The Buffalo Bills and defending champion Los Angels Rams will open the 2022 NFL season in Southern California Thursday night with the game airing on NBC. It could very well be a preview of Super Bowl LVII in Arizona this coming February.
Josh Allen enters this game as a legitimate NFL MVP candidate. As for the Rams, there’s some concern over Matthew Stafford’s elbow. Though, he should be close to 100% in this one.
As we will do with each “Thursday Night Football” game throughout the 2022 season, we’re going to provide you with five players to watch between the Bills and Rams in this opener.
Buffalo Bills rookie looking to cook Los Angeles Rams run defense
Devin Singletary will get the start at running back for Buffalo Week 1. As of right now, Zack Moss is considered RB2. However, we would not be surprised if rookie second-round pick James Cook got a ton of action. He’s received a lot of praise from the Bills’ brass and clearly has what it takes to become a three-down back.
The brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was merely a part-time player during his time with Georgia. That included running the ball 230 times in four seasons. But he stood out big time in the pre-draft process and has elevated his game leading up to Week 1. Taking on a Rams team that ranked in the top-10 stopping the run a season ago, it’s important for Cook and Co. to provide Josh Allen with some balance.
Tutu Atwell must step up for the Los Angeles Rams
Starting wide receiver Van Jefferson has been ruled out Thursday evening due to a knee injury. He remained out of practice earlier in the week and just isn’t ready to go. That’s 50 catches, 802 yards and six touchdowns from a season ago missing from the Rams’ otherwise potent offensive attack. It’s now time for Atwell to step up after the 2021 second-round pick did nothing of substance on offense as a rookie.
Rams head coach Sean McVay noted in his pre-game press conference that he has confidence in both Atwell and Brandon Powell to step up should it come to that. And while impressive young rookie Lance McCutcheon could play a role, the stage might be too big for him Thursday night. The 5-foot-9 Atwell played all of 10 snaps on offense in eight games as a rookie after the Rams made him a surprise second-round pick. It’s now time to live up to that billing.
David Long’s tough task for the Los Angeles Rams
Jalen Ramsey will likely find himself lined up against Gabriel Davis in this one. He doesn’t necessarily shadow the opposing teams’ No. 1 receiver. Though, he did shadow Mike Evans 69% of the time in Los Angeles’ NFC Playoff win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. This could potentially be a harbinger of things to come.
With that said, the Rams need another cornerback to step up given just how talented Buffalo’s group of wide receivers are. Could that be this third-year player from Michigan? In 16 games (five starts) as a sophomore, Long yielded an 84.9 QB rating when targeted. That’s much better than league average and is a clear indication he could step into a larger role.
Josh Allen’s statement for the Buffalo Bills
Outside of the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl, there’s going to be no larger stage for Josh Allen than Thursday night against the defending champion Los Angeles Rams. A legitimate NFL MVP candidate, Allen went tit-for-tat with Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Divisional Playoffs a season ago. He’s already one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the NFL. Another strong showing to open up the 2022 season could actually cement Allen’s status as QB1 around the league.
It wasn’t a quick ascension to stardom for Allen. He was seen as a major project coming out of Wyoming in the 2018 NFL Draft and struggled big time as a rookie. After putting up a stellar sophomore campaign, Allen has taken his game to a new level over the past two seasons, accumulating north of 10,000 total yards with 87 total touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He’ll now have an opportunity to make a mark on national television while playing in the second-largest media market in North America against the defending champs. All eyes will be on him here.
Checking in on Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford
All eyes will also be on Stafford as the Rams star opens his second season with the team. But for completely different reasons. Stafford has been dealing with bad elbow tendinitis in his throwing arm throughout the offseason and summer. While Los Angeles doesn’t seem to be too concerned over this, we have absolutely no idea how it will play out in live-game action. Remember, Stafford joined the rest of his first-team offense in sitting out the entire preseason.
- Matthew Stafford stats (2021): 67% completion, 4,886 yards, 41 TD, 17 INT, 102.9 QB rating
Despite leading the NFL in interceptions a season ago, Stafford was at the top of his game pretty much throughout. Now set to take on a Bills defense without star cornerback Tre’Davious White, he has an ability to continue this run. It’s going to be all about how his elbow holds up. We’ll get an initial understanding out of the gate Thursday evening in Los Angeles.