LOS ANGELES – Two Januarys ago, after a disastrous debut season for the NFL in Los Angeles, there were no delusions of Super Bowl grandeur to be found in the Southland. The Rams were an unwatchable mess, still feeling the prolonged hangover of the Jeff Fisher era. The Chargers were an unwanted enigma, with nine wins in their last two seasons.
Both had just fired their coaches. After more than two decades without the NFL, a single season had made Los Angeles a league-wide punchline.
Sign up ( https://www.dailybulletin.com/newsletter ) for Home Turf and get exclusive stories every SoCal sports fan must read, sent daily. Subscribe here ( https://www.dailybulletin.com/newsletter ) .No one is laughing now. As the NFL postseason begin next weekend, the Rams and Chargers are now indisputably two of the league’s most dangerous playoff teams, each with designs on hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
For the Chargers, that pursuit begins next week in Baltimore. For the Rams, a week off awaits before a divisional round matchup at home against either the Bears, Seahawks or Cowboys.
For either, a Super Bowl victory would forever shift the city’s sports paradigm. And if they happen to both make it that far, well … there’s no telling what might happen here.
Of course, it’s a long road for both until that point. But at their best, both have certainly looked the part of serious Super Bowl contenders. The Rams didn’t lose a single contest until November, while the Chargers have won close game after close game, in every possible fashion, exorcising demons that once haunted them whenever the spotlight beckoned. Only once this season did either team lose consecutive games.
Neither, though, has looked all that convincing down the season’s final stretch. Over the past month, a Rams offense that once paced the league stalled at the worst possible time, before running over two inferior opponents to close out the season. The Chargers squandered their chances at home-field advantage with an ill-timed sequence of miscues against the Ravens and Broncos, as they briefly reverted back to their mistake-prone ways.
Both L.A. teams are potentially as vulnerable as they are vicious. Which, in these particular playoffs, means they should fit right in.
The road to this Super Bowl is as wide open as its been in recent memory. There are no overwhelming favorites and no obvious write-offs. The Chiefs and Saints will be the betting favorites, and it’s hard to argue with either. But there’s a compelling case to be made that just about anyone can win it all. In the same way, there’s just as much reason to believe any of the team’s in this year’s field could fall apart.
The Chiefs have an historic offense – and a quarterback that threw 50 touchdowns in his first season a starter – but they also boast one of the worst defenses to make the playoffs in years. The Bears have the league’s stingiest defense, but an offense that often forgets how to score without its defense’s help. And then, there’s the Eagles, whose Super Bowl hangover nearly lasted through December, before lifting just in time for them to round into postseason form and slip into the last wild card spot.
Recent history tells us that circumstance is as crucial as anything this time of year. Home-field advantage makes a gargantuan difference. Not since 2013 has a Super Bowl participant had to win a playoff game on the road before the Big Game. It’s why the Patriots, who won the AFC East for the 10th straight season in spite of their obvious mediocrity, can’t be ruled out.
The odds are stacked even further against wild card teams, who have only made the Super Bowl 10 times since the system was implemented nearly 50 years ago. Over the past decade, only one wild card (the 2010 Packers) has managed to run the table.
But this season, that history may not apply. These are no ordinary wild cards. The Colts won nine of 10 to finish out the season. The Eagles won five of six and have the hottest quarterback in the NFL – and last year’s Super Bowl MVP – at the helm. The Seahawks have Russell Wilson, a grinding run game and the league’s best turnover margin. And the Chargers were one defensive stop of the Broncos away from securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
https://i2.wp.com/scng-dash.digitalfirstmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/CHARGERS_BRONCOS_FOOTBALL_28094095.jpg?fit=620%2C9999px&ssl=1 Chargers rookie safety Derwin James and his teammates will be looking to redeem themselves in next week’s rematch with the Baltimore Ravens, the team that handed the Chargers a humbling loss on Dec. 22. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)Any of those four could jump-start a run next weekend, but the most difficult road may belong to the Chargers, who just a week ago were shut down by Ravens’ stalwart defense. Even with a victory on the road in Baltimore, assuming the Texans defeated the Colts, the Chargers would then have to travel back to Kansas City, where they staged a thrilling comeback victory ( https://www.ocregister.com/2018/12/13/chargers-stun-kansas-city-chiefs-on-late-two-point-conversion-clinch-playoff-berth/ ) this month. Before that Thursday night, they hadn’t beat the Chiefs since Dec. 2013.
The Rams may also find themselves matched up with an opponent that recently took them to the woodshed. If the Bears can beat the Eagles next Sunday, they’ll again face the Rams, who they held to just six points earlier this month ( https://www.ocregister.com/2018/12/09/rams-melt-down-in-frigid-chicago-miss-chance-to-clinch-first-round-playoff-bye/ ) . This time, at least, that game would be played at home, and a victory, barring an upset, would likely send them to New Orleans, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Two years ago, those aspirations were no more than a pipe dream. But now, with a wide-open postseason ahead, L.A.’s pair of NFL teams find themselves in the thick of a Super Bowl race, with one, simple directive.
“Just find a way to win,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. “Nobody cares how. Just find a way to advance.”
A first look at the playoff matchups:
Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5)
When: 1:35 p.m., Saturday
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
The Colts win if … Indy’s offensive line can give Andrew Luck enough time to make plays downfield. Luck went five games without taking a sack earlier this season.
The Texans win if … Houston can force turnovers on defense and eliminate them on offense. The Texans are tied for 2nd in the NFL in turnover differential; the Colts were 15th.
Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
When: 5:15 p.m., Saturday
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
The Seahawks win if … They can stay on schedule and establish the run game. Seattle is built to wear teams down with long drives, but the challenge with the Cowboys is how similarly they’re built.
The Cowboys win if … Dak Prescott can continue to be an efficient passer. Since Week 10, Prescott is completing over 73 percent of his passes. The Cowboys are 6-1 during that stretch.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (11-5)
When: 1:40 p.m., Sunday
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
The Eagles win if … They can force the Bears offense into long third-down situations. Mitch Trubisky is one of the worst downfield passers in the NFL this season.
The Bears win if … Nick Foles is consistently pressured inside the pocket. Foles has been impressive recently, but pressure has always been his Achilles heel.
Culled from: https://www.dailybulletin.com/2018/12/30/kartje-in-wide-open-super-bowl-race-rams-and-chargers-are-serious-contenders/
December 30, 2018 at 9:28 pm
Author : gqlshare