After four weeks of inconsequential games, the NFL returns for real this week with the season opener Sept. 6 between the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles against the Atlanta Falcons, followed by a full slate of Sunday games and then two Monday night games, with the Rams versus the Raiders in Oakland ending the first week of the season at 7 p.m. Sept. 10.
Both the Rams and Chargers are predicted to be playoff-bound as the season starts, but anything can happen over the next 17 weeks.
The Chargers open their season against the Kansas City Chiefs at 1 p.m. Sept. 9 in StubHub Center with high expectations for the season. The Chiefs could deflate those expectations.
The Chiefs have won the last eight games between the two teams. The Chargers also got off to a dreadful start last season, which cost them a playoff berth.
In two games against the Chiefs last year, quarterback Philip Rivers threw six interceptions. This year, the Chargers hope things will be different.
Rivers will be the veteran quarterback going against second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs are so confident in Mahomes that they traded Alex Smith to Washington to open up the starting slot for him. The son of a former Major League Baseball player out of Texas A&M, Mahomes has a strong arm and isn’t afraid to use him.
He has good receivers from tight end Travis Kelce to wide out Sammy Watkins, who Kansas City got from the Rams.
But the Chargers have their most balanced team in years. Rivers has possibly the best receiver corps in football to throw to and he got his old security blanket back this week when the Chargers signed Antonio Gates to replace injured tight end Hunter Henry.
Malcolm Gordon is one of the top ball carriers in the league and the offensive line has been rebuilt by general manager Tom Tedesco.
On defense, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram form a top one-two pass rush duo that sets the tone for the defense.
Last year, their first in Los Angeles since 1960, the Chargers got off to an 0-4 start. Winning nine of their last 12 games wasn’t enough to get them into the playoffs. Part of the Chargers’s problem last year was getting acclimated to StubHub Center, the soccer stadium they call home in Carson while the stadium they will share with the Rams in Inglewood is being built.
The Chargers often seemed like the road team last season at StubHub with opponents often having more fans. That needs to change.
Coach Anthony Lynn needs to have the Chargers ready to go, Bosa and Ingram must put pressure on Mahomes and Rivers must make the offense click. That will get the Chargers off to a fast start with their course set on the playoffs. It’s a good possibility this year.
The Rams went to the playoffs last year and were bounced immediately. Their division got better in the offseason, but the Rams should still be favored to win the National Football Conference West Division this season.
Quarterback Jared Goff has a Pro Bowl season under his belt, he has Todd Gurley to hand the ball to and a bunch of good receivers (including Gurley) to throw it to.
Defensively, the Rams finally signed Aaron Donald and he will again anchor a defensive line, which should be better with the addition of Ndamukong Suh. The Rams traded away linebacker Alec Ogletree, but have enough depth there to replace him and their secondary is improved with the addition of corner backs Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
The Rams may get a break facing the Raiders who are still reeling from the departure of Khalil Mack, who was traded to the Chicago Bears last week after holding out all of training camp.
The Raiders have a new head coach, but Jon Gruden hasn’t coached in the league for nine years. The game has evolved a lot during his absence and it will be interesting to see how the Raiders react to Gruden’s coaching.
They could make things rough on the Chargers in the AFC West.
MIXED REVIEWS: USC won and UCLA lost their season openers Sept. 1 and a lot of questions remain about both teams, questions that we should have more answers to after they both face tough tests Sept. 8.
The Bruins fell to Cincinnati, 26-17, not exactly the way Chip Kelly wanted his career to start in Westwood. This week, the Bruins travel to Norman, Oklahoma to face the sixth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. Kelly is destined to start his UCLA career at 0-2. It will be interesting to see if the Bruins can at least look competitive against Oklahoma.
Kelly went with Michigan transfer Wilton Speight at quarterback against Cincinnati, but Speight hurt his back against the Bearcats and was replaced by freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Freshman running back Kazmeir Allen scored on a 74-yard run for the Bruins lone offensive highlight.
Kelly, the offensive guru, is going to have to get more than that out of his troops this week.
USC started slowly against Nevada Las Vegas before putting the Rebels away in the fourth quarter, 43-21.
Freshman quarterback JT Daniels is the real deal. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown, a well-thrown post pattern to his high school teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Brown caught seven passes for 98 yards.
They might be the best passer-receiver combination in USC history by the time they move to the NFL three years from now.
The Trojans top three running backs all performed well, with Aca’Cedric Ware leading the way with 100 yards on 10 carries. Stephen Carr had 54 yards in nine carries and Vavae Malepeai finished with 47 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns.
The defense didn’t distinguish itself early as the Trojans fell behind the Rebels, but things improved in the second half.
Things will need to improve a whole lot more this week because the Trojans have 10th-ranked Stanford in Palo Alto. Even with an opening week win, the Trojans fell two places from 15th to 17th in the Associated Press poll this week.
A loss to the Cardinal will drop the Trojans from the top 25.
PLAYOFF BASEBALL: If you saw the Dodgers play the Arizona Diamondbacks in a four-game series over the weekend, you got a glimpse of playoff baseball.
Every game was close and decided in the late innings.
The Dodgers won three out of the four to briefly regain first place and all three wins had the same 3-2 score.
Matt Kemp won two of the three games, hitting a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning Sept. 1 and then hitting a walk-off, two-run double in the ninth the next day.
The Dodgers have another big weekend series coming up. This time it’s three games in Denver against the Colorado Rockies Sept. 7-9.
The Rockies moved ahead of the Dodgers in the National league West standings Sept. 3, but the Dodgers have the easiest schedule in the last three weeks of the season