The Buffalo Bills are strutting into La La Land to confirm fevered expectations that Josh Allen and company can finally beat the competition en route to a first Super Bowl. Formidable opponents and reigning champions, the Los Angeles Rams offer a glorious duel that will have NFL fans pumped in raptures ahead of the 2022 season opener.
Late Thursday there will be star power on both sides of the field at the rather magnificent SoFi Stadium as Sean McVay meets Sean McDermott. Make no mistake, this is a match-up fit for a Super Bowl.
McVay, entering his sixth season as head coach and still only 36, has the offensive repertoire and chess pieces to stun his opponents. There’s also his infectious personality, a rarity at his age, which ignites a fire in some of the sport’s biggest names. The likes of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, whose relentless desire defeated Joe Burrow to win Super Bowl LVI in February, are back and determined to do it again. Climbing the mountain is always an arduous journey, but repeating the feat is often beyond many teams who lack the hunger to repeat those sacrifices.
But all signs point to a hungry Rams squad, with their emotions on the brink as they prepare for battle. In a key preseason moment, an angry Donald brandished his helmet when a brawl broke out between the Rams and Bengals during a practice session as part of a joint training session.
“My main focus right now is Buffalo,” Donald said of the incident. “I’m glad no one got hurt in practice and whatever, but my main focus is Thursday night against Buffalo.
“Everyone protected each other, everyone got out of the situation clean [and] healthy. So that’s what matters. Ready for week 1.”
And he must be ready to take on Allen, who has looked dismal in overtime, while Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs cruelly denied the Bills a shot at the AFC Championship with a 42-36 win. Allen didn’t deserve to leave the playoffs that night.
There is very little missing from this squad on both sides of the ball now, with Allen able to whip the ball up and over opponents or frantically dash through traffic, representing the future of the league alongside Mahomes. Coincidentally, the AFC has benefited from a lopsided distribution of quarterback talent. Not only are there many passers-by with elite talents and varied skills, but their youth also hints that the next decade is a brave player, including Allen, Mahomes, Chargers gunslinger Justin Herbert, Bengals sniper Joe Burrow and the electrifying Ravens Passerby Lamar Jackson.
In contrast, the NFC has experience and nous in the form of Stafford, reigning two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers and a returning Tom Brady who couldn’t resist one last hurray in Lycra at the age of 45.
Brady’s return remains a mystery, however, with an 11-day absence from training camp yet to be explained. Conspiracy theories have spread like wildfire, with Brady launching plastic surgery allegations against an existing commitment to filming and appearing on The Masked Singer show before abandoning his commitment to retire.
Brady aside, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been in trouble at the starting center following Ryan Jensen’s devastating knee injury, though there’s no timeline for a return just yet. A first date for the Bucs with Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, who are also struggling with their offensive line as Tyron Smith is out until at least December with a broken knee, should in one way or another cause hysteria on Monday.
Brady may have been tempted to return by a vulnerable NFC: Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, who play the New York Giants in Tottenham next month, are back. However, superstar wide receiver Davante Adams has left and been sent to the Las Vegas Raiders in a blockbuster trade while the Rams may emerge injured from their tax department, including a Niners side tantalizingly poised to unleash quarterback Trey Lance.
But Brady’s turbulent pre-season and a new head coach Todd Bowles after Bruce Arians was pulled up raises the troubling question of whether that’s the case at last the end for Brady. But Bowles was buoyed by that bizarre experience, confident Brady doesn’t even need a preseason as he starts a 23rd season and is eager to show a more diverse offense.
“I thought it was a good thing,” Bowles said. “And it kind of helped us develop our running game a little bit further. You know, it’s like, ‘Okay, we have to play with Blaine [Gabbert] or Kyle [Trask]let’s develop things we must do to win the ball game.’
“And I think in that process we kick-started our running game a little bit more because we put a little bit more time into it, which we probably wouldn’t have had he been here. So I think it helped us in the long run. And we found that we are a team and not just a guy and a team.”
The league will begin to understand the implications of Brady’s quirky break on Sunday night, but first an explosive opener in Los Angeles. Two Super Bowl contenders prepare for a duel as the journey to the big dance begins.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/nfl/rams-bills-tom-brady-buccaneers-b2161959.html The NFL returns amid the Tom Brady mystery as Rams and Bills prepare for an explosive kickoff