LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — The NFL stadium under construction in Inglewood will definitely be hosting the Super Bowl in 2022. But could one of the two local franchises moving into Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park when it is scheduled to open in 2020 hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy this season? The Chargers and Rams want to show that they have improved over last season and belong in the Super Bowl conversation. Let’s take a look at their strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2018 campaign.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-6)
New faces: DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, WR Brandin Cooks, CB Sam Shields.
Key losses: LB Robert Quinn, CB Trumaine Johnson, LB Alec Ogletree, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Tavon Austin, LB Connor Barwin, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
Strengths: Offense returns with every important part from last season’s highest-scoring team in NFL, including entire line. Offensive Player of Year Todd Gurley will be healthy, hungry after getting no playing time in entire preseason. Rams likely upgraded receiving corps by replacing Watkins with Cooks, who fits coach Sean McVay’s plans. Defense’s addition of three veteran stars should boost overall performance, particularly with two elite cornerbacks creating time for Aaron Donald and Suh to wreak havoc. Special teams units with four Pro Bowlers also return intact.
Weaknesses: Defensive Player of Year Donald missed second straight training camp in holdout. Regular-season schedule is NFL’s fifth toughest, with opponents carrying combined .523 winning percentage from 2017. Like most teams with big stars, roster is top-heavy at some positions, including quarterback, receiver, defensive line. Rams must hope untested Cory Littleton is capable replacement for leading tackler Ogletree. Linebacker Mark Barron has barely practiced and hasn’t played in camp or preseason. Right guard Jamon Brown suspended for first two games of season. Opposition might have better ideas on slowing down McVay’s offense in second year.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Gurley. Dynamic running back poised to remain prime fantasy contributor and centerpiece of offense. Gurley racked up 1,305 yards rushing and 788 yards receiving last year despite sitting out season finale and will have ball in his hands constantly.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 11-1. Over/under wins 10.
Expectations: Rams’ flashy offseason signings confirmed they expect to contend for first championship in 19 years. If McVay and Wade Phillips prove they weren’t one-season wonder combo, LA clearly has talent and experience to be among NFC’s top teams. Would be major step to defend NFC West title and win first back-to-back division crowns since 1979. Rams were solid road team last year, and contention will depend on surviving another midseason stretch with just two of nine games at Coliseum. Time to find out if McVay can do it again.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (9-7)
New faces: C Mike Pouncey, TE Virgil Green, S Derwin James, LB Uchenna Nwosu, QB Geno Smith, PK Caleb Sturgis, PK Roberto Aguayo.
Key losses: S Tre Boston, TE Antonio Gates, DL Jeremiah Attaochu, TE Hunter Henry (injury), CB Jason Verrett (injury).
Strengths: Ample talent in place to build on last season’s finish of nine wins in 12 games. Philip Rivers back for 13th consecutive season as starter along with formidable receiver corps led by Pro Bowler Keenan Allen. Pouncey already giving boost to run game with Melvin Gordon. Defense largely unchanged, but restocked with draft picks including James, Nwosu. Edge rusher Melvin Ingram has been monster in preseason. Have one of NFL’s easier schedules and have five-game winning streak at tiny StubHub Center, clearly unaffected by presence of opponents’ fans.
Weaknesses: Already lost starting TE Henry, former Pro Bowl CB Verrett to season-ending injury. Defense could be uneven, possibly lacking depth with questionable quality at linebacker and interior line. Run defense still not impressive after struggling last season. Still waiting to identify new kicker after four guys took turns failing at position last year, likely costing playoff berth with early-season woes.
Fantasy Players To Watch: WR Mike Williams. Last season’s seventh overall pick made no impact after starting slowly due to injury. That could change in huge way this season. Tall, speedy receiver has been outstanding in practices and preseason games, presenting big target for Rivers. Williams could be huge bargain in many leagues.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 15-1. Over/under wins 9.5.
Expectations: Bolts believe they’ve got Super Bowl contender after encouraging finish to last season. Season opener against Chiefs should establish early favorite in AFC West. Rivers poised for another strong season with no signs of slowing down. Continuity on roster and coaching staff should boost chances. Must survive six-week midseason stretch with only one home game and trip to London. If Chargers can avoid injury problems that popped up repeatedly for previous teams, future looks bright.
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