The NFL is back, baby! It’s Week 1 and I have the honor of writing up the first Showdown game of the season as the Bills visit the defending Super Bowl champs, the Los Angeles Rams. This could have easily been the Super Bowl last year and should be an exciting game, coming in as the second-highest total of all Week 1 games at 52.5, and the Bills favored by 2.5 (the dreaded “short road favorite” spot). I don’t bet lines, but if I did, I would take the Rams at home here. Both of these teams are elite, but the Rams are the defending champs and they are playing at home so I’m a bit surprised they’re the underdog.
FIRST, a note: because OWS releases content early in Week 1, I’m writing this on Friday, September 2nd. There’s some injury news outstanding, and while I’m trying to touch on if/then scenarios in the write-up, if we get information that changes things beyond what I’ve covered as injury possibilities, I’ll come back and update this article.
Ownership updates automatically
Let’s talk a bit macro first. Both teams are elite on both sides of the ball, with the Bills having finished 2021 first in overall defensive DVOA and the Rams 5th (note the Bills are also missing top cornerback Tre’Davious White). We also know that it’s Week 1, and in Week 1 we know less than any other week of the season, but that said, these teams look pretty similar to 2021 and so for this game, at least, we should have a pretty solid idea of how they’ll play (at least compared to the rest of Week 1, which . . . well, just wait for it. It’s going to be chaotic). All of that is to say that I think there’s a very wide range of outcomes here, and while I would expect a high-scoring game the majority of the time, if this were played 100 times, there are a lot of other potential outcomes you could consider betting on.
Let’s start with the Rams and their run game. This is one area with a lot of uncertainty. Cam Akers returned earlier than expected from injury last year and saw a lot of work in the playoffs with games of 19, 27, 14, and 17 opportunities – a total of 77 running back opportunities against 39 for then primary backup Sony Michel. Darrell Henderson, the current backup, only played in the Super Bowl and saw nine opportunities (with Michel seeing just two). So, the primary running back, Akers, saw 19.25 opportunities per game in the playoffs while the backups combined averaged 12 opportunities. In today’s NFL, that’s a solid RB1 workload but Akers was also not very effective with those opportunities, averaging 2.6 yards per carry for the 2021 season. Akers and Henderson have both been working through soft tissue injuries in the preseason, and Sean McVay has made statements indicating he believes them both to be lead backs. Sooooo, what are we supposed to make of this? Well, first off, remember that coaches lie (ESPECIALLY McVay). McVay’s history has been having a primary RB, not a split backfield, and he was giving Akers an RB1 workload . . . coming off a serious injury earlier than expected . . . in the playoffs. That makes me think that Akers is the guy here, and at a price of just $8k, he isn’t priced for an RB1 type of role. Henderson is a fine value play, or you could certainly bet that I’m wrong and that it is more of a split (or even that Henderson is in the lead – it’s Week 1! Who knows?!).