It’s been almost two years since the Bills, and the Rams last met. On that day in western New York, September 27, 2020, “Rams vs Bills” meant Jared Goff, a season removed from the Super Bowl run, helming the Rams, and decently at that, completing 23 of 32 pass attempts for 321 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Less surprisingly (in hindsight), the Bills were led to a 35-32 victory by QB Josh Allen, who completed 24 of his 33 passes for 311 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Of course, none of the stuff that feels “business as usual” now actually did at that point. Some of the shine had come off of Goff, but he was still a young, former #1 overall pick who’d steered a team to a Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Allen was a physical freak but unlikely to overcome accuracy and decision-making issues to justify his own lofty draft status fully. What a difference 23 months makes, huh?
This Thursday, September 8, at 8:20 p.m. ET at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood (and televised nationally on NBC), the Rams vs Bills should be a spectacular curtain-raiser for the NFL’s 2022 regular season… and a potential preview of Super Bowl LVII in Arizona.
A lot has changed since that day in Buffalo. Most notably, Allen, coming off a good-not-great second season, has blossomed into a superstar and perennial MVP candidate. The front office has not been bashful about building around the quarterbacking unicorn. Ahead of the 2022 season, the consensus is that they’ve assembled a Super Bowl-worthy roster.
Buffalo boasts as deep a group of pass-catchers as the NFL can in Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder, and tight end Dawson Knox. It’s here that the Bills can gain the upper hand on the Rams, as superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey, coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, though now fully healthy, was limited in the preseason. How he’s used on Thursday will have a major impact.
In the backfield with Allen is an intriguing running duo of solid fourth-year man Devin Singletary and potential impact rookie James Cook. In front of them is an offensive line that, while solid (especially on the interior, thanks to the addition of guard Rodger Saffold), could face growing pains on the right side, which all-galaxy defender Aaron Donald could see as little more than an engraved invitation. On the bright side for Buffalo, outside of (utterly unblockable, no matter how many guys you use) Donald and Leonard Floyd, the Rams’ pass rush is light on experience and proven production.
In large part, that’s because future Hall of Famer Von Miller, acquired during last season and vital to their Super Bowl run, is gone. Well, on Thursday, he won’t be so much gone as lining up for the other team, having signed a massive free agent deal with the Bills in March. Reinforcements were needed for an underwhelming pass rush that boasted just one player with more than four sacks in 2021 - and that player, Mario Addison (he had 7), is now a member of the Houston Texans. Joining Miller (and talented holdovers Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau) in bolstering the defensive line is a trio of new defensive tackles, headlined by ex-Panther DaQuan Jones.
Sean McDermott will be hoping that this group gels quickly and effectively, as, in the absence of Pro Bowl corner Tre'Davious White (out for at least the first four games of the season), the Bills are thin at corner, where “meh” third-year man Dane Jackson and a rookie, either first-rounder Kaiir Elam (inconsistent in the preseason) or sixth-rounder Christian Benford, will be starting.
The Rams replaced Goff before last season via a trade with the Lions. His replacement, Matthew Stafford, despite some misfires familiar to fans in the Motor City (he led the NFL with 17 regular season interceptions), threw for 41 touchdowns and nearly 4,900 yards in the regular season, and another 9 TDs and almost 1,200 yards in the postseason. Stafford played through pain in his throwing arm during the Super Bowl run and had a “surgery/procedure thing” (apparently an anti-inflammatory injection) over the off-season. He is not listed on the team’s injury report heading into Week 1 (which consists only of wide receiver Van Jefferson, who’s questionable with a knee injury). Still, his fluidity and effectiveness are worth monitoring, both short- and long-term.
The Rams face a big question on the offensive line, as solid Joe Noteboom replaces newly-retired veteran All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Noteboom has been fine in limited action over four seasons but has never held this vital role with little backup. As far as Rams predictions go, calling for a completely seamless transition seems a bit optimistic.
We should note that while Miller's departure does raise a question on the defensive front, the perennially “all-in” Rams didn’t waste the financial flexibility that it provided, replacing Odell Beckham Jr. with longtime under-the-radar star Allen Robinson (and a third future Hall of Famer on defense, in ex-Seahawk Bobby Wagner). Over eight seasons with the Jaguars and the Bears (three of them with over 1,100 receiving yards), Robinson has never played with a quality quarterback or supporting offensive cast.
If reports out of camp prove accurate, the 29-year-old is reinvigorated as part of a contending core. With the superhuman Cooper Kupp (fresh off the “wide receiver triple crown”), a healthy Jefferson, running backs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson, and tight end Tyler Higby drawing more attention than any NFL teammates he’s ever had, look for Robinson to be not only one of the best #2 receivers in the league this season, but to breeze past 62.5 receiving yards (-117 at Caesars) in Week 1 (my clear #1 Rams prediction for this contest).
The most concise way to sum up the impact of Aaron Donald is this; in recent NFL history, no single defensive player has been more difficult to account for on a play-to-play basis and a greater nightmare to game-plan for week-to-week. Given the shortcomings up front for the Bills, there's no reason to expect anything other than a steady stream of chaos flying at Josh Allen in the backfield.
On the flip side, even with the Rams’ questions on offense, there’s enough continuity and top-end talent on hand to overcome a Bills pass rush that, while improved, is unproven as a unit and (especially) a short-handed cornerback corps that’s in for some rough sledding to start the season.
The likeliest Rams prediction for Thursday night is for a home win, with Allen Robinson playing a significant role.
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