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Eleven things you should know about the Super Bowl-bound Rams

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford passes during a 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford passes during a 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. The Rams will play the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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The Rams punched their ticket to Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13 with a 20-17 win over the rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Here are 11 things to know about the team the Cincinnati Bengals will face for the NFL title:

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1. Game changer

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, left, celebrates with quarterback Matthew Stafford after beating the 49ers.
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, left, celebrates with quarterback Matthew Stafford after beating the 49ers in the NFC title game.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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Quarterback Matthew Stafford turns 34 on Monday, and unless the 13-year veteran pulls a Tom Brady and plays for another decade, there’s no chance he’ll approach Brady’s record of seven Super Bowl wins. But Stafford can change his legacy with one Super Bowl victory, proving that, in a better situation, he could have been in a similar class as Brady, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. Stafford played his first 12 seasons in Detroit and went to the playoffs only three times, going 0-3 in those games before being traded to the Rams in 2021. He is 3-0 this postseason, completing 146 of 217 passes for 1,813 yards and 10 touchdowns against Arizona, Tampa Bay and San Francisco.

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2. Final box to check

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald celebrates after beating the 49ers in the NFC title game.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Aaron Donald has achieved all he can as a football player — seven All-Pro and eight Pro-Bowl selections, three AP defensive player of the year awards. Now the 6-foot-1, 280-pound lineman, who has 98 career sacks and has been the heart and soul of the Rams defense for eight years, has a chance to win that elusive Super Bowl ring. Donald struggled in his only other Super Bowl appearance against the Patriots after the 2018 season, registering five tackles and one quarterback hit but no sacks or tackles for loss. “I know we’ll be back,” Donald said after that game. And here he is.

Here are 11 things to know about the Cincinnati Bengals, who will be playing the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13.

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3. Role reversal

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp breaks the tackle of 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley.
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp breaks the tackle of 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley during the third quarter of the NFC championship game.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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Receiver Cooper Kupp shared a long, emotional embrace with fellow receiver Robert Woods after the Rams’ 20-17 NFC title-game win over the 49ers. Kupp, who caught 11 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the game, was in full uniform. Woods, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 5, was in street clothes. Three years ago, it was Kupp who suffered a season-ending knee injury in November and watched the Rams’ 13-3 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. Woods caught five passes for 70 yards in that game. This season, it will be Woods cheering on Kupp, who became the fourth receiver in NFL history to win a triple crown, leading the NFL with 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns.

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4. Weddle has the mettle

Rams safety Eric Weddle watches from the sideline during a divisional playoff win.
Rams safety Eric Weddle watches from the sideline during a divisional playoff win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 23.
(Alex Menendez / Associated Press)

There was a fantasy-camp feel to Eric Weddle’s January decision to come out of retirement to bolster a depleted Rams safety corps. Sure, the 37-year-old might be an upgrade on the depth chart, but how much impact could a guy who hadn’t played an NFL game in two years have? Plenty, it turns out. Weddle, who had a successful 13-year career with the Chargers, Ravens and Rams, played 19 of 56 defensive snaps (34%) against Arizona, 61 of 72 snaps (85%) against Tampa Bay and all 51 snaps against San Francisco, making nine combined tackles, one for a loss, in the NFC title-game win.

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5. At Whit’s end

Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth walks to the locker room after a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 5.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Andrew Whitworth, at 40, is the oldest player to start an NFL game at left tackle. In what could be his final game, the Rams veteran is seeking a Super Bowl win over the team he spent his first 11 years with and the coach he recommended for the Bengals job. Zac Taylor, 38, was a receivers coach in 2017 and quarterbacks coach in 2018 under the Rams’ Sean McVay, and he received a glowing review from Whitworth before being hired as Cincinnati’s head coach in 2019. Whitworth went 0-6 in the playoffs with Cincinnati from 2006-2016. He was low-balled in free agency by the Bengals before signing with the Rams in 2017.

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A year to the day of his trade to the Rams, Matthew Stafford advanced his team to the Super Bowl. Thirteen years into his career, he was finally a winner.

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6. The Sack master

Von Miller is not the type to shrink from the spotlight. The game-wrecking outside linebacker, acquired from Denver on Nov. 1 for a pair of 2022 draft picks, was the most valuable player of Super Bowl 50, accumulating 2½ sacks for a loss of 27 yards, six tackles, two forced fumbles — one that resulted in a touchdown —

Rams linebacker Von Miller hoists the NFC championship trophy after beating the 49ers in the NFC title game.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

two quarterback hits and one pass breakup in the Broncos’ 24-10 win over Carolina after the 2015 season. Miller, the NFL’s active leader with 115½ sacks, had a sack and three tackles for a loss in the wild-card win over Arizona and a key strip-sack and fumble recovery in the divisional win over Tampa Bay.

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7. Special delivery

Rams kicker Matt Gay makes a 30-yard field goal as time expires to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rams kicker Matt Gay makes a 30-yard field goal as time expires to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC divisional playoffs on Jan. 23.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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Special teams went from a liability for much of the season to a strength in the postseason with punter Johnny Hekker regaining his All-Pro form and Brandon Powell providing a spark on kickoff and punt returns after being signed in early December. Kicker Matt Gay has been solid throughout, making 32 of 34 field-goal attempts in the regular season and seven of nine in the playoffs, including a 30-yard walk-off winner at Tampa Bay and game-tying (40 yards) and winning (30 yards) field goals in the fourth quarter against San Francisco.

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8. Green Akers

Rams running back Cam Akers is knocked out of bounds against the Buccaneers.
Rams running back Cam Akers, left, is knocked out of bounds by Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. during the divisional playoffs.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams figured second-year pro Cam Akers would be lost for the season last July when he underwent surgery to repair a torn right Achilles tendon, a procedure that normally takes nine months to a year to recover from. But the running back, thanks to the work of noted surgeon Neal ElAttrache, returned in less than six months — in time for the regular-season finale — and was the featured back in the last two games, rushing for 96 yards on 37 carries against the Buccaneers and 49ers. Akers will split time with Sony Michel in the Super Bowl.

Photos from the Rams’ 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

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9. Tall order

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey picks up a fumble by Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, right, picks up a fumble by Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, left, during the Rams’ win on Dec. 5.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

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Lock-down cornerback Jalen Ramsey, a three-time All-Pro selection who was one of several star-caliber players the Rams acquired with the Super Bowl in mind, will be tasked with slowing Cincinnati’s talented pass-receiving duo of Ja’Marr Chase, the 6-1, 200-pound speedster who caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, and Tee Higgins, the wiry 6-4, 215-pounder who caught 74 passes for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns. The duo has combined to catch 34 passes for 488 yards in three playoff games.

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10. Down with OBJ

Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tries to break a tackle by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas.
Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tries to break a tackle by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas during the NFC title game.
(Doug Benc / Associated Press)

Odell Beckham Jr. was labeled as a “me-first” guy and a distraction in five seasons with the New York Giants and two-plus seasons in Cleveland, but several Rams have called him a “great teammate” since his November acquisition. The sure-handed receiver has been a perfect complement to Kupp, catching 27 passes for 305 yards and five touchdowns in eight regular-season games and 19 passes for 236 yards and one touchdown in three playoff games, including a nine-catch, 113-yard effort against the 49ers.

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11. Tight spot

Rams tight end Kendall Blanton runs with the ball against the 49ers in the NFC championship game.
(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Kupp and Beckham are Stafford’s primary targets, and speedy wideout Van Jefferson is a nice deep threat, but the Bengals can’t sleep on the Rams’ tight ends. Tyler Higbee caught 61 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season and nine passes for 115 yards in the playoffs before suffering a sprained knee ligament against the 49ers that could sideline him for the Super Bowl. The 6-6, 262-pound Kendall Blanton, who spent most of the season on the practice squad, replaced Higbee and caught five passes for 57 yards last weekend.

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