It’s supposed to be a tumultuous time for pro football in California. The Rams returned to Los Angeles from St. Louis two years ago after abandoning Southern California in 1995. Last year they were joined in L.A. by the Chargers, who’d been an institution in San Diego since 1961. Both are vagabond franchises for now, the Rams playing in a venerable but creaky 94-year-old stadium and the Chargers in a pint-sized soccer arena until the completion of their shared Inglewood venue in 2020. The Raiders face a similar limbo after this year, when their lease at Oakland Coliseum expires. They may or may not spend the next season or two in the Bay Area before moving to Las Vegas. Across the Bay, the 49ers in 2014 moved 40 miles south to Santa Clara, which is a lot closer to San Jose than to San Francisco.
It’s a four-team transitional period ripe for chaos, and yet few in 2018 will notice thanks to the old John Madden quote about winning being a great deodorant. A lot of winning is expected in California this year. In fact, not since the early ’80s, when Joe Montana’s 49ers and Al Davis’s Raiders were claiming Super Bowls, and Eric Dickerson’s Rams and Dan Fouts’s Chargers were pushing for playoff spots, has the state’s NFL landscape looked so collectively promising.
The Rams burst into the NFL’s contender club last season with the arrival of wunderkind coach Sean McVay and an ascending roster. They’re now one of Vegas’s Super Bowl favorites. The Chargers won nine of their last 12 games and favored in the AFC West. The Raiders are two years removed from a 12-win season, with franchise QB Derek Carr locked in long-term and deified coach Jon Gruden resurrected. The 49ers, after acquiring their prospective franchise QB in Jimmy Garoppolo one day before Halloween, won six of their last seven games, including all five of Garoppolo’s starts.
It’s not hard to imagine four California teams reaching this year’s playoffs. That’s never happened. Based on preseason odds, there’s an 18 percent chance a California team wins Super Bowl 53—the highest likelihood since such data tracking began in 1999.
• CALIFORNIA WEEK: The MMQB’s deep dive into NFL football in Cali in 2018. Check back daily.
Yes, individually, each franchise has been stronger before. The Rams won seven straight division titles from 1973 to ’79, culminating in a Super Bowl appearance. The Chargers were an early power in the AFL and in the early ’80s revolutionized the passing game with Fouts and coach Don Coryell. The Raiders were one of pro football’s winningest teams from 1967 to 1978, winning the 1976 Super Bowl under John Madden. After that, Tom Flores led the Raiders to Lombardi Trophies in 1980 and ’83. And, of course, the 49ers won four Super Bowls under Joe Montana and another with Steve Young during a nearly two-decade run of excellence. But always at some point in there, one California team was having a down year. Maybe we’ll see that this year, but none of the four fan bases believes it will be theirs.
This week we’ll dive deep into each team in the Golden State, to see what all the excitement is about. We’ll hear from the Rams’ new star cornerback tandem of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib about being risk-taking playmakers. Chargers owner Dean Spanos and his staff will tell us about forging into their new L.A. market, and their seven-time Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers will take us through a film study session. New Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will reveal everything that happens in a coach’s life when he takes over a new unit. We’ll meet the best defensive lineman nobody talks about, San Francisco’s DeForest Buckner. And we’ll examine what’s shaping up to be the NFL’s best coaching rivalry—Sean McVay versus Kyle Shanahan—and why their Rams and 49ers offenses are the two that other teams studied the most this offseason.
You’ll find all the California Week stories here as they post. Enjoy.