The NFL season kicks off with the 2021 Super Bowl champions defending home field against a popular 2022 Super Bowl pick, with Josh Allen and the Bills headed west to face Matthew Stafford and the Rams. The over/under as of press time is 52.5, and even as visitors the Bills are favored by 2.5 points after opening at 1.0 point favorites. With the exception of a couple players (WR Van Jefferson with the Rams, CB Tre’Davious White with the Bills) the two teams are mostly healthy, which hopefully allows both teams to function near full strength. It could make for a high-scoring showdown slate.
Josh Allen ($12000 DK, $175000 FD) will of course be extremely popular – perhaps the highest-owned player both in general and among captain spots – and the reason why is clear enough that it’d be tedious to explain. Allen has the most fantasy points per game among quarterbacks the last two years, and he can see sky-high usage both as a passer and runner in any given game. With a high projected point total and two potent passing games in this road matchup, the usage projects as high as ever for Allen. The matchup of course isn’t easy with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey on the other side – it just might not matter, especially if Allen is pushing 40 pass attempts and 10 carries in the game.
Matthew Stafford ($10800 DK, $15500 FD) doesn’t project for as much usage as Allen and ideally won’t run at all, so he safely trails Allen’s projected fantasy point total. With that said, it’s likely true to say that the Rams will either get a notable box score from Stafford in this game or they will lose, potentially by some uncomfortable amount. Perhaps the Rams run game can get something going in this game, or perhaps the Rams defense gets the better of Allen on the other side, but if Allen sees to a median outcome then the Rams need Stafford pushing 300 yards and multiple touchdowns. Since Stafford isn’t a runner, though, you can capture nearly all of his production by picking from the narrow Rams target tree, where Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson might both go over double-digit targets with no clear third option behind them. It’s a little different from the Buffalo side, because Allen’s rushing ability means he’s capable of posting points that don’t go to the direct benefit of his pass catchers.
The specter of a running back rotation looms with both of these offenses, making it an elusive task to pin down the running back utility on the showdown slate. Despite the high scoring of these two offenses, they both have weak running back personnel to begin with, and the run defense matchup could be tough for both offenses. With two candidates to play big snaps in the Rams backfield and three with the Bills, there might be a lot of forks stabbing at an unsuitably small pie. With all of that uncertainty expressed, we can at least tentatively expect Cam Akers ($8000 DK, $12500 FD) and Devin Singletary ($7000 DK, $10500 FD) to lead their respective backfields.
While Sean McVay said something to the effect of Akers and Darrell Henderson ($4800 DK, $9000 FD) splitting the starting running back title with the Rams, McVay more so has a history of feeding one running back in a given game and Akers is almost certainly ahead of Henderson. For Akers and Henderson to see equal usage would mark a clear change in policy for McVay. Third and fourth backs Kyren Williams ($1400 DK, $5000 FD) and Jake Funk ($300 DK, $5000 FD) may or may not be active, and even if they are they are unlikely to see so much as five snaps on offense.
While Singletary is the clear starter for Buffalo at running back, their backfield is even more difficult to project with three factors involved. Singletary is an effective runner but just that – he’s a liability on passing downs and has a fumbling history, so he’s a candidate to phase out of the game plan the more the Bills throw. Singletary’s snaps should trend upward the worse the Rams play on offense. Third-year power back Zack Moss, BUF ($3000 DK, $7000 FD) figures to split most of the passing snaps with rookie second-round pick James Cook, BUF ($2800 DK, $7000 FD). Both Moss and Cook are skilled receivers, with the tradeoff otherwise being that Cook offers more big-play ability but likely worse blitz pickup than Moss, who’s some 20 pounds heavier than Cook despite being two inches shorter.
WIDE RECEIVERS + TIGHT ENDS
Cooper Kupp, ($12400 DK, $16000 FD) is arguably the biggest name in the game, as the consensus top-five redraft selection enters this projected shootout in a good position start fast after last year’s outrageous season. The Bills defense is formidable, including at slot corner and the safety positions, and Sean McDermott is one of the league’s best defenses coaches, so this will be a strength versus strength matchup despite the high over/under. The issue for the Bills is that Kupp saw a number of strong secondaries in 2021 but almost none of them could contain Kupp, let alone properly slow him. Given the Rams’ lack of pass catching depth, to say Kupp has a bad game is highly likely to say the Rams passing game in general has a bad game. If he can’t pick up the slack it’s doubtful the depth players can, which increases the urgency with which Sean McVay tries to scheme Kupp open. Week 1 or not, McVay might need to use the whole playbook. While a bad game for Kupp would likely mean a bad game for the Rams passing game in general, the same could also be true with free agent pickup Allen Robinson ($6200 DK, $12000 FD). Particularly with Van Jefferson ($4600 DK, $7500 FD) dealing with a knee injury, the Rams don’t have an obvious way to keep up with the projected point total if Robinson has a dud game. The Rams need to be thinking 300-plus yards and multiple touchdowns through the air, and they might need a solid box score from Robinson to get there. If Jefferson is out then the Rams might employ something of a committee at the WR3 role, splitting reps between the prohibitively tiny Tutu Atwell ($1000 DK, $6500 FD) and pseudo-TE Ben Skowronek ($1800 DK, $6500 FD). At around 150 pounds Atwell is a complete liability as a blocker, so expect his snaps to tie to hurryup and passing down situations. It might follow that Atwell’s snaps could trend upward the more points the Bills score, while Skowronek and his blocking abilities should see more snaps the more the Rams attempt to run the ball. There might be room for undrafted rookie Lance McCutcheon ($300 DK, $5000 FD) to see some snaps – he’s a more complete receiver than either of Atwell or Skowronek – but Rams GM Les Snead implied McCutcheon might not play much as a ‘redshirt’ candidate. Slot specialist and return man Brandon Powell ($200 DK, $5500 FD) will definitely play but probably not much, and he has no history of production. Tight end Tyler Higbee ($5600 DK, $8000 FD) blocks often and rarely gets targeted beyond the chains, but he plays a ton of snaps and if Stafford throws touchdowns Higbee is a candidate to get in on it. It will be interesting to watch how the Rams use third-year, former fourth-round pick tight end Brycen Hopkins ($200 DK, $5000 FD). The Rams surprisingly cut blocking tight end Kendall Blanton earlier this offseason, which is odd because Hopkins is almost the exact opposite as a tight end. In fact, Hopkins (4.66-second 40) might not be any slower than Skowronek, and given that both are WR/TE tweeners we might see them compete for reps despite one technically being called a receiver and the other technically a tight end. Function-wise there isn’t much difference between Skowronek and Hopkins.
It’s not clear whether feared cornerback Jalen Ramsey will shadow Stefon Diggs ($9000 DK, $14000 FD) or instead move around the field. If Ramsey does shadow Diggs it would make things tough for the wideout and comparatively easy on remaining Buffalo wideouts like Gabe Davis ($7200 DK, $11500 FD), Jamison Crowder ($5000 DK, $7500 FD), Isaiah McKenzie ($2400 DK, $8500 FD) and potentially even tight end Dawson Knox ($6800 DK, $10000 FD). While Ramsey is arguably the top corner in the league, the Rams’ cornerback depth aside from him seems questionable, so whoever avoids Ramsey is a candidate to draw usage. Ramsey spent a surprising amount of time defending the slot in 2021, so even slot specialists like Crowder and McKenzie are at risk of seeing Ramsey more than they’d like to. Both offenses in this game trend toward high tempo and high pass attempt volume on offense and that might be even more the case in a high-stakes matchup like this one, so it’s worth keeping in mind that any of the Bills’ featured route runners is a candidate to see escalated targets as long as the Bills can keep Aaron Donald somewhat contained. The rookie fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir, BUF ($5500 FD) probably won’t play more than 20 or so snaps and could easily fall short of that, but the Bills could get him involved as either a route runner or ballcarrier, and as Buffalo’s expected punt returner he might be worth considering in any lineups that feature the Buffalo defense/special teams. Tight end Tommy Sweeney ($400 DK, $5000 FD) appears the likely TE2 with Quintin Morris hurt.
Tyler Bass, BUF ($4000 DK, $9500 FD) and Matt Gay, LAR ($3800 DK, $9000 FD) are two of the best kickers in the league, and they both have range beyond 50. In what’s expected to be a close and high-scoring game, it’s difficult to think of a case for one kicker that wouldn’t apply to the other, so the decision of whether to take one of these distinguished kickers might depend on the build you have in mind otherwise. If you want to go a bit lighter on one of the offenses than the other, you might complete the reasoning by taking the kicker from the faded side in case that kicker captures projected points from popular skill position players on that team.
While neither defense figures to be especially popular in showdown slates, both defenses feature standout pass rushes and the ability to create turnovers. As much as it would be a surprise if either quarterback struggled much in this game, even the best quarterbacks will have their low points and they’ll tend to occur in stressed conditions, which these defenses are capable of creating. As the slight favorites the Buffalo Defense ($4200 DK, $8500 FD) is a bit more expensive than the Rams. The Bills are without top corner Tre’Davious White (knee) and they’re breaking in a rookie in his place (Kaiir Elam), so they’ll need their deep defensive line to hurry Matthew Stafford in order to protect Elam and stopgap starter Dane Jackson. A roster with the Bills defense/special teams might want to consider selecting Isaiah McKenzie or Khalil Shakir, who are respectively expected to handle Buffalo’s kick and punt returns.
The Rams Defense ($3600 DK, $8000 FD) should be less popular yet, which makes sense given their underdog status. The Rams don’t have the obvious cornerback depth to counter the four-wide looks the Bills can pose, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that Aaron Donald is capable of taking over games in a way that projections can’t easily account for. Great passing offenses like the Bills’ are the offenses that generally score the most points, but Donald is the player most capable of single-handedly wrecking a passing game by denying the quarterback setup time to throw. The Bills are of course favored for a reason, though, and Rams returner Brandon Powell has no extended history of success as a returner.
This content was originally published here.