INGLEWOOD, Calif. — For nearly seven months, Sean McVay has told the Los Angeles Rams their Super Bowl championship guarantees them nothing in this new season except a banner.
The Rams will unveil that banner Thursday night at SoFi Stadium (5:20 p.m., NBC) before they get another reminder of just how little their championship on that same field last winter will mean this fall. The NFL chose Von Miller and the powerhouse Buffalo Bills as the Rams’ opponent in their season opener, practically ensuring a difficult start to a season in which they’re widely perceived to have the league’s toughest schedule.
“It feels like it was a long time ago,” said McVay, the youngest coach in NFL history to win it all. “It’s one that I’ll always cherish, but I think if you live in the past, you’re going to get exposed in the present. So we’re not going to do that.”
The Rams know they’ll get every opponent’s best shot this year, starting with a visit from a team holding serious championship aspirations of its own.
“Going in to play the defending Super Bowl champs and watching them raise their banner, that’ll be an interesting feeling, for sure,” Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen said. “I’ve talked to a few people that have played and coached in this game before, and just really the unanimous thing that they were talking about was it feels like playoff atmosphere.”
The Rams are Las Vegas underdogs in their first game since winning their franchise’s second Super Bowl title. In fact, the Bills could send Los Angeles to a place it has never been with McVay — below .500.
The Rams have never lost a season opener or had a losing record at any point in the tenure of McVay, who took over in 2017 and immediately built a perennial winner with general manager Les Snead.
Sean McDermott got his job in Buffalo one week before McVay, and the still-young coaches already have the sixth- and seventh-longest tenures in the league. But while McVay got the ultimate validation last season, McDermott is hoping this will be the year for the Bills’ first Super Bowl trip since the 1993 season.
The Rams already did it all in a season filled with superlatives, including the spectacular statistical campaign by Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp.
“The question we’re always trying to answer is, how can 2022 be better for the LA Rams?” Kupp said. “What can we do better? Who can we put on the field to stack blocks and build on this thing? Feels good to be back playing a meaningful game.”
While Miller makes his debut at linebacker for the Bills, he left behind championship memories with the Rams. He won the Super Bowl with the Rams after a trade with the Denver Broncos. He then signed with the Bills as a free agent.
While Los Angeles lost Miller to the Bills’ lucrative offer, it added two key veterans in free agency. Inside linebacker Bobby Wagner debuts as the defensive signal-caller for his hometown team after a decade in Seattle, while receiver Allen Robinson takes over as Kupp’s counterpart.
As for Miller, Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald enjoyed his brief chance to play with another fellow Hall of Fame-caliber defender. But Donald, a seven-time All-Pro, said he hasn’t spoken to Miller this week.
“If anything, we had conversations more about leadership things, being more of a vocal guy,” Donald said. “I give a lot of credit (to Miller) definitely for that playoff run. Having conversations with Von, I feel like he challenged me with some things as a vocal leader, and I stepped in when I needed to. Always respect and love Von for that. We created some special things, so we miss him.
“But he’s on the opposite side now, so he is the enemy.”
Miller said he has no advice for his new teammates on how to contain or stop Donald, a defensive destroyer.
“There is no weakness,” Miller said. “I’d be setting them up for failure if I tell them, like, ‘If you just do this, you’ll be all right.’ Like, he’s good at everything.
“Aaron Donald’s going to make plays, and we just got to find ways to make just one more play than those guys.”