Week 1 is finally here, and the Bills are on the biggest stage to kick off the 2022 NFL season. Plenty of storylines in this first game, including a chance to take down the defending Super Bowl champions.
Here are five things to know ahead of Thursday night's season opener.
1. Taking on the defending Super Bowl champs
Last year, the LA Rams took the approach of trading away draft capital in exchange for proven veterans in hopes of winning it all. It worked. But now, here's the big question – can the reigning champs run it back for a second-straight year?
Regardless of if the Rams can do it again with no first-round picks for the second-straight season, this is about the best matchup there is to open the NFL season. And it's not just fans who feel this way, the players are just as eager to go up against the guys who won it all last year.
"It's just fun to be able to go against the champs," left guard Rodger Saffold said. "You always get excited when you go against that, everybody knows that."
"I feel like everybody on the team understands the challenge it's going to be," defensive end Greg Rousseau said of the matchup. "The Rams are a really good team, so we're just ready to get out there and compete. We've been working hard all camp, so we're super excited."
The talent the Rams had last year led them to a Super Bowl, and a lot of that core group returned to the team for 2022. QB Matthew Stafford, DT Aaron Donald, CB Jalen Ramsey, WR Cooper Kupp are just some of the several stars that returned. The Bills believe this first game will be a good test before they face a gauntlet of tough teams in the first eight weeks of the season.
"There are so many great guys on the defense over there, and they're gonna have some huge challenges for us," Saffold said. "So, it's going to be really good to see where we stand in the league."
While their focus will be on the game, Bills players are also looking forward to playing in SoFi for the first time and taking in the sights, sounds and people that LA has to offer.
"I've never played in California, and I've never ever seen SoFi," Rousseau shared. "So, I feel like it's going to be pretty cool to see the stadium, obviously it's a new stadium so it should be fun."
"It's always cool to look over and be like, 'Oh, snap. There's that person,'" left tackle Dion Dawkins said of the celebrities that will be in attendance. "But you keep pushing when it's game time and none of that stuff matters to me. It's definitely cool to see guys around, and guys that want to be a part of winning. Like everybody just wants a piece of a winning something, so it will be cool."
2. Von Miller heading back to a familiar place
There are plenty of ties between the Bills and the Rams in this Week 1 opener. One of the biggest has to be the fact that Von Miller will play against his former team. When Miller signed with Buffalo in March, it was evident how tough it was to leave the team he just won a Super Bowl with.
"I loved being on the Los Angeles Rams," Miller said the day he made everything official with the Bills. "I loved being there with all the guys. I created so many friendships and created so many brotherhoods in that short period of time that it was really hard to let that go."
Miller will definitely be excited to see some former teammates on Thursday but understands the opportunity at hand to start the season off right with his new team. And now that he's been a part of the Bills for several months, Miller is starting to feel at home.
"I love these guys," Miller said of his teammates in Buffalo. "I knew about the team, I knew about the players here, but the collection of guys, the collection of personalities is nothing like I've ever been on."
When it comes to getting the Bills ready to play against LA, reps against Miller in practice are helping the offensive line prepare for a great test.
"Von has been giving me tips on how to be the best left tackle I could possibly be," left tackle Dion Dawkins said. "And I've lost countless reps and I'm thankful that I'm getting better. I'm in the uncomfortable zone where I'm using everything as growth and having Von here, it's been amazing. He gives me all of those little tips that I'm like, 'Oh, wow. I should have thought about that.'
"And after a rep, if I lose he pulls me to the side and tells me this is why that happened, 'You just gave up a little bit here, you felt a little lax here.' And it's amazing to honestly have."
3. Can the offense win against Aaron Donald and Company?
Buffalo's offense knows going up against players like DT Aaron Donald, CB Jalen Ramsey, LB Bobby Wagner and LB Leonard Floyd is no joke. The Rams ranked third in the NFL last season with 50 sacks and 19 interceptions. They also ranked right below the Bills at second when it came to passing touchdowns, allowing the second fewest in the NFL (17).
Left guard Rodger Saffold, who played for the Rams from 2010 to 2018, thinks going up against the Rams' defense will be a great measuring stick for the offense as a whole.
"Their overall defense continues to improve, especially with Bobby Wagner over there," Saffold said. "And then, their defensive line is always coached really well. So, you plug any of those guys in and there's some sort of threat. Of course, Aaron Donald is the first of his kind but with that whole D-line, they got speed, they got power.
"It's just fun to be able to go up against those guys and really see where you're at. We're starting off right off the bat with just a huge challenge and I'm just preparing to see a focused team go against these guys."
Saffold believes one of the most important aspects of the game for Buffalo will be its ability to adjust in-game to what the Rams are doing on defense.
"The big thing for us is being able to have those on-field adjustments with any type of things we haven't seen," Saffold said. "Of course, with them adding Bobby Wagner, they can throw a couple of different wrinkles at us. The D-line has continued to be that hungry, quality coached team. And then we already know that they got Jalen Ramsey and all those guys, it's just gonna be a good challenge all the way around for our offense."
General manager Brandon Beane believes in the roster he's helped build but knows they'll have to play to their full potential to walk away with a win.
"I think we got guys that have been going through some battles the last two seasons, they've played some really good football," Beane said. "They've played in some big games. Obviously, this will be another game on a national stage. It won't be new from that standpoint. And this is a really good team, we'll have to play our very best."
4. Stopping LA's firepower on offense
The Rams had a top-10 offense last season and averaged 27 points per game (7th in the NFL), 390 total yards per game (4th in the NFL) and 273 passing yards per game (5th in the NFL). Their quarterback in Matthew Stafford threw 41 touchdowns (2nd) and averaged over eight yards a pass (3rd) in 2021. They also had the best wide receiver in the NFL—Cooper Kupp led the NFL in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and touchdown receptions (16).
There's no doubt this offense will try to repeat what they did in 2021 with many returners and new weapons like WR Allen Robinson III. To stop a team full of firepower, Bills defensive players are focused on executing their assignments.
"I'd say it's all about executing, and the Rams are a really good team, they're a complete team," defensive end Greg Rousseau said. "They've got Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, a good o-line, all that stuff. So, it's gonna be a challenge for us play in and play out. We're up for it though, and we're excited for it as well."
The Bills secondary knows it'll be tough to stop players like Kupp and Robinson. The group is thankful to practice against some of the best wide receivers every day, which helps make it not as tough when they get to games. Players like cornerback Dane Jackson think the reps they get in practice against Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie will help them prepare for the talented receivers on the Rams.
Jackson thinks Kupp is one of a kind because of his versatility.
"He's just so savvy," Jackson said about Kupp. "I mean, he can go inside or outside. He can run short routes, run long routes. He'll get you thinking he's going this way and go the other way, so there's a lot of things."
5. Josh Allen's first game in his home state
It took quarterback Josh Allen till his fifth season before he played in his home state of California. Like many on the roster, it'll also be Allen's first time playing in SoFi stadium. The California kid can't believe it'll be his first game at "home".
"It is kind of crazy," Allen said. "I know we had a game that was supposed to be in San Francisco two years ago and it ended up being in Phoenix. But it is kind of weird, it'll be surreal playing in my home state. It's still four hours from where I grew up.
"But my family, my friends, they'll travel well, and they'll represent my hometown pretty good too."
Allen is from Firebaugh, California, which is a city in Fresno County. The town had a population of under 10,000 people in 2019 and is four and a half hours away from SoFi Stadium.
The QB said he'll have about 100 friends and family in the stands cheering him on.
Take a look at your favorite Bills players as the start of the 2022 NFL season approaches. The gallery is presented by St. Bonaventure.