It wasn’t that long ago when the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers were both competing for a city’s heart, yet struggling to win games.
In 2016, the Los Angeles Rams, competing in the city for the first time in two decades, limped to a 4-12 record. Meanwhile, the Chargers, who were quietly playing out their last season in San Deigo, finished 5-11.
The big picture: Things are different now. The Rams are fresh off a Super Bowl run, one that was unsuccessful and met with little fanfare. The Chargers went 12-4, earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2013.
Both teams, of course, have the potential to be good again in the 2019 season. The question is, which team will reign supreme in Los Angeles?
Trouble in the city: It’s not really hard to see why Los Angeles residents are struggling to support two NFL franchises. They didn’t have a team’s game to attend on Sunday’s less than a half-decade ago. Still, the fans in L.A. have been slow to embrace either team.
At some point, the market is going to choose a team it favors, and one it does not.
- Ratings: Neither team enjoyed great rating success in their first seasons in Los Angeles, though the Chargers’ numbers were particularly bad in the 2017 season. They averaged a 6.0 rating, while the Rams, in their second season back in L.A., averaged an 8.0. Neither figure is exactly promising. To make matters worse for the Rams, Los Angeles’ Super Bowl ratings were below the national average.
- Tickets: The Chargers ranked last in the NFL in average attendance in 2018 and rarely managed to sell out their relatively tiny stadium. The Rams ranked 10th in league attendance on the season. Set to share a stadium in Inglewood in 2020, the two teams set drastically different prices for their season ticket spots, suggesting the Chargers are desperate for fans.
- Ruling: So far, the Rams have simply generated more buzz than the Chargers in LA. As late as last October, NFL officials were discussing the long-term viability of the Chargers in Los Angeles. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we have to give this category to the Rams.
Roster makeup: There may be a shortage of interest in both Los Angeles teams, but neither roster has a shortage of talent. Make no mistake, the Rams and Chargers are two of the most talented teams in the NFL. That is just is absurd when you consider where each team was just three seasons ago.
- Rams: How talented are the Rams? Talented enough to have made it to the Super Bowl a year ago despite a mostly debilitating injury to star running back Todd Gurley. Jared Goff is a solid quarterback with one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. Aaron Donald and the Rams defense should continue to do its thing. This group is insanely skilled.
- Chargers: Defense isn’t the flashiest thing in the world, but it supposedly wins championships. Just ask the New England Patriots. Led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Chargers’ defense is one of the best in the NFL. Quarterback Phillip Rivers is good and isn’t leaving anytime soon, while the backfield duo of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler is legit. All of those guys, coupled with the return of Hunter Henry, makes the Chargers’ offense scary.
- Ruling: This category is incredibly close for the two teams, but it ultimately comes down to two things: Phillip Rivers and everyone else. With the game on the line, Rivers can absolutely win it for his team. Goff is more of a game manager. And the rest of the Chargers’ roster is so abundantly talented, it’s impossible not to give this category to the Chargers.
Calling the shots: Coaching matters. You’d probably be hard-pressed to find someone that disagrees with that sentiment, but sometimes, it’s worth pointing out the obvious. With that, it’s not really surprising that the Chargers and Rams possess two of the NFL’s best coaches in Anthony Lynn and Sean McVay, respectively. But who has the edge?
- McVay: Sean McVay is perhaps the single most exciting young coach in the NFL, and he’s raced to a 24-8 record in two regular seasons since taking over. The 33-year old was named AP NFL Coach of the Year in 2017 and has already made a Super Bowl appearance. He’s good enough that other teams seemed to be seeking the next McVay in when hiring last offseason.
- Lynn: Anthony Lynn was good enough last year to bring the Chargers to the brink of an AFC West title, playing in the same division as the world-burning Kansas City Chiefs. He ranked No. 9 on Sporting News’ yearly pre-season rankings heading into the 2019 season and he finished second in last year’s Coach of the Year race.
- Ruling: This category is once again a tough call, but it ultimately has to go to McVay and the Rams. Lynn has been great in his time with the Chargers, but McVay’s success has been historic, and his appearance in the Super Bowl in February was more than enough to give him the edge over Lynn.
The bottom line: Of course, a lot more than just these three categories could be taken into account when determining which of Los Angeles’ teams will reign supreme 2019, but the nod goes to the Rams. The Chargers have done a lot to close the gap in the last year, emerging as surprise threats in the AFC, but the Rams have just been a notch ahead.
It’s fair to think that the Rams’ personality-filled locker room could implode, or at least cause the team to take a step back. But it’s also fair to wonder if an aging Phillip Rivers could finally regress this season at 37 years old. There’s a lot of moving parts for these two moving teams. For now, though, the Rams are the team in L.A., and the Chargers are the *other* team. Don’t expect that to change in 2019.