NFL Week 1 roundtable: Can Rams, Chargers end up in Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium?
The NFL season opens Thursday with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing host to the Dallas Cowboys. Can quarterback Tom Brady lead the way to another Super Bowl ring?
If so, he will do so in Inglewood at SoFi Stadium, the site of Super Bowl LVI on February 13, 2022. They aren’t the only team with championship aspirations, however, starting with the revamped Rams and Chargers.
So what can be expected? Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, Rams beat writer Gary Klein and Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller discuss the upcoming season, moderated by NFL editor Athan Atsales.
Do you think it is possible the Rams and Chargers could wind up in the Super Bowl?
Klein: It’s certainly possible for the Rams to keep up their end of that possible matchup. Just as they did before their 2018 Super Bowl season, the Rams went all in when they traded Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford.
Look, regardless of what Sean McVay or Les Snead says, the pressure is on the Rams to play in the Super Bowl. Do you think owner Stan Kroenke spent $5 billion to watch another NFC team be the center of attention in the palace he built on the biggest day of the sports calendar?
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The Chargers, with Justin Hebert at quarterback and Brandon Staley a defensive-minded coach, have some of the pieces to make a run, but with Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes in the AFC West that is going to be tough.
Farmer: In the NFL, where there’s so much competitive balance, anything is possible and that’s one of the reasons the league is so popular. Virtually every team starts every season with Super Bowl aspirations. The Rams don’t have Kansas City lurking, so they’re better situated than the Chargers. The NFC West is the league’s best division, top to bottom, but all those teams are beatable.
Something always seems to happen with the Chargers, and usually it’s a critical injury or injuries early. If they can stay healthy, which they haven’t been able to do, and Justin Herbert doesn’t have a sophomore slump, they’ll be in the mix. They have a lot of talented players. The Chiefs are scary, though, and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr quietly assembled a strong 2020 season.
So is it possible? Yeah, but it’s a real longshot. Then again, we’re coming off a season when a 43-year-old quarterback led his team to the first home-field Super Bowl victory, so …
Miller: No one on this panel — presumably — knows more about the Chargers than I do. And, from my view, there is virtually no chance of this team reaching Super Bowl LVI. So that means the Chargers will, of course, and then, once there, beat the Rams by five touchdowns.
No question, the Chargers have the quarterback and the play-makers on both sides of the ball to be legitimate postseason contenders. But to leap from going 12-20 over the previous two years to the NFL’s title game seems a bit overly ambitious.
The Chargers also have a rookie head coach, a first-year defensive coordinator (though Brandon Staley will call the defensive signals) and an offensive coordinator who lasted only a season and a half in his first OC gig.
As far as the Rams go, Gary and Sam both say they can make it to Super Bowl LVI … that’s good enough for me.
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What are the biggest challenges for the Rams and Chargers in their divisions?
Klein: The NFC West is one of the NFL’s toughest divisions. The three other division teams all can cause problems for the Rams, though McVay has dominated the Cardinals.
The 49ers were plagued by injuries last season -- and they beat the Rams twice. Who knows what Kyle Shanahan is going to do with Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance once the season gets rolling?
In Seattle, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll just keeps producing contenders. The Rams split with the Seahawks last season, and then beat them in the wild-card playoff game.
With Kyler Murray in Year 3, the Cardinals should be contending for a playoff spot, right? But they never seem to come through.
Miller: Justin Herbert nearly beat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in his hastily arranged NFL debut a year ago. The two could be on the verge of a long-time budding rivalry that the NFL would love to see happen. The Chargers haven’t finished first in the AFC West since 2009. They won’t end that streak in 2021 unless they can figure a way to topple the Chiefs. Neither the Raiders nor Broncos appear to be threats at this point. But, in the NFL, weird things can happen.
Farmer: In the AFC West it’s the Chiefs and everybody else, although they’re not entirely bulletproof. The Chargers had a big win at Kansas City a few years ago, and they have a rising superstar in Herbert.
The Rams need to get over the mental hump of beating San Francisco. They can get back to that place, but the 49ers have had the upper hand. Maybe Stafford gives the Rams fresh eyes on the situation. Arizona will be better. The Rams tend to play well against Seattle, and Aaron Donald can get to Russell Wilson.
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If the Rams and Chargers can emerge from their divisions into the playoff picture, who might be their biggest conference obstacles to reach the big game?
Farmer: The scary NFC teams are Tampa Bay, which returns everybody, and Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers is coming off an MVP season. Nobody in the NFC East is scaring anyone, and the rest of the NFC South seems toothless with Drew Brees gone and Matt Ryan struggling.
In the AFC, the Browns are a vogue Super Bowl pick, but it’s hard to see them making such a quantum leap, even though they have a lot of talent. The Bills are the team that could make a hard run at their first Lombardi Trophy. Josh Allen has some John Elway to him.
Klein: Last season, the Rams beat Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road, and lost to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in an NFC divisional-round playoff game.
The Buccaneers beat the Packers in the NFC championship game.
Those teams are probably the biggest NFC obstacles for the Rams — and they play both during the regular season. Brady and the Buccaneers come to SoFi Stadium on Sept. 26. The Rams play the Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 28.
Miller: Everyone is expecting great things from Buffalo and quarterback Josh Allen, who looks and plays a lot like Justin Herbert. Or is it Herbert who looks and plays a lot like Allen? Either way, the Bills will be formidable. I’d also expect Baltimore to be player in the AFC, although the Ravens have to survive Pittsburgh and Cleveland in their division. Then there’s Tennessee, a talented team that seems to always be fighting COVID-19.
If the Rams and Chargers did reach the Super Bowl, what kind of game would you anticipate with the teams’ hopes fulfilled.
Miller: The game likely would be entertaining. So would Super Bowl week, which would be seven days of hearing the national media complain about and mock everything regarding Southern California, including how the Raiders are still the most popular local team even though they stink out loud.
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Farmer: It would be wild. An All-LA Super Bowl in LA? In a brand-new stadium? Might tear a hole in the space-time continuum. It’s all fantasy football now, though.
Klein: The McVay-Staley matchup would certainly be interesting. The pressure would be on the Rams. Can’t imagine Kroenke would be high on tenant [Chargers owner] Dean Spanos, or however you want to define that arrangement, accepting the Lombardi Trophy in his house.
If the Rams and the Chargers do not reach the Super Bowl, who do you think might emerge from the AFC and NFC?
Klein: Kansas City or Buffalo (yes, I’m hedging) from the AFC. Tampa Bay from the NFC.
Miller: I’ll take Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers for $800, Alex. In the AFC, why not stick with Mahomes and Kansas City? Packers and Chiefs sounds like a classic matchup to christen new-age SoFi Stadium as a Super Bowl venue.
Farmer: Tom Brady in his second year is going to be more comfortable in Bruce Arians’ system. So I like Tampa Bay and Buffalo.
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