Since 2004, it’s become a tradition for the defending Super Bowl champion to kick off the season at home. The only exceptions came in 2013, when the Baltimore Ravens had to play on the road due to a scheduling conflict with the Orioles, and 2019, when the NFL opted to celebrate its 100th season with a Bears-Packers matchup instead of one featuring the New England Patriots.
In that time, the Super Bowl champ is 14-3 in their Week 1 matchup. If we go all the way back to 2000, that jumps up to 18-3. Basically, the Super Bowl hangover hasn’t played a major factor early in the season. However, with the Rams taking on this year’s Super Bowl favorite, the Buffalo Bills, tonight, many people have shifted away from the defending champs. Hell, even Vegas lists the Bills as 2.5-point favorites on the road. So, are the Bills that much better? I’ve always been told that home-field advantage provides a three-point swing in your favor in terms of betting odds, so does this mean that the Rams would be a 5.5-point underdog if they were in Buffalo? That can’t be right. The Rams are still remarkably good. However, there is one factor that has made many bettors believe the Bills hold a massive advantage: Von Miller.
This is stupid. Von Miller is great, sure, and was a remarkable part of the Rams’ Super Bowl run last year, but are we really supposed to believe that Miller holds the secrets of the Rams’ defense that the Bills need in order to win? News flash, the Rams didn’t change their defensive coordinator. Any and all film the Bills would have needed in order to prep for this game was already available.
Yes, having a vet like Miller around to help explain defensive intricacies to some of the younger Bills’ players will help prepare the team, but let’s not pretend like Miller was holding secrets of the Rams and has exposed everything they do to this Bills’ coaching staff. Buffalo is a multi-billion dollar organization with numerous scouts, video teams, and data analysts. Any information they could’ve wanted regarding Miller’s former team, they likely already had months before they signed Miller in free agency.
Glad we got that out of the way. The biggest factors to watch out for in this game will be the Stefon Diggs-Jalen Ramsey matchup and whether or not the Josh Allen-Gabe Davis connection has any remnants from that AFC Divisional Round matchup with the Chiefs. If Davis is anything like he was in that playoff game, the Rams are toast. That said, I don’t trust Davis after just one great game. This was a guy who recorded more than five targets only three times last season and never had more than five receptions in a single game. Then the playoffs roll around, he goes nuts for eight catches, 201 yards, and four scores, and suddenly everybody loses their minds.
I understand that Davis was trending up in the target department late down the stretch last season (recording eight, seven, three, and 14 in his final four games), but let’s be real for a second. He had 14 targets in that Week 18 game against a weak Jets secondary and only recorded three receptions. That happened two weeks before his glow-up. At the very least, that’s a flash of inconsistency, and against a team as defensively talented as the Rams, they’ll take every advantage they can get. While I assume most of the defensive focus will be on Diggs, Davis will certainly be on the Rams’ radar. Everybody knows the Bills are a pass-heavy team, so the Rams have likely prepared to shut down the aerial attack and will try to force the game into Devin Singletary, James Cook, and Zack Moss’s hands early. I don’t trust any of those guys.
On the other side of the ball, the question remains: “Can the Bills stop Cooper Kupp?” Frankly, I wouldn’t trust them. In 2021, the Bills only had to face an elite wide receiver twice last season: Week 5 at Kansas City & Week 14 at Tampa Bay (three times if you include their playoff loss to KC). In those games, the Bills struggled to stop their opponents’ top wideouts. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combined for 16 receptions, 196 yards, and a touchdown in Week 14. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce combined for 13 receptions, 120 yards, and a touchdown in Week 4, which isn’t terrible, but the Chiefs did struggle early last season. In the playoffs, Hill went nuts for 11, 150, and a score. I understand that the game was a shootout and it’s tough to defend when teams are in the zone, but there isn’t a long enough track record of the Bills being able to defend against elite receivers, and Kupp is arguably the best in the league.
Just because Kupp will probably have a good game doesn’t mean the Rams are guaranteed to win. However, in games where Kupp had 12 or more targets last season, the Rams went 6-3 and only scored less than 20 points once. They scored 30 or more in four of those games. Even for an offense as high-powered as the Bills, 30 points is tough to beat.
All this said, I’m not picking the Rams to win. You probably think that given everything I’ve said, but rather, this was all to point out how the Rams could win. I don’t feel comfortable picking either side in this matchup. I wouldn’t touch this game with a 39-and-a-half foot pole if I were betting this weekend. Still, surprisingly, according to ESPN’s Pick ‘Em numbers, more than 60 percent of people have picked the Bills to win and cover. That’s a high figure for a contest between two teams as talented as we’re seeing. That rubs me the wrong way. I’m not saying anybody who chooses the Bills is stupid or wrong, but it should be much closer in my opinion.