The Rams are defending Super Bowl champions, but instead it’s the Bills getting the majority of the hype coming into this game, entering the season as odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl and entering this week one game in Los Angeles against the defending champions as 2.5-point road favorites. In some ways, the hype the Bills are getting is understandable. They finished the regular season last year ranked #1 in overall efficiency and point differential and, while it was the Rams who eventually got it done in the post-season, last year’s playoff games were as close as any in recent memory, with the Rams winning each of their final three post-season games by just a field goal, while the Bills lost in overtime to the Chiefs, who lost in overtime to the Bengals, who came up a field goal short against the Rams in the Super Bowl.
The Rams were the team who came out victorious last year, but had a few things gone differently, numerous different teams, including the Bills, could have come out victorious. The Bills also got better this off-season, most notably adding top edge defender Von Miller from the Rams, while the Rams lost stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth to retirement, in addition to the departure of Miller. However, I still think we are getting some line value with the Rams as home underdogs, as my calculated line is even.
Von Miller changing sides seems to be getting a lot of attention in this matchup, likely leading to the Bills being a publicly backed favorite, but the Rams are unlikely to be significantly worse on defense without him, having added the talented Bobby Wagner to fill a big need at inside linebacker, while the Bills didn’t bring back a pair of key edge rushers from a year ago, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, and are going to be without top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the start of the season as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered late last season. White is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL when healthy and the Bills were noticeably worse defensively without him down the stretch last season, so that’s a huge absence for them.
In normal circumstances, there wouldn’t be quite enough line value with the Rams at +2.5 for them to be worth betting, but there are a couple circumstances working in their favor in this matchup. For one, defending Super Bowl champs tend to fare pretty well in their home opener, playing in front of their home crowd for the first time since winning the Super Bowl, going 12-4-1 ATS in that spot since 2005, including 9-2-1 ATS when not favored by more than a touchdown.
I would expect the Rams to play similarly well today, perhaps even more so, likely feeling disrespected as underdogs, just the second time a defending Super Bowl champion has been home underdogs in week 1 over the past 20 years (the Broncos beat the Panthers straight up as underdogs in 2016). The Rams will also benefit from being a Pacific time zone team playing an Atlantic time zone team at night, a spot in which teams cover at over a 60% rate, as teams accustomed to the Atlantic time zone tend to get tired and see their performance drop off in the second half of night games as a result. This isn’t a big play, but I like the Rams money line and against the spread in this one.
Los Angeles Rams 24 Buffalo Bills 23 Upset Pick +115
Pick against the spread: LA Rams +2.5