Super Bowl LVI is officially set in Los Angeles between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams. Few, if any, people thought we would get here, between the Bengals winning the AFC with a second-year quarterback coming off of major surgery or the Rams getting to play in the title game at their home stadium after going all-in with superstar acquisitions. The game won’t take place until February 13th, so before we take a deep-dive into all of the headlines surrounding the one last game, let’s take a look back and reflect on the year. What were we REALLY right about going into the season, and what were we REALLY wrong about? It’s time for a victory lap and an apology tour going back to the NFL Preview columns we all made in September.

Right: The Rams’ “Superstar Savior” Narrative

What’s surrounded the Los Angeles Rams the past several seasons has been the conversation that they were merely a quarterback away from taking the next step; Jared Goff was seen as the weak link holding a team with defensive superstars and a coaching prodigy back from Super Bowl glory, so they made the blockbuster trade for Matthew Stafford. The narrative surrounding the team heading into the year was that now, with Stafford, they were the definitive NFL superteam complete for NFC domination, and Stafford would be what takes them over the top. While there may have been low points for Stafford this year, and the Rams didn’t dominate as much as we thought, Stafford and his connection with receiver Cooper Kupp now has them playing for a Super Bowl ring like many could have scripted.

Wrong: The Bengals are still a Building Team

No one could have predicted that Joe Burrow and his coolness alone could have come back from this major injury, create the best connection in football with Ja’Marr Chase after pounding his fist on the table that they draft his college teammate, and take a roster that had won 6 games the last two years to the Super Bowl. It’s simply a fairy tale narrative how much glory the #1 draft pick and franchise quarterback has brought to an underdog franchise so desperate for success so quickly. We thought the AFC North was going to be a dog fight with the three other teams making the postseason last year, and they not only took the division entirely, but they dog-walked them to the surprise of all of us.

Right: Never Doubt an Angry Bill Belichick and the Patriots

In our NFL season predictions preview, we had the Patriots getting in as a wild card with the narrative of Mac Jones winning Offensive Rookie of the Year as a quarterback taking a balanced team to the postseason right out of the gate. Ja’Marr Chase will likely win the award, but we were most certainly right about the Patriots having a deep enough team to make some noise throughout the year. Bill Belichick was fed up with 2020, suffering through an incompetent Cam Newton as his quarterback as Tom Brady went out and won a ring in his first year off of New England, so he spent the most money in the first few days of free agency ever and drafted Mac Jones, who many deemed “Brady 2.0” as the viral photo of him out of shape was everywhere and they had the same playstyle of a pocket-passer. We foresaw the revenge tour from the greatest coach to ever do it coming, and for a while the Patriots looked like one of the most-balanced teams on both sides of the ball. Though they melted down towards the end of the year, he led an almost entirely new team to 10-7 with a wild card spot. Never bet against the hooded emperor himself.

Wrong: The Rest of the AFC North

The Bengals not only shocked the world by winning the AFC and their division, but many had them finishing dead last because of how high we were on their competitors: the Browns, the Ravens, and the Steelers. The Browns were seen as potential Super Bowl darlings after bulking up their defensive side, getting Odell Beckham Jr. back from injury, and Baker Mayfield having one more year under his belt after last year they won their first playoff game in over 20 years. Baker may have been injured, but it could not have gone worse from a dramatic standpoint- they went 8-9 with uninspiring wins, Mayfield had the 5th-worst QBR in the league, and Odell and his father threw a social media tantrum to request his way out of their disaster franchise. Meanwhile, the Ravens got off to a hot start despite having one of the most injury-plagued pre seasons ever only for it to be too little too late as they lost their final 6 games and Lamar just couldn’t stay healthy. The reigning division champ Steelers.. Somehow made the playoffs with noodle-armed, immobile Ben Roethlisberger as TJ Watt, coach Mike Tomlin, and their defense dragged the old man to the slaughterhouse as they were obliterated in the first round. Every one of their seasons essentially came as a surprise.

Right: The “Urban Meyer is Going to be a Disaster” Theory

Oh, you mean the massively-conceited winning college coach that’s been bathed in scandals, never coached in the NFL before, hired a racist strength coach on day one, kicked his own players, and abandoned the team after a loss to get a lap dance at his restaurant wasn’t a success after he was given full control over the worst team in football? Who could have ever seen this coming. Enjoy another #1 draft pick, Jacksonville.

Wrong: The Raiders Don’t Care How Big of a Disaster They Were

The Raiders WITH Jon Gruden appeared incompetent before the season started after a history of getting off to hot starts only to crumble at the hands of the rest of a loaded AFC West that has the Chiefs, Broncos, and Chargers. They also had a history of making terrible organizational choices through the draft by merely taking whoever they wanted without taking value into consideration, so they were just seen as a team in the middle with no identity as Derek Carr still had no postseason starts. THEN they had to fire Gruden midseason due to his scandal, they lost Henry Ruggs III after he caused a fatality with a DUI, and Damon Arnette was cut after he posted death threats holding automatic weapons. It just felt like a nightmare of a year for a team in Sin City…

Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

AND YET THEY MADE THE PLAYOFFS AT 10-7! They got better with their interim coach Rich Bissaccia and rallied each other amidst all of the disaster! What a roller coaster of a year for Vegas, and they deserve all of the apologies. We weren’t wrong about them being a disaster, though.

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