The defending Super Bowl champions have hosted the NFL Kickoff Game in 17 of the last 18 years, and guess who the current Super Bowl champions are ... YOUR LOS ANGELES RAMS.
The Rams, who have never once played in the official “NFL Kickoff Game” that started with 2002 realignment, should now be expected to host somebody in the league’s opening game for the 2022 season. Which away team should they host to start next season?
The answer is usually that the NFL wants a game between two good teams, but not necessarily a game that will end up as L.A.’s most enticing on the schedule. Those are valuable primetime games that could still have value for the NFL and their network contracts and the league is well aware that people are going to tune into the NFL Kickoff Game no matter what anyway.
Putting Rams-Bills in Week 1 would be a waste to their TV dollars, even if it’s going to be hyped as a potential Super Bowl preview and one of the best games of 2022. That likely means, to me, that Rams-Bills will be a Monday or Sunday night contest somewhere in the middle of the season. Take the 2021 Bucs as an example: they hosted the Bills for America’s Game of the Week in Week 14, then the Saints on Sunday Night Football in Week 15.
I would also rule out NFC West division rivals. The last time a Super Bowl winner hosted a division rival in the opening game was Giants-Cowboys in 2012. Though it might make some sense for Week 1 to be Rams-Cardinals or Rams-Seahawks, it just doesn’t seem necessary and those games are going to draw eyeballs regardless.
The Panthers and Broncos are too boring, unless one of them adds Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson.
We haven’t seen non-conference opponents meet in the opening game since a Panthers-Broncos Super Bowl rematch in 2016. The Rams aren’t set to face the Bengals in 2022. They are set to face the Raiders and while I could see a Josh McDaniels-Sean McVay game, as well as a “new stadium teams” game as being pitch-worthy, the NFL has usually kept this contest as being within the conference rivalries.
That leaves the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys are always a good draw for TV and that will be the case again in 2022. However, they’re such a good draw that they were the opening game in 2021 against the Buccaneers. Plus, they played the first game in SoFi Stadium in 2020. Seeing Dallas in Los Angeles early in the season and America watching them in the kickoff game is almost too expected.
While I am not fully leaving out the Cardinals, Seahawks, or Raiders (49ers? Is it too good of TV for them to not hold off until a Thursday night game and a Week 18 game against San Francisco?), I would say the early favorite for L.A.’s Week 1 opponent is the Atlanta Falcons.
If they don’t trade Matt Ryan, the Falcons bring an established star quarterback, an exciting young tight end in Kyle Pitts, and potentially a sleeper to win the NFC South at a time when the division is up for grabs following retirements by Tom Brady and Sean Payton. The teams haven’t played since October 20, 2019, a 37-10 win for the Rams.
Who do you expect? Who do you want to see?
Here are the Rams away opponents for 2022:
San Francisco 49ers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers