Which California NFL Teams Will Make the Playoffs?
Football may not necessarily be as popular in California as it is down in Texas, but the Golden State is still well-represented when it comes to the NFL. There are currently 4 teams that call California home, though that will change in a few years when the Oakland Raiders officially make their way to Sin City. When they’re gone, the country’s third-largest state will have the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers as well as the San Francisco 49ers remaining.
All 4 Cali teams faced interesting questions heading into the new season. Can the Rams improve upon last year’s incredible turnaround? Will Jon Gruden prove to be worth the hefty $100 million deal the Raiders gave him? Is Jimmy Garoppolo the real deal for the 49ers? Will the Chargers have any fans in L.A.?
We should get some answers to said questions this season. The Rams were the lone California representative to pick up a victory in Week 1, while the other 3 will look to turn things around this week. How many California teams will ultimately get into the postseason?
Los Angeles Rams
- To Make Playoffs -170
- To Miss Playoffs +350
Of the California teams the Rams were the team to enter the season with the Super Bowl betting odds. Head coach Sean McVay came in last season and completely overhauled what had been the NFL’s worst offense the season prior under Jeff Fisher. Jared Goff showed why the Rams chose him with the No. 1 overall pick a couple of years ago, and Todd Gurley actually had room to run under a much-improved offensive line. They ultimately fell short after losing to the Falcons in the playoffs last year, but they look even better on paper this time around.
While the offense was the focal point last season, the Rams made it a point to load up defensively this summer. They still added an upgrade at wide receiver by replacing Sammy Watkins with Brandin Cooks, but L.A. was aggressive in stacking the defense with talent. Ndamukong Suh was brought in as a free agent in order to anchor what was already a stellar defensive line, while the Rams also brought in a couple of All-Pro corners in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. The team also signed pass-rusher Aaron Donald to what was the richest contract a defender had ever received at the time before the record was broken by Khalil Mack a couple of days later.
The Rams got off to a flying start in Week 1 with a statement win on the road in prime time against the Raiders. The game was close in the first half, but in the second half we saw why everyone is so high on the Rams. Gurley completely controlled the tempo of the game, while Goff didn’t make any mistakes and kept the ball moving offensively. The defense completely shut down Derek Carr and the Oakland rushing attack. In the end, the Rams outscored the Raiders 23-0 in the second half alone on their way to an easy 33-13 win.
The NFC West looks weaker than it has in previous years, too. The Cardinals are rebuilding, while the Seahawks lost a ton of talent during the offseason.
Los Angeles Chargers
- To Make Playoffs -145
- To Miss Playoffs +250
The Rams look like a shoo-in, but their future stadium bunkmates don’t look so certain. There was an awful lot of buzz surrounding a potential all-L.A. Super Bowl this year. While that’s still very much on the table, the Chargers certainly didn’t hold up their end of the bargain in Week 1. L.A. had no answer for a high-octane Chiefs attack, and, despite the fact that this game took place in L.A., the stadium was loudly cheering on the road team. There was an awful lot of red in the crowd.
It feels like the Chargers get off to slow starts every year, and that may well continue. The Chiefs picked up a rather easy 38-28 win in the opener. While it was discouraging, there are reasons to be optimistic if you’re betting on the Chargers. The team was without Joey Bosa for this game, and he’s also set to miss Week 2’s clash with the Buffalo Bills. Bosa is one of the best young pass-rushers in the game, and he’s expected to return to the field . Once Bosa is back, the defense will be able to generate more consistent pressure against opposing quarterbacks, which means the team shouldn’t get gashed consistently like we saw last week.
Philip Rivers played well offensively, but his pass-catchers didn’t do him any favors. Both Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams dropped what should have been easy completions, with Mike Williams’ gaffe coming in the end zone. Rivers still topped 400 yards while throwing 3 touchdown passes along with one interception, but a lot of that volume came because the team was playing from behind for the entirety of the game. The defense couldn’t stop the KC offense, so the Chargers had no choice but to air it out and try to catch up.
The competition in the AFC West may be tougher than the NFC West, however. We’ll get to what I think of the Raiders in a moment, but the Chiefs and Broncos both put forth solid efforts in Week 1. Denver looks to have stabilized the quarterback position with Case Keenum, while we saw what Kansas City just did to these very Chargers.
Slow starts have a way of catching up with teams. It’s hard to make the playoffs when you get out of the gates on the wrong foot. I do think the Chargers are still one of the best teams in the AFC, due in no small part to the fact that the AFC as a whole is pretty shallow. Even if they can’t come out atop the division, a Wild Card should be easily attainable. I wouldn’t like the Chargers if they were in the NFC, but I still think they get a playoff spot out of the AFC.
- To Make Playoffs +165
- To Miss Playoffs -225
As mentioned earlier, the second Jon Gruden era in Oakland got off to a rough start. There’s no shame in losing to the Rams, even at home, but the Raiders looked downright lost for the last 30 minutes of the game on Monday night. Despite the fired up home crowd, Oakland could do little to stop the vaunted Rams offense.
The ESPN broadcast mentioned it ad nauseam, but it’s really hard to overstate how big an impact Khalil Mack had for this team defensively. When you lose arguably the best overall defensive player in the game, the rest of your defense is going to suffer. The Raiders didn’t get any player compensation in the deal that sent Mack to the Bears, which instantly left the unit undermanned.
The fact that Gruden hasn’t coached at any level in about a decade was always a concern when the Raiders opted to pay him a ton of money. Gruden was still around the game doing broadcast work for ESPN, but it’s different than actually being in the locker room and putting game plans together. A lot has changed with the way the game is played in the years Gruden has been a commentator, so there was always going to be a bit of a learning curve here. I’m not convinced that he really knows what he’s doing, but even if he figures it out I think the results will be slow to follow.
Other than Jared Cook, the offense looked downright clunky in Week 1. Again, the Rams’ defense is great, but Cook was really the only bright spot. The offensive line struggled to protect Derek Carr, and Marshawn Lynch didn’t often find easy running lanes. It’s also obvious that Lynch is past his prime, and I’m not convinced Carr is really a franchise-caliber quarterback. Amari Cooper hasn’t lived up to expectations coming out of Alabama, either.
The Raiders also have the oldest roster in the NFL, which isn’t ideal. In a division with the Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos, I think it’s a very real possibility that Oakland finishes in last place this year. I doubt that will be enough to cost Gruden his job, but I don’t think much of the Raiders this season.
San Francisco 49ers
- To Make Playoffs +135
- To Miss Playoffs -200
Of the 2 teams that currently call the Bay Area home, I think the 49ers have a much better shot at making some noise. The problem here is that they play in the tougher conference. The Niners will have to deal with the Rams in their own division, while their schedule also includes some tough out-of-division games against the Chargers, Packers, Chiefs and Broncos. A road date in Minnesota against the Vikings was also a difficult way to start the season.
The primary reason I’m more bullish on the 49ers than most is because I think Jimmy Garoppolo is legit. He led a downtrodden Niners team to a 5-0 record over the final 5 games of last season, and the team rewarded him this . It is certainly too soon to say whether he will ultimately prove to be worth that kind of a contract, but I think he will be. Garoppolo isn’t afraid to take chances downfield. That can lead to trouble, but he isn’t reckless about it the way we’ve seen other quarterbacks be in the past.
Garoppolo did struggle in Week 1. He completed just 15 of his 33 passes for 261 yards with a touchdown and 3 interceptions. We saw glimpses of why the team is so high on him, but, again, the Vikings may have the best defense in football. The fact that he didn’t have his best game shouldn’t be a big surprise.
I thought the defense looked better than expected in that game, though, which gives me hope that it could be a unit that exceeds expectations this year. DeForest Buckner looked downright terrifying in the middle of that line. An improved defense would go a long way toward accelerating the 49ers’ hopes of contention.
I think the Rams are close to a lock to win the NFC West, and, again, there will be a number of quality teams battling for a Wild Card spot. I do think San Francisco has enough talent to be in that mix. The Niners have the look of a team that won’t be the doormat they have been over the last several seasons. Quarterback play goes a long way in this league. If Garoppolo can live up to the hype, I don’t see much reason this team can’t make a surprise run at a playoff spot.