LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-12)
New faces: Coach Sean McVay, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Robert Woods, LT Andrew Whitworth, LB Connor Barwin, C John Sullivan, CB Kayvon Webster.
Key losses: WR Kenny Britt, TE Lance Kendricks, OL Greg Robinson, WR Brian Quick, S T.J. McDonald, DL William Hayes, DL Dominique Easley (injury), QB Case Keenum.
Strengths: Defense should remain solid in Phillips’ new scheme. D-line has looked sharp in preseason despite depletion, and will get big boost when (if?) All-Pro DT Aaron Donald ends holdout. Watkins, Woods provide much-improved targets for Jared Goff. Offensive line appears to be upgraded significantly. Team energy has improved with arrival of McVay, youngest head coach in modern NFL history.
Weaknesses: Offense still must prove its competence after two terrible seasons. McVay doesn’t have wealth of personnel options, but is building scheme to take advantage of few strengths. Goff under big spotlight after unimpressive rookie campaign, but is dedicated to improvement. Defensive depth looks sketchy, particularly on line and in secondary.
Fantasy Players To Watch: RB Todd Gurley looks rejuvenated in preseason after inexplicably poor relocation season. Watkins will get ample opportunity to pad stats in potential contract year. TE Tyler Higbee could be sleeper with McVay expected to target tight ends with many passes. CB Trumaine Johnson will be out to prove his worth with big contract on tap for 2018.
Expectations: After 12-year playoff absence and 13 straight non-winning seasons, postseason return seems like long shot in McVay’s first year. More realistic to expect incremental offensive improvement, groundwork set for future. If Donald’s holdout lingers deep into season, future of franchise could take hit. Best guess for finish is 6-10.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-11)
New faces: Coach Anthony Lynn, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, LT Russell Okung, WR Mike Williams.
Key losses: OT King Dunlap, LB Manti Te’o, CB Brandon Flowers, G D.J. Fluker, WR Stevie Johnson, RB Danny Woodhead, OG Forrest Lamp (injured), LB Denzel Perryman (injured ankle).
Strengths: QB Philip Rivers hasn’t missed game in 11 years and remains among NFL’s best. After rough 2016, he now has ample targets with improved health of Keenan Allen. Injured rookie WR Mike Williams also should help out at some point. Offensive line likely improves with Okung protecting Rivers’ blind side. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram among best pass-rushing duos in game. Secondary looks reinvigorated after return of CB Jason Verrett.
Weaknesses: Injuries already creeping in yet again for team that hasn’t stayed healthy last two years. Offensive line would have been better with rookie Forrest Lamp, who’s lost for season with torn ACL. Perryman’s absence leaves inexperience up middle likely until October. First-round pick Williams (back) still hasn’t played, hampering his development. They’re also going with rookie K Younghoe Koo, who must prove himself under pressure.
Fantasy Players to Watch: Rivers always puts up numbers. RB Melvin Gordon will get ample carries. WR Tyrell Williams could see plenty of balls with defenses focusing on Allen. Bosa, Ingram look unstoppable again with chance to rack up sacks in bunches.
Expectations: Although relocation season brings many uncertainties, major improvement seems possible for team that was crushed by injuries for final two seasons in San Diego. Lynn has brought strong leadership to first head coaching job, while Bradley and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt are seasoned tacticians. Chargers have ample offensive talent for Rivers, and Bradley’s 4-3 defense should have personnel to succeed. Best scenario is 9-7 with shot at playoff berth, but AFC West probably is best NFL division.
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