Intra-city rivals will clash in the preseason opener on Saturday night when the Los Angeles Rams take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Sofi Stadium. The Rams will look to defend their Super Bowl title after lifting the Lombardi Trophy last February following a 12-5 regular season. A loaded Chargers team is expected to take a step forward after narrowly missing a playoff berth with a 9-8 record.
These teams also met to open the 2021 preseason, with the Chargers winning a 13-6 defensive struggle.
Rams open Super Bowl title defenseThe one-piece missing for the Rams prior to 2021 was quarterback, and the addition of Matthew Stafford paid immediate dividends as they won Super Bowl LVI with a dramatic triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals. With most key pieces returning to play for one of the NFL's best head coaches in Sean McVay, the Rams are among the betting favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy again this season.
McVay is adamant about playing few if any starters during the preseason, and with Stafford currently nursing an elbow injury, we certainly won't see him at all on Saturday. That will leave the quarterback rotation down to backup John Wolford, third stringer Bryce Perkins, and former USFL signal caller Luis Perez. Wolford might not even play since he's currently the starter in training camp with Stafford out.
The Rams went winless across the three preseason games in 2021, getting outscored 47-34 as the offense didn't have much of a sense of urgency. McVay is now 6-9 in his preseason career, although last year's results may be more indicative of what we see moving forward given how he has only become more reluctant to play any starters at all over time.
This was a strong regular offense a year ago with an average of 27.1 points and 373.2 yards per game to rank seventh in the NFL in both categories. The defense was closer to the middle of the pack, allowing 21.9 points and 333 yards per contest.
With all the stars out, one player to watch will be second-year receiver Tutu Atwell, a 2021 second-round pick who is making some noise in camp after being limited to special teams duty in his rookie campaign. A fellow second-year player in Jake Funk is also trying to climb the depth chart at running back and will feature prominently after turning in a strong preseason in 2021.
Some key players in addition to Stafford are nursing injuries, including safety Jordan Fuller (ankle), corner Jalen Ramsey (shoulder), wideout Van Jefferson (knee) and linebacker Leonard Floyd (ankle). Wide receiver Brandon Powell (knee), linebacker Chris Garrett (groin), running back Kyren Williams (foot), tight end Jacob Harris (groin), running back Xavier Jones (Achillies), linebacker Travin Howard (groin) and safety Quentin Lake (undisclosed) are also dealing with injury trouble.
Chargers expected to take step forward under StaleyThe Chargers fell heartbreakingly short of earning a playoff berth last season in the first year under head coach Brandon Staley, something they will look to rectify in 2022. After making several additions in the offseason to address a few needs behind superstar quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers are getting a ton of buzz as a potential challenger to the Kansas City Chiefs in the loaded AFC West.
As Staley comes from the McVay coaching tree, he shares a similar philosophy about using starters in the preseason, and Herbert among several others won't be on the field at all come Saturday. The quarterback rotation will be veteran backup Chase Daniel, former North Dakota State standout Easton Stick, and Brandon Peters, an undrafted rookie out of Illinois.
Los Angeles went 1-2 in the preseason last year to begin the Staley era, with the only win coming in the defensive struggle against these Rams. Their other defeats came by a 15-10 scoreline to the San Francisco 49ers followed by a 27-0 beatdown against the Seattle Seahawks, as the offense didn't do much throughout the preseason.
That likely won't hold true in the regular season after the Chargers were top five in 2021 at 27.9 points per game on 390.2 yards per contest, the fourth-best in the NFL. Defense was another story with the Chargers ranking third-worst in scoring, allowing 27.0 points on 379.1 yards per game.
Rooker Isaiah Spiller, a fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M, could be one to watch here as he tries to establish himself as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart with the Chargers hoping to take some of the workload off Austin Ekeler. Second-year wide receiver Michael Bandy should also get a healthy target share, as the Chargers look to sort out the depth chart behind their strong starting unit.
Tight end Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring) likely won't play on Saturday, with the Chargers already missing Stone Smartt (undisclosed) and Tre' McKitty (undisclosed) from the position. Star safety Derwin James is holding out for a contract extension, with Mark Webb Jr. (knee) and Tevaughn Campbell (undisclosed) also out of the defensive backfield. Linebackers Kenneth Murray Jr. (ankle) and Drue Tranquill (groin) plus offensive lineman Andrew Trainer (undisclosed) round out the Chargers' injury list.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
This was not a pretty preseason matchup last year as the two respective teams didn't look at all like the versions we saw in the regular season, but the Chargers still managed to come away with the win and are worth a bet to do the same again in 2022. The Chargers' offseason depth improvements on both sides of the ball will be an important factor, and they have a more trustworthy quarterback rotation than the Rams.
Daniel is one of the top backups in the league and will be ready to go here as a very experienced veteran, while even the third-stringer Stick had a solid preseason campaign in 2021, completing over 70% of his passes without throwing an interception. Wolford hasn't played even in the preseason since 2019, when he was solid but had some accuracy issues, and everyone after him in the rotation is a total question mark.
The Rams are also pretty beat up right now at wide receiver and running back which could lead to another all-around sloppy performance from the offense. Trust the Chargers to do just enough damage offensively here based on their quarterback rotation and for the Rams to struggle to move the ball, just like last year.
Full-Game Total Pick
The decision not to play any starters apparently had a much larger impact offensively for both teams last year as they both struggled to move the ball in all three games. Despite getting the win in this matchup last year, the Chargers scored 23 total preseason points across the three games, while the Rams weren't much better and never scored more than 16 in any game.
After missing the playoffs last season entirely due to a porous defense, especially against the run, the Chargers made some major depth additions and Staley could have a renewed sense of urgency there even in the preseason as a defensive coach. With how awful both offenses looked last year, the under is the best bet in this one.