Buffalo @ LA Rams
Power rankings: Buffalo 1, LA Rams 3
When Buffalo has the ball:
After breaking out in his 3rd season in 2020, Josh Allen continued in 2021 to prove himself as an elite option at the quarterback position. Allen earned a respectable 77.5 PFF passing grade and gained 6.8 yards per attempt. On the ground, he gained 763 yards and 6 touchdowns, including an absurd 3.36 yards after contact. Allen is 6'5 237, occasionally outweighing linebackers. His top receiving option will be Stef Diggs. Entering his third season with Buffalo, Diggs has caught over 100 balls and gained 1,000 yards in both each season playing for the Bills. The complementary pieces from last season, Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley, are both gone, leaving Gabe Davis (who gained over 200 yards and caught 4 TDs in the divisional round), Isaiah McKenzie, and Jamison Crowder, and TE Dawson Knox as the next men up. Sanders and Beasley were both on the wrong side of 30, and the current group still projects to be a top tier unit in the league. The offensive line lost Daryl Williams, a less than spectacular but dependable starter who played both RT and RG last season. They brought in Rodger Staffold from the Titans to play guard, but Staffold has struggled the past few seasons, particularly as a pass blocker. Taken in the 2021 3rd round out of Northern Iowa, RT Spencer Brown managed 726 snaps and played admirably given the jump. The hope from Buffalo is he'll be able to improve into a more dependable player in year 2, but for now he's unproven. The only starter on the line who doesn't have something wrong with his game is LT Dion Dawkins. The Bills took James Cook, brother of Dalvin, 63rd overall in the draft out of Georgia. Cook and Devin Singletary project to get the bulk of the carries. Overall, the Bills finished last season 10th in offensive DVOA. The Rams were 5th in defensive DVOA, led by Aaron Donald, a man who blessed the football world by not retiring this offseason. The Rams did lose Von Miller in free agency (more on him later), but with Leonard Floyd, A'Shawn Robinson, Greg Gaines, and Justin Hollins, they still have one of the best defensive lines in football. They brought in Bobby Wagner, a future hall of fame linebacker who is past his prime, but still a solid player who simply doesn't miss tackles. Wagner will start along side Ernest Jones, a rookie from last season (3rd rounder out of South Carolina) who earned a starting role mid way through the season and got better as the year went on. The secondary is led by Jalen Ramsey, arguably the best corner in football. The spots behind Ramsey (Troy Hill and David Long Jr) are both question marks, but the safety tandem of Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp is solid. The Rams defensive line shouldn't have any issue winning against the Bills offensive line, but the secondary has more than enough holes for Allen to exploit.
When the Rams have the ball:
Matthew Stafford may not bring the pedigree of other elite quarterbacks, and rightfully so, but the man is an above average and consistent starter. The Rams, in making the decision to move on from Jared Goff in favor of Stafford, were rewarded with a Super Bowl. Stafford has a PFF grade of 77 or higher in each of the last 6 seasons, 5 of which came on bad Detroit Lions teams. He also has Cooper Kupp to throw to, fresh off a season typically only seen in video games, where he caught 145 footballs for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. They filled the void left from Odell Beckham Jr (torn ACL in the Super Bowl) and Robert Woods (now with the Titans) by bringing in Allen Robinson. Along with TE Tyler Higbee, Stafford has plenty of weapons to choose from when distributing the football. The offensive line took a hit when they lost LT Andrew Whitworth to retirement, but they're hoping Joe Noteboom can step in and take his spot. Noteboom has never been a full time starter for the Rams, but he's been productive whenever on the field, allowing just 5 pressures on 142 pass-blocking snaps last season (PFF). Assuming Noteboom can play at reasonable levels, the offensive line should be more than enough to protect Stafford and provide lanes in the running game. The running backs are without question the biggest weakness on offense -- Cam Akers made a commendable return to play in the postseason after tearing his Achilles, but he was flat out poor, earning a 43.7 PFF grade. The Rams ranked 30th in EPA per run play in 2021 despite a very good offensive line. Their hope is Akers is fully recovered and can provide a spark in the run game, but Achilles injuries are never easy to come back from. They'll be up against a Bills defense that finished 1st last season in defensive DVOA. Though I cannot sign off on giving a 33 year old edge rusher 54.1 million dollars guaranteed, I also cannot deny that Von Miller is really, really good, and should give the Bills some help at pass rush after losing Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison in the offseason. They'll also get to see if they have anything in Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham, 1st and 2nd round picks form 2021. At linebacker, Matt Milano will start alongside Tremaine Edmunds. Milano plays well against the run and rushing the passer, but has consistently struggled in coverage. Edmunds was a 1st round draft pick in 2018, but he has a PFF grade of 60 or lower in all 4 of his seasons. The secondary should be elite, but they'll be without top corner Tre'Davious White, who tore his ACL week 12 of last year. That leaves Taron Johnson, Dane Jackson, and Kaiir Elam as the projected starters. Johnson earned additional playing time after White went down, and he played well, earning a 70.3 PFF grade. Jackson, a 2020 7th round pick, struggled. The Bills traded up to draft Elam 23rd overall this season (Florida), where he was an exceptional 3 year starter. It was so apparent how good Elam was that teams flat out stop targeting him -- he was targeted 3 times or fewer in over half of his games last season. The strength of the secondary is the safety tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, who are my pick for the strongest in football.
Football is fucking back. Take the Rams with the points.