The defending-champion Los Angeles Rams took on the Buffalo Bills—the oddsmakers' 2022 Super Bowl favorite—to kick off the NFL season on Thursday night. When the dust settled, only one team looked the part.
The Bills didn't play a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. Josh Allen had a pair of interceptions. Zack Moss had a late fumble that gave L.A. a final gasp. Rookie running back James Cook fumbled on his first professional carry.
Yet Buffalo still dominated the game in almost every way imaginable. Leslie Frazier's defense flustered Matthew Stafford early and often. The offense clicked throughout the game. Former Ram-turned-Bill Von Miller? He's still a difference-maker.
Final score: Bills 31, Rams 10. If not for Buffalo's miscues, it could have been even uglier.
Buffalo came into the season with no glaring weaknesses. The Bills did have a few questions, but they answered most of them on Thursday. One game won't define a season, but Sean McDermott's squad looks like the team to beat right now.
Josh Allen's Evolution Continues
The biggest reason Buffalo is perceived as a Super Bowl contender is the presence of Allen. The 26-year-old Wyoming product is the epitome of a modern-day NFL quarterback. He's big, strong, can sling the ball anywhere on the field and can run around, over and through defenders.
What makes Allen truly amazing, though, is the growth he's shown over the past four-plus years. He was incredibly raw coming out of college—Allen finished his 2018 rookie campaign with a paltry 67.9 passer rating. That's lower than what New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (69.7) posted as a rookie last year.
Allen has progressively gotten better since. He was a Pro Bowler in 2020 and took the Bills within a few plays of the AFC title game last season, tossing nine touchdown passes and no interceptions in two playoff games. On Thursday, he flashed the sort of accuracy and field awareness that seemed unfathomable during his inaugural season.
Allen completed 26 of 31 attempts and hit seven different receivers against Los Angeles. Those two interceptions look bad on the stat sheet, but one was a drop by Isaiah McKenzie.
The Rams defense—which is still loaded with talent, even after the Miller departure—struggled to contain Allen after going into halftime tied 10-10. His final stat line: 297 passing yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 56 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown.
Allen looks like an early favorite for MVP.
Questions Asked and (Mostly) Answered
The biggest questions surrounding Buffalo involved the departure of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley. Daboll had led the offensive game-planning since Allen was a rookie, while Sanders and Beasley combined for 1,319 yards and five touchdowns in 2021.
Under new coordinator Ken Dorsey, the Buffalo offense didn't miss a beat on Thursday. Dropping 31 points on the defending Super Bowl champions doesn't happen by accident.
And while replacing the tandem of Sanders and Beasley might be a challenge, Gabe Davis has settled in nicely as the new No. 2 target opposite Stefon Diggs.
Diggs led Buffalo with eight catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, and Davis (four catches, 88 yards, 1 TD) gave L.A.'s secondary plenty of trouble as well.
Buffalo had high expectations for Davis coming into the regular season.
"When I was in Bills camp, I was told with certainty that his four-TD performance in the playoff loss at Kansas City was the start of something big, not a fluke," Peter King of ProFootballTalk wrote. "He's a worker, and Josh Allen sees him as a great complement—not a distant number two—to Diggs."
Thus far, Davis has not disappointed.
The few problems the Bills showed Thursday seem mostly correctable. Both of Allen's interceptions involved his slot receivers—he was slightly off the mark to Jamison Crowder on the second. Buffalo will need to find some reliability there. The running game also remains a work-in-progress.
Allen led the Bills in rushing, while Devin Singletary, Moss and Cook combined for 65 yards. Fumbling didn't help the cause on the ground. It's worth noting that Singletary (6.0 yards per carry) and the running game as a whole (121 yards, 4.8 yards per carry) were effective.
Ball security can be stressed, and Dorsey can figure out a plan to make the ground game go. Perhaps the biggest remaining question is how good Buffalo can be when it plays four full quarters of clean football.
The Von Miller Factor
We can't talk about how dominant the Bills were on Thursday without mentioning Miller. The longtime Denver Broncos star and future Hall of Famer helped the Rams win Super Bowl LVI in February, and he helped put them away in Week 1.
Miller, who finished with four tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss, was virtually unstoppable at times. If he's lost a step at age 33, it's not obvious.
For as impressive as Miller was individually, his impact on the Bills defensive front might have been even more eyebrow-raising. Buffalo had the league's No. 1-ranked defense and logged 42 sacks last season but never had "that guy" who could command a team's attention on the edge.
Mario Addison led Buffalo with seven sacks in 2021, and he was the only Bills player with more than four.
Miller is that guy, and he's going to open up a lot of opportunities for A.J. Epenesa and Boogie Basham. Stafford was sacked seven times on Thursday, and he tossed three interceptions and rarely appeared comfortable in the pocket.
Aside from Cooper Kupp (13 catches, 128 yards and a touchdown), most of the Rams offense seemed out of sorts.
While the Bills defense was already great, Miller makes it even more dangerous, and that's a problem for the other 15 teams in the AFC. Even when the Buffalo offense makes mistakes, as it did against L.A., the defense is likely to force just as many.
On Thursday, the Bills showed the NFL world that it's going to take a nearly perfect game by a very talented team—and perhaps a little good fortune—to beat them in 2022.