo but only took snaps in four games beyond those appearances, serving as a spectator for the entirety of the postseason.

With Garoppolo expected to be traded and hand the reins to Lance for 2022 and beyond, Mariucci expects the man San Francisco traded three first-round picks to acquire to be better positioned to handle the challenges he will face as a starting quarterback because of his time on the sideline.

"In some ways, Trey Lance will be a rookie again from a playing standpoint," Mariucci said at a pre-Super Bowl media event on Wednesday.

"The best thing for a player is to get on the field and play when it counts and that's in a game. The good news for him is he's had a year of sitting and watching a veteran prepare, learning the system, learning pro defenses, learning all these disguises and these crazy blitzes that he didn't see against South Dakota State, and that's a plus for him.

"He'll be more ready to do this when he gets his chance next year."

Lance was arguably the most athletically gifted quarterback in the 2021 draft class, with his abilities with his legs set to add another element to head coach Shanahan's already dynamic offense.

Referencing two quarterbacks he coached during his time with the Niners, Mariucci added: "I think the playbook is going to be a little bit different, they're going to use his legs moreso than they did Jimmy, with some zone-reads and some quarterback type runs and some movement and some keeps and some 'get em out there'.

"[It's a] little bit like when Jeff Garcia or Steve Young played, you change the launchpoint, it's all over the place, makes him more difficult to defend, and he's going to make first downs with his legs too.

"This year was beneficial for him from a learning standpoint and next year here's going to show us what he's got, I can't wait."

It can at best be considered a bold move to go into a Super Bowl matchup against Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams without a settled group of starters on your offensive line.

But that is the reality the Cincinnati Bengals face, with head coach Zac Taylor still unsure of who his starter at right guard will be when they attempt to claim a first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

The right guard spot has been an issue throughout a season in which the Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow have improbably overcome significant pass protection woes to reach the cusp of an historic triumph.

Rookie Jackson Carman and Hakeem Adeniji rotated at right guard in the Bengals' AFC Championship Game comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Second-round pick Carman has been dealing with a back injury but remains in the mix to line up against the Rams' star defensive lineman Donald in a potentially decisive mismatch in Super Bowl LVI.

"Jackson's progressing well, he's better than he was last week," Taylor said in Wednesday's media conference of Carman's injury. 

"He and Hakeem have really gone back and forth at that guard spot, they've both given us some really good things, they're young players, their best days are ahead of them, we think both those guys have been progressing as we had hoped, so we'll continue to let them play out, see how it shapes out on Sunday."

The Bengals landing on the right player to attempt to slow down Donald, as well as Von Miller and Leonard Floyd, is essential.

Donald's stunt-adjusted pass rush win rate of 63.83 per cent was not only the highest for all defenders with at least 100 one on one matchups, according to Stats Perform data, it was over 10 percentage points higher than that of his nearest challenger, Myles Garrett (53.56).

With the Bengals allowing 51 pressures across their three playoff games, all signs point to a game-wrecking display for Donald.

However, the Bengals may have the ideal quarterback to deal with having Donald in his face. Of quarterbacks with 100 pass attempts under pressure, Burrow's percentage of well-thrown balls delivered of 80.1 was the best in the NFL and over 10 percentage points above the average (70.1).

And Burrow certainly will not get discouraged by any success Donald enjoys against the Bengals, Taylor pointing to his mental toughness as one of his greatest qualities.

"You're going to face a lot of adversity, a lot of difficult moments, it's easy when you're at practice, throwing seven on seven, preseason games, stuff like that," said Taylor.

"But when the season really matters, your mental toughness is going to be challenged, you've got to be thorough with your process, consistent with your process and those are areas where Joe really excels."

Burrow could yet have one of his more underappreciated offensive weapons available on Sunday, with tight end C.J. Uzomah expected to practice on Thursday as he recovers from a knee injury suffered in the AFC Championship Game win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Considering where he was when he fell on the turf last Sunday to where he is now, [I'm] really optimistic about how it's going," Taylor added. "We'll continue to see him in action these next two days, but optimistic."

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