By Don Wanlass
It will be interesting to watch the crowd at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood Oct. 4 when the Los Angeles Chargers make their primetime debut in their new home, hosting the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football.
The action on the field should be good. The Raiders are 3-0, one of only five undefeated teams left in the NFL after three weeks. The Chargers are 2-1, their only loss coming to Dallas on a last-second field goal.
But I’m interested to see what the crowd looks like, particularly how badly Raiders fans outnumber Chargers fans.
Cowboys fans outnumbered Chargers fans in the Chargers home opener and there are a lot more Raiders fans in Los Angeles than there are Cowboys fans.
The Chargers have a good team with a young head coach and a young quarterback who could take them places in the very near future, presuming the Spanos family ownership doesn’t get involved and mess this up some way.
But the Chargers won’t be an official Los Angeles team until their fans outnumber the opposition.
I have a friend who is a season-ticket holder for both the Chargers and the Rams. He sells most of his tickets. Chargers tickets go faster than Rams tickets because fans of opposing teams are always looking for tickets to travel to L.A.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see two Raiders fans for every Chargers fan at this week’s game.
Despite their records, I think the Chargers should win. I like Justin Herbert at quarterback better than Derek Carr. He is more mobile than Carr and has a stronger arm.
Herbert has better weapons, too. Keenan Allen is one of the top receivers in the game and Mike Williams isn’t very far below him.
On defense, the Raiders don’t have anyone who can rush the passer like Joey Boza or disrupt an offense like safety Derwin James can.
The Chargers showed how good they could be Sept. 26 when they knocked off the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-24. First-year coach Brandon Staley made a gutsy call down the stretch, going for it on fourth-and-9 in the last two minutes of the game rather than kicking the ball to the Chiefs and giving Patrick Mahomes time to work his magic.
By the time the Chiefs did get the ball back, Mahomes didn’t have enough time to move them down the field.
This was a game the Chargers probably would have lost with Anthony Lynn coaching. It was a solid team victory all around and sets the Chargers up for the toughest part of their schedule.
After the Raiders, the Chargers face the Cleveland Browns here at SoFi, the Baltimore Ravens back east and, after their bye week, the New England Patriots at SoFi. If they can win three of those four, they will be in good shape at 5-2 heading into November.
When they host the Vikings at SoFi Nov. 14, it would nice to see Chargers blue outnumbering Vikings purple.
TOP OF THE HEAP: At 3-0, the Rams are off to a better start than the Chargers. They also put more fans in the seats at SoFi.
Their win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and GOAT quarterback Tom Brady Sept. 26 was a fine example of a great team defeating another great team and making it look easy in the process.
The outcome was never in doubt after Matthew Stafford hooked up with DeSean Jackson on a 75-yard scoring pass on the third play of the second half, giving the Rams a 17-7 lead.
The play was crucial for several reasons. One, it separated the teams by 10 points early in the third quarter, meaning Brady would face a more intense pass rush the rest of the game from the Rams.
More importantly, it was the first long-distance hookup between Stafford and Jackson this season. They just missed the connection earlier in the game after Jackson was practically invisible the first two weeks.
His speed matched with Stafford’s arm strength will give defensive coordinators nightmares and only make it easier for Carson Kupp and Robert Woods to get open underneath.
If Sony Michel or one of the other running backs can get going, this offense could be more dynamic than the one that went to the Super Bowl three years ago.
Brady posted some gaudy passing numbers, 41 completions in 55 attempts (nearly 75%) for 432 yards. Stafford didn’t have to throw the ball as often as Brady did — he completed 27 of 38 passes (71%) for 343 yards — but he threw four touchdown passes compared to one for Brady.
For one afternoon anyway, Stafford was the best quarterback on the field.
The Rams are still getting acquainted with each other on defense. They have a new defensive coordinator in Raheem Morris, who was the head coach at Tampa Bay from 2009 to 2011, and several new pieces to fit into his schemes.
But as long as the Rams have Aaron Donald rushing the passer and Jalen Ramsey roaming the secondary they are going to be dynamic on defense.
The Rams have consecutive divisional games coming up against the Arizona Cardinals (at home Oct. 3) and Seattle Seahawks (away Oct. 7) before taking four weeks off against the New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans before returning to action against the San Francisco 49ers Nov. 15.
After that, they take their bye week.
The Rams could easily be 8-1 halfway through the season. It’s a nice position to be in.
TRADING PLACES: It only took Chip Kelly four years to get the UCLA Bruins to the same level as the USC Trojans.
Actually, based on how both teams played against Stanford this season, the Bruins are heads and tails above the Trojans this year. The Bruins defeated Stanford 35-24 two weeks after Stanford ended the Clay Helton era at USC with a 42-28 victory.
Both winning teams won on the road. Kelly still might have to explain that loss to Fresno State the week before Stanford, but the 3-1 Bruins look like they could be a factor in the Pac 12 Southern Division this season with Arizona State coming to town Oct. 2.
A win over the Sun Devils, who many predicted would battle USC for the Southern Division title this season, would put the Bruins in the driver’s seat in the division, with only Utah a potential threat within the division, unless USC suddenly finds itself.
Across town, the luster on the shiny new interim coach lasted about as long as it took Kedon Slovis to throw three interceptions against Oregon State Sept. 25.
Slovis was back at quarterback for the Trojans after freshman sensation Justin Dart had knee surgery last week. He completed 31 of 49 passes for 355 yards, but the three interceptions easily overshadowed his one touchdown pass.
The Trojans are now 0-2 in Pac 12 play, with both losses coming in the Coliseum to seemingly inferior competition. Somewhere Clay Helton was watching the game and muttering to himself, “See, it wasn’t all my fault.”
The Trojans problem is that they aren’t as good as their players think they are. They can’t show up and automatically dominate another team, even Oregon State, which hadn’t defeated USC in the Coliseum since 1960 at the start of the John McKay era.
Maybe that’s an omen for interim coach Donte Williams. McKay lost to the Beavers 14-0 in his first game as USC coach. He went on to win 127 in 16 seasons with the Trojans and four national championships.
Williams said he was going to make his players more accountable and he could be seen chewing out a defensive back after an unnecessary penalty early in the game, but the Trojans still committed 11 penalties.
Add in four turnovers (Oregon State committed two), and it’s easy to see how the Trojans lost. The euphoria over the come-from-behind 45-14 win over Washington State was nowhere to be found at the Coliseum a week later.
The Trojans travel to Colorado Oct. 2 before returning home to play Utah Oct. 9. After a bye week, they travel to South Bend Oct. 23 for their biennial trip to play Notre Dame. That game might be hard to watch this year.
FINAL THOUGHT: The regular season for baseball ends Oct. 3. The Lakers and Clippers both held media day sessions this week, announcing the start of training camp for the NBA.
More than ever before, professional sports schedules blur together.
At this point in time, it looks like the Dodgers will play the Cardinals in the National League wild card game Oct. 6 in Dodger Stadium. The winner opens the divisional playoff series (best of five games) Oct. 8 against the San Francisco Giants, meaning if the Dodgers defeat the Cardinals in the wild card game the two best teams in the National League all year long will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
Major League Baseball may want to rethink that next year. A seven-game Dodgers-Giants series to determine the National League representative in the World Series would be epic.
A best-of-five divisional series will be fun to watch, too, but it would be better if the Dodgers and Giants weren’t facing each other so early in the playoffs.
The American League also will have the wild card winner coming out of the same division as the top seed (Tampa Bay), meaning the same situation could exist in both leagues.