Los Angeles is always crying out for the next big thing. It’s just how Tinseltown works.
Luckily for the Chargers – which are returning to L.A. after 55 years in San Diego – they are well set up to steal the hearts of fans who’ve waited far too long for competitive NFL football (the 2016 Rams definitely don’t count).
Here’s why the Chargers could become the next big thing in the City of Angels:
Rivers is L.A.’s first NFL superstar
Not only were the 4-12 Rams a major disappointment in their first season in L.A., they utterly lacked the star power that the city desperately desires.
Todd Gurley was coming off an outstanding rookie season, but Los Angeles residents watched as the dynamic threat that played in St. Louis looked like just another guy in 2016.
The Rams’ other main star attraction, 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, put together one of the worst rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history, just outperforming the first year of one of the league’s biggest busts, Ryan Leaf, according to Chase Stuart of footballperspective.com.
Goff has the good looks, affable charm, and name recognition to be a star in L.A., but it’s going to take him years to prove he’s worthy of being the Rams’ starter, let alone convincing the city he’s worthy of its adoration.
Luckily for the Chargers, they’ll have no such problem. Despite being 35 years old, Philip Rivers is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league, with a gung-ho style that will likely quickly endear him to the people of L.A.
Rivers might not be an electric personality off the field, but after watching Case Keenum and Goff combine to form maybe the least interesting tandem in the league, L.A. will be grateful just to see what an NFL quarterback actually looks like.
Super Bowl sleeper
Few saw the Falcons dominating the NFC and making the Super Bowl prior to the 2016 season, and the Chargers are one of the candidates to emulate Atlanta’s surprising rise in 2017.
The Chargers haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, haven’t won double-digit games since 2009, and have lost 23 regular-season games over the past two seasons. Despite all this, they have the talent to fight for the AFC West crown, though it will be difficult considering it’s arguably the best division in football.
The Chargers finished 5-11 in 2016, but were 1-5 in one-score games. Their inability to close out tight games, along with injuries to the likes of Keenan Allen, means they’re closer to being competitive than their record suggests.
Teams that are this bad in one-score games often see their record in such situations move back to around .500 or better the following year, as consistently highlighted by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell. The change at head coach from Mike McCoy to Anthony Lynn should also infuse the team with new life.
The Chargers boast more talent than your average 5-11 team. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are already one of the league’s scariest pass-rushing duos. Allen should back healthy for 2017, heading a receiving corps that now has first-rounder Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, and Tyrell Williams, as well as tight ends Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates. Cornerback Jason Verrett is maybe the league’s most underrated defender.
With an outstanding draft class and Rivers still capable of putting together an MVP-type campaign, the Chargers might be one of 2017’s surprise “it” teams.
Void in L.A. sports scene
While sports in L.A. isn’t in a slump right now, business isn’t exactly booming, either.
The beloved Lakers haven’t made the playoffs since the 2012-13 season, and have failed to hit the 30-win mark in the four seasons since. Earning the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, which likely will be used on Lonzo Ball, signals that the Lakers could be primed to return to relevance. However, it’s still a process that will likely take years, especially considering the strength of the Western Conference.
The Clippers have star power, but their two main attractions, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, are both free agents this offseason. It’s likely both re-sign in L.A., with Paul the more certain of the two to stay, but the Clippers will still be keeping intact a core that hasn’t come close to winning a championship. And if the worst happens, and Paul and Griffin both leave, the Clippers are in danger of slipping back into obscurity.
USC, and the Galaxy, Angels, and Kings range from solid to unremarkable, certainly not enough to draw the attention of a fickle L.A. market. The Dodgers are really the only team keeping the L.A. sports scene afloat, boasting genuine championship aspirations and maybe the best player in all of baseball in pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
The less said about the Rams the better. Goff’s rookie struggles have been mentioned here and analyzed to death since the end of the 2016 season. He deserves more time to bring out the talent he showed in college, but until he does, it will be difficult for the Rams to be anything other than a boring, middle-of-the-pack team that is a long shot to even fight for a wild-card spot over the next few seasons – the type of team L.A. will take a quick glance at and then discard without a second thought.
In short, L.A. has room in its heart for a new, exciting sports team – and the Chargers could fill that void.
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