49ers would have beat Bengals if they made it to Super Bowl 56

Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers don’t carry any bragging rights, failing to even make Super Bowl 56. If they had, however, they would have beaten the Bengals.

The San Francisco 49ers should be asking themselves “what if?” all offseason.

True, what-if scenarios are silly exercises since they don’t exist in reality. And in some way, that’s precisely what we’re doing here, promoting the idea the Niners would have secured the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy if they managed to defeat the Los Angeles Rams in the 2022 NFC Championship game.

San Francisco failed in that regard, however, and the Rams pulled off their 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Before going any further, congratulations to the Rams on winning Super Bowl 56. Let’s not take anything away from that.

However, if the 49ers had advanced to the Super Bowl instead of LA, they’d be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Here’s why.

Why 49ers would have beaten Bengals in Super Bowl 56

As was a factor in the Super Bowl against an elite-level Rams pass rush, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow would have been under duress versus the Niners’ own defensive line, namely EDGE Nick Bosa, who sacked Burrow twice when these two teams met back in Week 14, which resulted in a 49ers 26-23 overtime victory on the road.

In total, San Francisco sacked Burrow five times that game, and the Bengals offensive line didn’t exactly show any signs of improvement throughout the playoffs.

Nor against LA with the Rams sacking him seven times, tying a Super Bowl record.

One of the ways Cincy tried to keep Los Angeles’ pass rush honest was to utilize its ground game with running back Joe Mixon. But looking back at the 49ers not allowing a 100-yard rushing opponent (as a team) in 11 of their last 12 games, Mixon likely would have been a non-factor.

An objective LA wanted to repeat, too.

True, Cincinnati’s elite trio of wide receivers — Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins — would have created the kinds of problems the Niners experienced back in Week 14, too, except for the fact cornerback Emmanuel Moseley would have been available for the Super Bowl instead of being absent with an ankle injury.

And Ambry Thomas’ maturation as a rookie corner had taken some next-level steps instead of him being regularly burned by Chase throughout that particular game.

Simply put, San Francisco still had a defensive advantage over Burrow, Chase, Mixon and the Bengals offense.

49ers would have torched Bengals for Super Bowl YAC

Cincinnati wanted to keep the Rams from exploiting a key defensive weakness over the course of the Super Bowl: giving up yards after the catch.

The Bengals allowed the league’s eighth most YAC over the course of the regular season (2,319), while the 49ers managed 2,264 yards after the catch during that span, also eighth most.

All the Niners would have had to do was line up wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel against Cincinnati cornerback Eli Apple to generate the desired effects, and San Francisco could have easily put together an offensive showing through the air.

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Those YAC totals would have brought the other X-factor into play: an essential “home” game for the 49ers within the comfy confines of “Levi’s South,” SoFI Stadium, that was already donned almost fully in red during both Week 18 of the regular season and in the NFC Championship game.

Even tougher a challenge for an upstart Bengals team.

Nevertheless, none of this happened. And that’s shameful. Because if the Niners had pulled off a win over the Rams in the conference championship, they’d likely have followed it up with a Super Bowl victory over Cincy, too.

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