Super Bowl week is upon us, and while experts continue to break down every aspect of the game between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, some are missing the simplest angle. We decided to rank the most important players in Super Bowl LVI.
1. Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald is the NFL's most dominant defensive player and that's been true for several years. He's a wrecking ball perched in the middle of the Los Angeles Rams defense and he's ready to wreak havoc on Joe Burrow's offense. Burrow was sacked an NFL-high 51 times in 2021 thanks to his porous offensive line. Even when Donald doesn't actually get to the quarterback, he opens things up for his teammates. If the Rams win the game big, Donald will have almost certainly turned in an MVP performance.
2. Joe Burrow
Speaking of Burrow, the Bengals quarterback is the reason they're in the Super Bowl. He's been absolutely unflappable all season and has Cincy on a six-game win streak. He was outstanding this season, completing an NFL-best 70.4 percent of his passes for 4,611 yards, with 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions (but only three in his final seven regular season games) and a passer rating of 108.3. Burrow will need to be brilliant for the Bengals to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. He'll win the MVP if they do.
3. Matthew Stafford
The formula has been simple for the Rams this season: when Stafford plays well, they play well. In all five of the Rams' regular season losses, his passer rating was below 100. If he's great during the Super Bowl, it's almost certain the Rams find a way to pull out the win.
In the postseason, Stafford is completing 72 percent of his passes for 905 yards, with six touchdowns and one interception. He led the NFL with 17 interceptions during the regular season. If he doesn't turn it over, the Rams likely win the game.
4. Ja'Marr Chase
The biggest game-changing player in the entire Super Bowl is a rookie. It's not often that happens, but such is life when Ja'Marr Chase is involved. More than anyone in this game, Chase can take a nothing play and turn it into magic. He's the best rookie receiver the NFL has seen in years. He finished the regular season ranked fourth in receiving yards (1,455) and third in receiving touchdowns (13) while hauling in 81 receptions. He's been brilliant in the postseason too, racking up a rookie record 279 yards and a touchdown on 20 receptions.
The Rams must contain Chase, or at least limit his big plays. He has the ability to carry Cincinnati to victory.
5. Cooper Kupp
Kupp was a rock for the Rams this season and deserves legit MVP consideration. While not the game-breaker Chase is, he's the engine that makes LA's offense go. He set NFL season records for yards from scrimmage by a receiver (1,965) and the most games with 90-plus receiving yards in a single season (16). Stafford is more important than Kupp, simply because someone has to get him the ball, but the 28-year-old wideout is the team's biggest offensive weapon.
The Bengals' entire defense will be keyed towards slowing him down.
6. Jalen Ramsey
Ramsey earned his third first-team All-Pro selection this season and the 27-year-old will need all of that skill in the Super Bowl. The Rams star cornerback likely be tasked with containing Chase and ensuring the rookie can't break out for a huge game. This is pretty simple: if Ramsey does his job, Cincinnati's path to victory narrows considerably.
7. Joe Mixon
Mixon was named a Pro Bowler for the first time this season after the Bengals running back finished third in rushing yards (1,205) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (13) league-wide. His job in the Super Bowl won't be to have an enormous breakout game, it will simply be to relieve the pressure on Joe Burrow.
Mixon hasn't topped 100 yards rushing since Week 12 and is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry in the postseason. But if he's not a threat and the Rams can pin their ears back, Burrow will be in trouble. The 25-year-old back has to step up and grind out yards.
8. Von Miller
Von Miller provided a huge boost to the Rams when they acquired him from the Denver Broncos before Week 9. In 11 games with LA (including the playoffs), he has totaled seven sacks. Pro Football Focus gave him a stellar grade of 88.7 for the season. The 32-year-old former Super Bowl MVP will need to be in Joe Burrow's face all day.
9. Mike Hilton
Much like Jalen Ramsey, Mike Hilton will have one job on Sunday: contain Cooper Kupp. The Benglas made Hilton one of the highest-paid slot cornerbacks in the NFL last offseason, and games like this are a reason. A disruptive corner, Hilton has shown his value this postseason. He largely contained Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow in the opening round of the postseason (eight receptions for 58 yards), and made a huge play in the Divisional Round with an interception.
Hilton and Kupp have tangled before, back in 2019 when the cornerback was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, Kupp finished with no catches or receiving yards on four targets. Hilton will have his hands full on Sunday.
10. Trey Hendrickson
Hendrickson has proven worthy of the four-year, $60 million deal the Bengals gave him in the offseason, turning in a career-best 14-sack season. The defensive end added 2.5 more sacks in the postseason, including 1.5 during the AFC Championship Game. In fact, Hendrickson wreaked havoc against the Chiefs -- especially in the second half -- and made Patrick Mahomes' life miserable. If he can do that to Matthew Stafford and disrupt the Rams' offense, it could be a game-changer.