Alexander: It’s time for Rams, Chargers to seize the moment
It took 55 – er, LV – Super Bowls for a team to finally play (and win) one in its home stadium.
For an encore, how about two?
On Feb. 13, 2022, the NFL championship will be decided in Inglewood, under the transparent roof of SoFi Stadium, in the stadium that was not only the impetus for the return of pro football to Los Angeles but was part of a $5 billion (or more) project intended as the next generation of American stadia.
And wouldn’t it be a blast if the teams that made it to that championship game were the Rams and Chargers? Wouldn’t it be a kick if the teams that began the preseason facing each other in Inglewood, in the first game with fans in attendance in the year-old stadium, would be the same ones ending the season at SoFi with the eyes of the nation on them?
Pipedream? Yeah, probably. A lot needs to go right between now and then for both sides.
But if it were to happen, wouldn’t it be a glorious message to the rest of the continent? Hey, all of you envious fans who delight in chanting Beat L.A.? Either pick one or pipe down.
The oddsmakers, admittedly far more clear-eyed about these sorts of things, take a dimmer view. The BetOnline website lists 120-1 odds for a Rams-Chargers matchup, 45th out of 257 possible matchups. It shouldn’t be surprising that a Tampa Bay-Kansas City rematch is the top pick, at 14-1 odds, and a Rams-Chiefs pairing would be next at 28-1.
The road does seem slightly less treacherous for the Rams, who reached the divisional round last season and subsequently upgraded at quarterback with Matthew Stafford. They have star power – Stafford, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey – and should be solid favorites in the NFC West, which could well be the league’s toughest division. Their main concerns are (a) whether this offensive line will hold up all season, (b) what kind of an impact Sony Michel might have at running back, (c) how important Michael Brockers really was playing alongside Donald, and (d) is punter Johnny Hekker still Johnny Hekker?
The Chargers are the more intriguing story and capable of being the NFL’s biggest surprise. They were 7-9 in 2020 and got there only by winning their last four games. They lost six games by seven points or fewer and were abysmal on special teams, which helps explain why Anthony Lynn was fired as head coach and Brandon Staley was hired off of the Rams’ staff to replace him. The previous season under Lynn, coming off a playoff season, they were 5-11 and lost nine games by seven or less.
The return of safety Derwin James should make up a chunk of that ground. After missing all but the last five games of the 2019 season and all of 2020 due to injuries, James is back and healthy and primed to make a difference on a team that is also full of talent and star quality, with people like Joey Bosa and Keenan Allen and … have we mentioned the quarterback yet?
Is the combination of a healthy James and a more experienced Justin Herbert worth more than a touchdown per game? Book it.
Herbert was AP’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020, passing for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns and compiling a season-long 98.3 quarterback rating. And how foolish it seems now that the night Herbert was drafted at No. 6, his pick was essentially ignored by ESPN because of the network talent’s extended gushing over Tua Tagovailoa, picked No. 5 by Miami.
The scary part, if you’re an opponent? Herbert should and likely will get better.
“He’s a master in the office,” center Corey Linsley said recently, and remember that for the last seven seasons Linsley was snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. “… (Every) step of the way, his (Herbert’s) leadership is fantastic. The way he conducts himself, the operation. You’ve seen little things that might have gone wrong in the beginning of camp, not go wrong anymore. All of that, solving problems, builds confidence for us.”
The Chargers are a trendy wild card pick in the AFC, assuming they can figure out the puzzle of close games. They face two-time conference champ and Super Bowl LIV winner Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes on the road in Week 3 and get them at home in Week 15, a Thursday night game. Beyond that, the schedule seems set up for a Chargers run.
(Still to be determined, in this first season at SoFi with fans in attendance, is whether home games will really feel like home games for a change. Stay tuned.)
We know. It’s way too soon to look ahead to not only the first L.A.-area Super Bowl in XXIX years but the possibility of L.A. vs. L.A. But that didn’t stop someone from asking Ramsey last week whether the possibility might provide added incentive.
“Oh yeah, a little extra, I would say,” he said. “It would be cool to play at your own home stadium for the Super Bowl, but that’s the goal for everybody – to be playing in February anyway.”
So why not think big, right?
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter