The Chargers and Rams both were man-handled during road losses to the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers, respectively. Of course, they are both very much in the playoff hunt, but matters are not looking as super in SoCal as they were a month ago. Moderated by Los Angeles Times NFL editor Athan Atsales, Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller and NFL writer Sam Farmer discuss the teams' futures:
It's not a coincidence that the Rams seem to have lost their identity on offense since receiver Robert Woods was sidelined with knee injury, is it? Or am I missing something?
Klein: You’re not missing anything. You’re right on target, which is what Sean McVay no doubt wished Matthew Stafford had been as he watched the Packers return an interception for a touchdown — the third time in three games an opponent came up with a pick six. Before he was injured, Woods did not have near as many catches as Cooper Kupp. He is not as flashy as Odell Beckham Jr. But Woods, as Van Jefferson reiterated Sunday, was the heart and core of the team because of pass-catching skills, his knowledge of the offense and his willingness to do the dirty work. As I was sitting in the press box watching the Rams facing third-and-medium distances for first downs, I thought, “This is where they really miss Woods,” because of his ability to make tough catches in traffic and the flexibility he gave McVay to free other receivers.
Farmer: There’s no question the Rams are missing Robert Woods. Just look at the way defenses can zero in on Cooper Kupp without the threat of Woods on the field. They are two No. 1 receivers and that’s really hard to replace. Odell Beckham Jr. isn’t the answer, nor is Van Jefferson, even though he has come a long way in his second year. The Rams are going to have to find creative ways to get Kupp open, and that’s no simple task without a consistent running game.
What do you think are the latest issues hindering the Chargers' offense?
Miller: The issues Sunday were pressure on Justin Herbert and the inability to consistently run the ball. Denver had 19 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and that’s a season worst for the Chargers. Their offensive line against the Broncos featured only two players who were starters to open the season. It showed.
What do you think has led Matthew Stafford to have so many passes intercepted after a great start, when he had just four in eight games?
Klein: McVay said every Stafford turnover has a different narrative — and he is not wrong. Some interceptions have resulted from poor decisions or throws by Stafford. At least one resulted from tight end Tyler Higbee not securing the ball on a catch. And some resulted from great anticipation and plays by talented opponents. But the bottom line is that quarterbacks are responsible for what happens when the ball is in their hands. They get credit when receivers or running backs catch short passes and turn them into long touchdowns. They bear responsibility when they fumble or passes are intercepted. Stafford has been in the league a long time. He won’t experience a confidence crisis. This streak of three pick sixes in three consecutive games will end.
Farmer: Tough guy, amazingly strong arm, stellar deep ball, average accuracy. Right, not all of those interceptions can be attributed to Stafford, but he’s made his share of mistakes. At least two of his misfires slipped through the hands of Packers defenders, too. The Rams are falling behind early and too often Stafford is looking to get them back in it with chunk plays. Pick-sixes in three consecutive games? That shouldn’t be happening.
At this point, do you think the Chargers still will make the playoffs? Of course they could, but there are only two potentially "easy games" remaining, and they also have three more always-tough division games.
Farmer: Of course that could happen. The AFC West is knotted tighter than any division in football, and any one of those four teams could get hot down the stretch. But the Chargers have to do a better job of stopping the run. As the weather turns colder, teams are going to keep it on the ground more and more, controlling the clock and relegating opposing offenses to spectator status.
Miller: They remain the AFC’s No. 7 seed even after the loss Sunday. So, yeah, the Chargers can still absolutely make the postseason. But that was a brutal loss in Denver since it was in the conference and in the division and came against a team behind them in the standings. Beating a team in front them now — like, hey, Cincinnati this weekend — would be major.
Klein: The Chargers will make the playoffs. They must so we can continue talking about a possible Rams-Chargers Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium, right?
If the Rams don't take care of business and beat the Jaguars at home next week, and considering the remaining schedule, how difficult would it be for them to make the playoffs?
Klein: The Rams are going to beat the Jaguars. There is no way that Jalen Ramsey will allow the Rams to lose to the team he escaped from. And as good as No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence might become, he’s a rookie facing Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd for the first time. The Rams have a tough schedule after that. Arizona on the road and more holiday weekend trips to Minnesota and Baltimore. Home NFC West games against the Seahawks and 49ers. Barring a complete collapse, the Rams can win only three of their remaining games and still make the playoffs.
Farmer: Again, Rams too can make the playoffs. Teams have turned it around after worse stretches. But their confidence is eroding with each loss, and opponents — Tennessee, San Francisco, Green Bay — have put a recipe out there for beating them. Really rough schedule to finish the regular season.
This could change, as the NFL does from week to week, but with an all-L.A. Super Bowl less likely after Week 12, what other team in the AFC and the NFC would you guess will reach the Super Bowl.
Miller: Right now, the trending teams are probably New England and Green Bay, right? In another week, it could be two completely different teams. I still think Kansas City might get on a crazy run and — by now! — haven’t we figured out that Tom Brady is always relevant when it comes to discussing the Super Bowl?
Farmer: In the AFC, I like New England and Indianapolis. Both have the components necessary to win in January. In the NFC, Tampa Bay and Green Bay are going to put up good fights, and Arizona is really fun to watch. As the Cardinals continue to get healthy their confidence is only going to grow.
Klein: Hey, let’s not take an all-L.A. Super Bowl off the table! If/when the Rams and Chargers make the playoffs, they probably won’t be favorably seeded. They will have to beat good teams on the road. But we all know that a team does not have to be great in Week 12. They just need to get hot enough to win three playoff games to reach the Super Bowl. But since you asked, the Chiefs in the AFC and the Packers in the NFC.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.