If Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills are in fact worthy Super Bowl favourites in 2022, as growing off-season buzz suggests, they can start proving it at the get-go.
The NFL on Thursday night announced this year’s regular-season schedule, and kicking it all off in prime-time on Sept. 8 will be the Bills at the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams — in the league’s now-traditional, Thursday-after-Labour-Day curtain-raiser.
Let’s say it because it’s true: This is the highest-profile regular-season game the Bills ever have been picked for — if not in the franchise’s 63-year existence, then at least this century.
All eyes in the football world will be on them. At North America’s glitziest sports venue, SoFi Stadium. In Hollywood. No doubt with a parade of celebrity royalty in attendance, flashing across our widescreens throughout.
And it’s only the first of a slew of delicious Week 1 NFL matchups. More on the others in a moment.
But that this Buffalo team was chosen by the manically viewership-obsessed NFL over the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and resurgent, new-look Denver Broncos is the ultimate verification that — for a livin’ fact — Allen is a true NFL superstar, and the Bills are a default 2020s powerhouse.
Yeah, that’s how far Buffalo GM Brandon Beane and his head coach and good buddy Sean McDermott have taken this once long-time sad-sack franchise.
Although two of the NFL’s best defenders remain on the Rams, in uber-disruptive tackle Aaron Donald and the league’s top cover cornerback in Jalen Ramsey, an impact pass rusher the club acquired via trade last season — Von Miller — is now a Buffalo Bill.
The 33-year-old Miller signed with the Bills as a free agent two months ago, for a reported $120 million over six years. He brings an elite pass-rush element the Bills defence lacked.
Because last month they extended star wide receiver Stefon Diggs for a reported $104 million over four years, the Bills — unlike the Rams — return all of their impact 2021 performers. The club locked up Allen, long term, last summer.
So it’ll be Josh Allen vs. Matthew Stafford to get things rolling. Mouths already are watering at the thought.
And if that alone weren’t enough …
OTHER WEEK 1 CAPTIVATORS
There are too many captivating opening-weekend matchups to list here. But the two other Week 1 prime-timers are simply enormous:
- Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT. The first Steelers game of the post-Ben era presumably with see either veteran free-agent signee Mitchell Trubisky or first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett starting at quarterback. Against the defending AFC champs.
- New England at Miami, Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT. Well, well. Supposed defensive mastermind Bill Belichick (did you watch those last two Patriots games vs. Allen and the Bills last December and January?!) gets to be the first to try to figure out how to stop ex-Chiefs superstar receiver Tyreek Hill in a Dolphins uniform.
- San Francisco at Chicago, Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT. Expected matchup of 2021 first-round, dual-threat QBs, in the Niners’ Trey Lance and the Bears’ Justin Fields.
- Kansas City at Arizona, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EDT. Patrick Mahomes vs. Kyler Murray, each no doubt feeling he has a lot to prove in ’22. Ought to be high-scoring fun.
- Las Vegas at Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EDT. A rematch of the last game of the 2021 regular season that determined the last playoff spot. Do the Chargers exact revenge?
- Green Bay at Minnesota, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EDT. Welcome to the NFL, new Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. And how will Aaron Rodgers fare without Davante Adams?
- Tampa Bay at Dallas, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. EDT. Rematch of last year’s NFL kickoff game, but on the Cowboys’ home turf. Tom Brady, a month after turning 45, faces Dak Prescott, two months after he turns 29.
- Denver at Seattle, Monday, 8:15 p.m. EDT. Russell Wilson will be there all right — just wearing white, orange and blue for the visiting Broncos, not the green and blue of the host Seahawks, with whom he played for the first 10 seasons of his pro career. It’s possible this fact could be mentioned in the leadup that week, and possibly once or twice during the first Monday Night Football game called by former long-time No. 1 Fox pairing of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. “Wow, that’s a great way to start,” Buck told NFL Network. Added Aikman: “I think he’s going to get a great welcoming reception there in Seattle — and he should.”
OTHER QB DEBUTS
- Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns. Unless he’s suspended for however many games to start the season, Watson on Sunday, Sept. 11 would make his Browns debut as starting quarterback at Carolina, one of three finalist bidders for his services two months ago. Perhaps the Panthers will get the last laugh should they trade for humbled and shamed ex-Browns starter Baker Mayfield, or sign him should Cleveland grant him his outright release.
- Matt Ryan, Indianapolis Colts. Division game, at Houston. Ryan’s first start in the NFC, after 14 seasons in the NFC with the Atlanta Falcons.
- Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders. Both Wentz, as starting QB, and the Commanders, as permanent nickname replacement, make their Washington debuts at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
NEW COACHES’ DEBUTS
Nearly a third of the league’s teams — 10 — have a new head coach in 2022. Here are their first opponents, in Week 1, either on Sunday, Sept. 11 or Monday, Sept. 12:
- CHICAGO BEARS: Matt Eberflus, vs. San Francisco.
- DENVER BRONCOS: Nathaniel Hackett, at Seattle.
- HOUSTON TEXANS: Lovie Smith, vs. Indianapolis.
- JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Doug Pederson, at Washington.
- LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: Josh McDaniels, at L.A. Chargers.
- MIAMI DOLPHINS: Mike McDaniel, vs. New England.
- MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Kevin O’Connell, vs. Green Bay.
- NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Dennis Allen, at Atlanta.
- NEW YORK GIANTS: Brian Daboll, at Tennessee.
- TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Todd Bowles, at Dallas.
OTHER TV CREW DEBUTS
- The first Sunday Night Football game on NBC with Mike Tirico as the new permanent play-by-play man pits Tampa Bay at Dallas.
- The first Thursday Night Football game on Amazon Prime Video, with Al Michaels on play-by-play and new sidekick Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN College GameDay and Saturday-night NCAA-game-of the-week fame, has the Chargers at the Chiefs.
The tripleheader this year has Buffalo at Detroit, New York Giants at Dallas and New England at Minnesota in prime time.
Three of the following five matchups are finalists for a tripleheader on the Saturday before Christmas weekend, Dec. 17: Miami at Buffalo, Baltimore at Cleveland, Indianapolis at Minnesota, Atlanta at New Orleans and the Giants at Washington.
With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, the NFL will move most of its Sunday games that week a day early, to Saturday. After a ho-hum Thursday-nighter (Jacksonville at the New York Jets) heading into Christmas weekend, there will be 11 games on Saturday, Christmas Eve: eight in early afternoon, two in late afternoon, and one on Christmas Eve eve: the Raiders at the Steelers.
There’s a tripleheader on Christmas Day: Green Bay at Miami at 1 p.m. EST, Denver at the Rams at 4:30 p.m. EST and Tampa Bay at Arizona at 8:20 p.m. EST.
Boxing Day has the Monday-nighter, the Chargers at the Colts at 8:15 p.m. EST.
All 16 Week 18 games to conclude the regular season will be played Sunday, Jan. 8.
For the third straight year it’ll be a 14-team field.
Six wild-card games will be played from Saturday, Jan. 14 to Monday, Jan. 16.
Four divisional-round games are on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 21-22.
Conference championship games go back-to-back on Jan. 29.
Super Bowl LVII at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium is on Feb. 12.
CANADA VS. CANADA
Miami’s Canadian-born star safety, Jevon Holland of Coquitlam, B.C., is due to face off on the field against Canada-born or raised wide receivers — on Sept. 11 (New England’s Toronto-born N’Keal Harry), Oct. 23 (Pittsburgh’s Abbotsford, B.C.-born-and-raised Chase Claypool), Nov. 27 (Houston’s Brampton-raised John Metchie III), Dec. 11 (L.A. Chargers’ Toronto-born and Brampton-raised Josh Palmer) and Jan. 1 (Harry again).
Dallas might have one of the four easiest schedules, based on last year’s records, but the Cowboys’ start is nothing to ridicule — vs. Tampa Bay in prime time, vs. Cincinnati, Monday night at the Giants, vs. arch-rival Washington, and at the Rams … For the second straight year both Bills-Patriots games will be played after November, the first at New England on the Thursday following U.S. Thanksgiving, the second at Buffalo on the last day of the season … Doug Pederson brings his Jacksonville Jaguars into Philadelphia on Sunday, Oct. 2. Yeah, Philly … Lovie Smith takes his Houston Texans to Chicago on Sept. 25. Yeah, Chicago … Wentz and Washington play at Indy on Oct. 30. Devil’s Night … If he’s able to play, Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns play at Houston on Dec. 4 … Russell Wilson will face off against the following QBs over the last six weeks: Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, K.C.’s Patrick Mahomes, Arizona’s Kyler Murray, the Rams’ Matthew Stafford, Mahomes again, and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert. Eesh.