Four things to watch for in Bills-Rams prime-time game

Four things to watch for in Bills-Rams prime-time game

The 2022 NFL season kicks off with a doozy: the Super Bowl-champion Rams hosting — in the stadium they won the big game back in February — the Bills, a rare road favorite against a reigning champ in a season opener. These are two championship-caliber squads going head to head in one of the more highly anticipated NFL Kickoff games in recent memory.

Matthew Stafford looks to repeat the magic he was able to dial up with Sean McVay from their first season together, leading to the first Super Bowl victory for each. 

And that’s the formula the Bills are trying to summon this season, with one of the MVP favorites in Josh Allen fully amid his prime. 

The Rams are 5-0 in season openers (outscoring their opponents by a combined 83 points) in the McVay era, as he attempts to become the first coach to win his first six Week 1 games since Mike Shanahan back in 1998. The Bills are 3-2 in openers under Sean McDermott, blowing a 10-point halftime lead a year ago in a loss to the Steelers at home.

The Bills led the NFL in both scoring and total defense in 2021. The Rams led the NFL in scoring and total defense in 2020. This is the first Week 1 matchup in the Super Bowl era between the teams that led the NFL in scoring and total defense in each of the last two seasons.

There are storylines everywhere in this game, and the talent level suggests we should buckle up for a potentially great one.

 

Here are four things to watch when the Rams play host to the Bills:

  • Welcome back, Von. Von Miller wasn’t a Ram for very long — 12 games, counting the playoffs — but his impact was undeniable after coming over via trade from Denver, leading the Rams to a Super Bowl title and turning in a dominant performance at SoFi Stadium (two sacks) vs. the Bengals. Now Miller is in Buffalo, hoping to take a defense that led the NFL in fewest points allowed in 2021 to the next level. Miller was one of the few big-name free agents the Rams were unable to re-sign, despite trying hard to do so. Miller’s mission, of course, will be to disrupt Stafford and the timing of the Rams’ passing game, facing off often against right tackle Rob Havenstein, now the Rams’ elder OL statesman after the retirement of Andrew Whitworth, and Whitworth’s replacement, left tackle Joe Noteboom. Miller has zero sacks of Stafford in two career games against him previously.
  • Matthew Stafford’s elbow. There were a few uneasy moments in Rams camp when Stafford was limited with what McVay described as a “tricky” and “abnormal” injury, with right elbow tendonitis. Stafford said he has “no limitations” ahead of Thursday’s game, comments backed up by McVay. But we won’t truly know how Stafford’s feeling until we see a few balls fly in live action. Top target Cooper Kupp has needed some rest leading up until the opener, new acquisition Allen Robinson sat out the preseason and the Rams traded security blanket Robert Woods in the offseason, so it’s possible the passing game won’t come flying out of the gate. On the flip side, the Bills will be without their top corner, Tre’Davious White, who will miss the first four games as he’s returning slowly from ACL surgery.
  • Play-calling change. The assumption is that the Bills, loaded with offensive talent, will simply pick up where they left off late last season. But remember: The Bills had some hiccups offensively in the first half of 2021, and that was with noted offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, now the Giants’ head coach. The play-calling duties now are in the hands of Ken Dorsey, a first-time offensive coordinator after spending the past three years as Allen’s QB coach. We saw Dorsey in his bag during the Bills’ preseason walloping of the Broncos, but this clearly is his first big test. Can Dorsey add some life to the Bills’ run game while keeping Allen and his receiving weapons happy? That task begins Thursday.
  • Wild game on tap? The last time these teams met, two years ago up in Buffalo, it was a back-and-forth thriller — all in front of zero fans. The Bills took a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter, then somehow fell behind 32-28 in the final five minutes before winning, 35-28. Allen led the game-winning drive and threw the go-ahead TD pass with 15 seconds left. If we can get half as wacky a game in this one as we had two years ago, we should be in for a treat. These are two explosive offenses and two big-play defenses going head to head. Stafford is coming off his best campaign, and Allen is an MVP favorite. Kupp, who won Super Bowl LVI MVP honors , and the Bills’ Stefon Diggs are the league’s back-to-back receptions leaders. It certainly feels like we could witness a barnburner on Thursday to help kick off the season.
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