By virtue of winning Super Bowl LVI, the Los Angeles Rams get the Lombardi Trophy, bragging rights over the rest of the NFL and the chance to throw one more big party to start the 2022 season.
The NFL traditionally allows the defending Super Bowl champions to open the following season with the cleverly titled NFL Kickoff game. The date is Thursday, September 8, 2022. The Rams will be the home team. The Super Bowl banner will be dropped at SoFi Stadium. Ram Nation will be in a frenzy.
Who will their opponent be?
That’s where it gets fun.
The NFL will reveal the full 2022 regular season schedule on Thursday, May 12 on NFL Network at 5 p.m. PT. The five international games in London, Munich and Mexico City were announced Wednesday.
Who could the Rams play in the NFL Kickoff?
The NFL switched to a 17-game regular season in 2021 with teams having nine home games and eight road games in alternating years.
In 2022, the Rams have nine home games. They play their three NFC West foes: Seattle, San Francisco, and Arizona, and they also face Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas, Carolina, Denver and Buffalo.
They also have a ‘road’ game against the Chargers, but that technically still happens at SoFi. Could the Rams play the Chargers on Sept. 8? That’s an intriguing prospect.
Who can we rule out as the Rams kickoff opponent?
Unless something wild happens in the next few days, we can probably rule out Seattle and Arizona. The NFL wants the Kickoff game to be a battle of two marquee teams with established stars throughout the line-up.
Seattle just traded Russell Wilson and Arizona is in disarray. They don’t pass the smell test.
Neither do the Atlanta Falcons.
While the Falcons and Rams have a cool history as former members of the NFC West (yes, Atlanta was in the West), the Falcons got rid of quarterback Matt Ryan and are in rebuild mode. The Rams would be heavy favorites.
The NFL doesn’t want their opener to be a snoozer.
Same for the Carolina Panthers. There is one possible storyline there, which could be the return of USC Golden Boy quarterback Sam Darnold, but he may not even be the Panthers’ starter in 2022. Carolina just drafted Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, but they aren’t a factor in the NFC.
Who are the possibilities?
Let’s start with Denver. The Broncos will be one of the teams a lot of people are interested in since they now have Wilson. Can he make them a contender? It’ll be interesting.
Another possibility? Las Vegas. The Raiders and Rams once shared Los Angeles. The Raiders were a playoff team in 2021. They have quarterback Derek Carr and star tight end Darren Waller. The NFL loves Vegas now and just held the Draft there. The Raiders have a national following.
If the NFL was a grudge match, then San Francisco would be the choice. The Rams and 49ers played three times last year, with the Rams winning 20-17 in the NFC Championship game to advance to the Super Bowl. The 49ers definitely have storylines with their quarterback situation. The more you think about it, this has appeal.
Who are the favorites?
That leaves two teams left on the Rams’ home schedule: the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills.
The Cowboys are always a national topic, unfortunately. They are coming off a 12-5 season and won the NFC East. They bring big TV ratings. They have Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons.
But what works for the Cowboys may be exactly the reason why they aren’t the pick for the opener. The NFL already knows the Rams/Cowboys game will be a ratings monster. They might not want to waste it on Opening Night. It could fit better as a marquee Sunday Night game. Since they’re the Cowboys and Jerry Jones gets what he wants, though, you never know.
So that leaves the Buffalo Bills.
The last time America saw the Bills in a football game was the AFC Divisional Round contest against the Kansas City Chiefs. That was the game with 25 points scored in the last 1:54 and the Chiefs winning in overtime. The Bills are the favorite at BetMGM Sportsbook to win the Super Bowl (+650). They could stamp themselves as the team to beat with a win over the Rams. They are the favorite to be the pick.
NFL Kickoff facts and figures
The NFL Kickoff game started in 2002, and then became a showcase for the defending NFL champs to play. However, not every defending champ has been selected. In 20 years, the home team has won 16 times. The defending Super Bowl champ has played in the game 17 times and they are 14-3 straight up in those games.