The wait is over. NFL football is back, baby.
I know technically football has been back, but let's be real, preseason means nothing. Thankfully, despite an exciting offseason filled with non-stop chatter over unbelievable free-agency moves, un-retirements & jaw-dropping headlines, we're finally back to talking about games that matter.
The NFL is shooting the season out of a cannon with a primetime kickoff game between the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills, a matchup we are likely to be seeing late in the wintery postseason, and almost saw in last year's Super Bowl.
Von Miller Returns to LA
Reigning champ Los Angeles Rams are hosting the Buffalo Bills at Sofi Stadium, and in a league stacked with talent, somehow the defending champs are padding up Week 1 as underdogs. A relentless California heatwave will set the stage for what should be a high-octane game between two teams just as hot as the weather.
The Super Bowl champs are returning with a roster nearly identical to the 53 who brought Los Angeles the Lombardi Trophy in 2022 and will be fighting to run it back.
However, one of the Rams missing pieces, and dominant Super Bowl winning play maker, will be facing them on the other side of the line Thursday Night. Bills Mafia would relish in Von Miller sacking his former teammates dreams of another Super Bowl ring and starting a winning season with a massive Week 1 W for Buffalo. Miller's career has been a defensive collection of records, and with the addition of two sacks in the 2022 Super Bowl, Miller now ties the NFL record with 4.5 sacks in his Super Bowl career. He ties Charles Haley for the most in NFL history after only two Super Bowl performances - Haley locked down his 4.5 sacks in five appearances, three more than Miller has so far. It's no question that picking up Von Miller makes Buffalo's defense even more dangerous than it already was, and I mean they were the #1 defense at the end of last year's regular season.
Von Miller is fired up to be playing in Buffalo, where he originally expected to land in the 2011 draft. Miller told The Atlantic he feels like landing in Buffalo was always meant to be, "This place chose me," Miller says. "Buffalo just chose me. And it's been trying to choose me all of these years."
He's ready to eclipse all the heartbreak haunting Bills Mafia. In a passionate message to Bills fans, the elite linebacker shared his desire to bring a Super Bowl parade to the deserving fanbase. One thing is for sure, when the championship flag unfurls at Sofi Thursday and they take the field, Miller is no longer a beloved teammate, he's the enemy.
As returning Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald put it, "We created some special things. We miss him, but he's on the opposite side now, so, you know, he's the enemy." The Rams will need Donald to help slow Josh Allen's offense and secure a Week 1 win. Donald led team with 12.5 sacks in 2021 and is only player with 10-plus sacks in each of past five seasons.
Adding the leadership and attack of Von Miller to an already punishing defense begs the question: Who will be able to stop Buffalo from utterly destroying teams this season? Thursday's opener will help answer some of these questions and shed some light on the otherwise speculation swirling around these two 2023 Super Bowl betting favorites.
McVay's Week 1 Winning Streak
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, the Bills will still have to win at SoFi to start and statistically speaking, the odds aren't exactly in their favor. Sean McVay has won every single home opener since filling the head coaching job in LA back in 2017. Don't get it twisted either, with the exception of 2019 and 2020's close games, they've slammed teams to win the last five openers. See for yourself:
- 2017 vs. Colts: Win, 46-9
- 2018 at Raiders: Win, 33-13
- 2019 at Panthers: Win, 30-27
- 2020 vs. Cowboys: Win, 20-17
- 2021 vs. Bears: Win, 34-14
If Matthew Stafford & Cooper Kupp have anything to say about it McVay's winning streak will continue. Coming off a career high 41 touchdown passes, many say Stafford still doesn't get the respect he deserves as a QB. The gossip buzzing around Stafford's elbow leaves room for debate on if the he can withstand the physical demands of a back to back Super Bowl wins. Staying healthy is arguably the greatest challenge facing a shortened off-season and the battle back to February football. Stafford continues to parrot to reporters that his elbow "feels good", and we'll see Thursday night when four quarters are required of the Super Bowl champ.
"Offense Sells Tickets. Defense Wins Championships"
These defenses will have their work cut out for them covering the offensive prowess of both Stafford and Allen. I think whichever defense executes better will hand over the W. After all, as the legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant quote goes, "Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships." This may only be Week 1, but this game is going to feel like a championship meeting and the ferocity, skill and ability to stay locked in on defense, will make the difference. Yes, watching Allen and Stafford sling it out will be exciting, but I think watching both team's eventual Hall of Fame defensive players grind it out is just as electric, if not more.
It's going to come down to debut Bills pass rusher Von Miller, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who led the team with 108 tackles in 2021, strong safety Jordan Poyer who had 91 tackles & five interceptions last season and free safety Micah Hyde, who tied career-high with five interceptions in 2021 and is tied fifth among all safeties with 22 INTs since 2013.
Can the Bills stars out-perform the defensive prowess of tackling powerhouse Aaron Donald? We'll see, but the Rams have added to their defensive depth chart in the offseason, too. New addition and six-time All-Pro Bobby Wagner ranks third in NFL with 170 tackles in 2021 and is only player with 100-plus tackles in each of past 10 seasons. Wagner joins outside linebacker Leonard Floyd who had 9.5 sacks in 2021, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey who set career highs in tackles and tackles for a loss in 2021.
The Rams D-line may be taking it a wee bit personally as defending champs being considered underdogs for Thursday's match-up. A defensive line with a chip on their shoulder, feeling like they have something to prove, may be just the edge required to stop the favored Bills. Ramsey's press day with Rams wire definitely showed an athlete ready to go out there Thursday and throw down.
"They're good. They got a good team," Ramsey said via Rams Wire. "I ain't gonna lie to y'all. I'm not about to sit up here and boost them up like y'all might want, like maybe other people are doing. I ain't doing that. I ain't gonna be extra. They good but we good, too, over here. So we'll see them on Thursday, we're gonna play football. But I ain't gonna sit here and boost nobody up. I got respect for 'em, but I got more respect for the game and the way I prepare and the way my teammates have been preparing and our trust and belief in each other. I'll boost us up, I'll talk about us and our preparation, but they can do that with them over there. We're gonna go out there Thursday and put our best effort out there and do what we gotta do."
The NFL is Back
As we focus on the defensive storylines going in to Thursday night, the Rams are ready to remind NFL fans why they're the reigning champs and the Bills are ready to finally give Buffalo the season ending success they've been longing for. Will the Los Angeles Rams be able to bring a back-to back championship to City of Angels? Only seven teams have managed to achieve the illustrious back to back Super Bowl win. Week 1's Thursday night game will set the stage for what could possibly be the most star-powered, talented, explosive, record-breaking season the NFL has ever seen. So place your bets, buy your snacks and get ready for some football.