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Four Observations from NFL Opening Night

Photo Credit: Thank You (21 Millions+) views, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Man, it feels good to have football back. It’s been seven long months since the end of the NFL season, but the wait is over. We can all finally get back to sweating out every result, suffering massive mood swings on a play-by-play basis, and rejoicing in success in a way almost no other sport can touch.

The denizens of Los Angeles were ready for some rejoicing of their own last night, but a night that was supposed to be a celebration of the Rams’ Super Bowl run turned disastrous after the Buffalo Bills manhandled them in the second half to win 31 - 10. Quarterback Matt Stafford looked rusty, throwing three interceptions, and the defense, in particular the secondary, had breakdown after breakdown in coverage. It was supposed to be a night to remember, but as of today, the Rams would probably rather forget.

Still, the season is young. We have exactly one game in the books. This result could look downright silly by the time the playoffs start, like when the Green Bay Packers were shellacked by the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 last year 38 - 3. A lot can change, and a lot will change.

At the same time, there’s still a few things we can take away from last night’s game. Again, it’s wayyyy too early to make any sweeping predictions, but here are four observations from Opening Night in the NFL:

1. Something seems off with Matt Stafford

All offseason, there was chatter about Stafford’s elbow. “Bad tendonitis” it was called. We were told not to worry about it. Turns out we were probably right to worry.

Stafford looked uncomfortable all night. Now, it wasn’t all his fault - his offensive line was being beaten like a boy who stole something - but Stafford was inaccurate all day. He overthrew receivers, took seven sacks, and tossed three interceptions, and could have easily tossed another had Bills defensive end Gregory Rousseau gotten his hands up just a tad quicker.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the most encouraging performance from the 34-year-old Stafford. This Rams team needs him to be playing at a high-level if they’re going to make a run at another Super Bowl. A bad game in Week 1 isn’t the end of the world, but Stafford is going to have to improve significantly if the Rams are going to reach the promised land again. If the elbow injury lingers or is more severe than we were led to believe, this could be a season-long problem for the Rams.

2. The Rams really miss their offseason departures

Andrew Whitworth joked recently about being approached by the Dallas Cowboys to come out of retirement to play left tackle after Tyron Smith went down with an injury. Do you think the Rams gave him a call after last night’s game? That’s what I’d be doing. I’d be on my hands and knees if I were head coach Sean McVay.

Whitworth’s replacement Joseph Noteboom had a rough night. He was consistently left in a one-on-one matchup with Von Miller, another former Ram, and Miller had his way. In total, the Bills generated seven sacks, all without blitzing once. It was a fabulous performance, but one that reflects more poorly on the Rams beleaguered offensive line, which was also without last year’s starting right guard, Austin Corbett, who signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent.

The Rams also suffered numerous blown coverages in the secondary, as they had absolutely no answer for the Bills receiver duo of Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis. All Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey was toasted on numerous occasions, and the Rams really could have used the services of last year’s #2 corner Darious Williams, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason. Without Williams there to support Ramsey, the Rams secondary was consistently exposed, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone waiting in the wings to step up at this time.

Overall, the Rams looked like a severely diminished team from last year’s Super Bowl-winning team. They will be counting on player to improving and unknowns to stepping up and into bigger roles, but the Bills looked far more complete than the Rams.

3. The Bills solidified their status as Super Bowl favorites, but questions still persist

It was a great night to be a Bills fan. After an entire summer where Buffalo received nothing but praise, many were waiting for the other shoe to drop with an Opening Night clunker. Instead, the Bills smashed the defending champs, looking better than their counterparts in nearly every facet of the game.

Even with all of that success, though, there’s still some cause for concern - namely, turnovers. In total, the Bills turned the ball over four times. Quarterback Josh Allen, who looked equal parts prime Cam Newton and Dan Marino, tossed two picks, and the Bills running backs combined for two fumbles, both of which were lost to the defense. One of Allen’s picks wasn’t his fault (his receiver couldn’t hang on to the pass), but he plain missed his receiver on the other. The Rams only generated three points off of four Bills turnovers - other NFL teams will capitalize on those turnovers, and the Bills need to clean that part of their game up.

Allen didn’t do anything to harm his MVP-favorite status, but the Bills won’t win many games this year turning the ball over four times, especially against their tougher opponents. At the end of the day, it’s probably just some offseason rust that Allen and the Bills needed to shake off, but they’ll need to be sharper on offense if they're going to live up to the preseason hype.

4. The NFL loves Hollywood

This one is pretty obvious, but boy was Tinseltown rubbed in our faces last night. Celebrities were everywhere, The Rock did his strange pregame hype thing again, and Ozzy Osbourne even made a halftime show appearance (fortunately, no bats or doves were harmed during the performance). It feels absurd that the NFL wasn’t in LA for almost 20 years, but they’re making up for lost time.

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