The two NFL owners who had the biggest hand in the league’s return to Los Angeles were the Rams’ Stan Kroenke and the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones.
Saturday, their teams will square off at the Coliseum in the divisional round of the playoffs — on the three-year anniversary of the vote that sent the Rams back to L.A., no less.
Thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles’ 16-15 upset of the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Cowboys are returning to Southern California, where they spend part of training camp every year.
“When the NFL came back to Los Angeles, I had dreamed of a Super Bowl between the Rams and the Cowboys in that great metropolitan area — which, as we know, is impossible,” Jones wrote Monday in an email to the Los Angeles Times. “This is the next best thing because of it being in Los Angeles and how significant it is to the NFL, and how proud I am of Stan and the Rams franchise.
“I’m so excited about this game, I just can’t stand it. I’m so proud of the fact that we have the good will that we have in Los Angeles with regard to Stan and the Rams and the stadium that is being built. I’m so proud of that.”
The Rams and Cowboys have split eight playoff meetings, but that’s mostly ancient history relative to these teams. The last time they squared off in the playoffs was Jan. 4, 1986, before most of the current players were born. In fact, Rams coach Sean McVay was born 20 days later.
The morning after Cowboys-Rams, the Chargers will play at New England, where they lost the AFC championship game in the 2007 season. The Chargers advanced to the second round with a 23-17 victory at Baltimore.
“After that [Chargers-Ravens] game ended, I was up watching film all night,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Monday in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI. “That’s the way it is. This is the biggest week of the year for me; everything is focused on what we need to do. You can’t watch enough film on weeks like this.”
In the other divisional games, the Indianapolis Colts play at Kansas City and the Eagles visit New Orleans.
Coming off a wild-card weekend in which three of the four road teams won, the Eagles opened as 8½-point underdogs at New Orleans, where they suffered a 48-7 embarrassment in November.
“I think we’re a different football team now than we were then,” said Eagles coach Doug Pederson, whose team has been the underdog in five consecutive playoff games.
The Chargers are living proof of how teams can change from week to week. Their victory over the Ravens avenged a Week 16 loss to Baltimore in Carson, when they were as flat as a Johnny Unitas haircut.
So now the Ravens and Bears are out, the two most menacing defenses eliminated on the same day.
As for the Chargers, they have a brief but excruciating playoff history against the Patriots.
In the 2006 season, New England won at San Diego 24-21, toppling the top-seeded Chargers in the divisional round and rendering meaningless a 14-2 season. The Chargers fired coach Marty Schottenheimer after the loss, sterling regular-season record notwithstanding.
The next year, Norv Turner’s first as Chargers coach, the team got all the way to the AFC title game before losing to the Patriots 21-12. Quarterback Philip Rivers gritted through a torn anterior cruciate ligament during that bitter cold day in Foxborough, Mass.
Whereas the Patriots were 8-0 at home this season — the only team with an unblemished record in its own stadium — the Chargers are 9-1 on the road, counting their “home” game in London. The only away game they lost was to the Rams at the Coliseum.
Indianapolis will play at Kansas City, and that’s not a good matchup for the Chiefs.
The Colts, coming off a dominating performance at Houston, have won 10 of 11 after losing five of their first six games. They have been remarkably effective at protecting Andrew Luck, who was sacked an NFL-low 18 times. That strikes at the heart of what the Chiefs do well, as they finished tied for the league lead with 52 sacks.
Indianapolis finished the regular season a respectable fifth in scoring at 27.1 points a game, but that’s still more than a touchdown less than the NFL-leading Chiefs, who averaged 35.3.
According to Elias Sports, the touchdown passes by the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes (50) and Luck (39) are the most for any quarterback matchup in playoff history.
“He’s been very good at being creative, using the weapons they have,” Colts coach Frank Reich said Monday of Kansas City counterpart Andy Reid. “And they do have great weapons, spread the ball around, and having a quarterback like that who’s a playmaker, he’s had a tremendous year.”
Then, there’s the playoff history of these two clubs. Kansas City hasn’t won a postseason game at Arrowhead Stadium since 1993, whereas the Colts have won two there during that span. The Chiefs are 0-4 in playoff games against the Colts, five years ago falling in a remarkable 45-44 comeback orchestrated by Luck.
Although the Rams and Cowboys didn’t play this season, they have shared some commonalities and memorable moments in recent years.
Fans of both teams filled the Coliseum to the brim for a Saturday night exhibition opener in 2016, when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, then a relatively unheralded rookie, thrived in the ESPN spotlight. He was a star of the night.
The Rams were 35-30 winners at Dallas last season, a turning point for McVay’s team. It was a breakout game for Jared Goff, who had gone 0-7 as a rookie starter. He passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns without an interception and the Rams overcame an 11-point deficit in the first half to take the AT&T Stadium crowd out of the game.
The Cowboys are coming off a first-round victory over the Seattle Seahawks, with a stifling performance by their defense. But Dallas was 3-5 on the road, and the Rams were 7-1 at home.
Both teams have elite running backs, with the rested Todd Gurley returning for the Rams after resting his recuperating knee the last two games, and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott has won two of the last three league rushing titles.
In the email, Jones called the Cowboys-Rams matchup “right there with my best days in the NFL.”
“It has a feeling for me like you’re playing against a brother,” he said, “but we all know that can be the most competitive thing in the world.”