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SPORTS DIGEST: Rams, Chargers face crucial games in hostile stadiums

With three games remaining and playoff spots still to be determined, the Rams and the Chargers are facing crucial games on the road this week that could determine the champions of the AFC and NFC Western Divisions.

And both games are in stadiums that deliver some of the beat home-field advantages on the league in terms of crowd noise.

The Chargers face the Kansas City Chiefs Dec. 16 in a rare Saturday night game on the NFL Network. Both teams are 7-6 and are tied for the lead in the AFC West.

The Chiefs defeated the Chargers 24-10 in the third week of the season when the two teams were headed in different directions. The Chiefs won their first five games while the Chargers opened the season 0-4. The Chargers have the hotter hand right now, going 7-2 in the last 10 weeks while the Chiefs have gone 3-6.

The Chiefs have a veteran coach in Andy Reid matching wits with the Chargers rookie head coach Anthony Lynn, but in the NFL, close games usually come down to the better quarterback, which might give the Chargers an edge.

Phillip Rivers is not normally considered an elite NFL quarterback, but he’s is a veteran who has seen it all and is hoping to put together a stretch run to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013. This year, he has thrown for 3,611 yards and 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Three of those interceptions came in the first four possessions against the Chiefs back in September. Starting right tackle Joe Barksdale missed that game with a toe injury and the Chargers pass protection suffered. He is healthy now and Rivers has received good protection from the line lately.

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is usually not considered an elite quarterback, but he has thrown for 3,507 yards, 23 touchdowns with only five interceptions on the season.

The Chiefs were a strong running team at the start of the year and Kareem Hunt is ahead of his Chargers counterpart, Melvin Gordon, already surpassing the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

The Chargers will need to score early to silence the Kansas City crowd if they are going to win and they will need to win to stay alive in the race for the playoffs.

The Chargers travel again next week to play the New York Jets on Christmas Eve and then come home to face the Oakland Raiders on New Year’s Eve. A loss Saturday night could spoil those playoff hopes.

Things aren’t so dire for the Rams, who face the Seattle Seahawks Dec. 15 at 1:30 p.m.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Mike Thomas blocks this punt in the third quarter of the Dec. 10 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive back Blake Countess picked up the loose ball and ran it into the end zone to give the Rams a third quarter lead. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams)

The Rams and Seahawks have split their last eight meetings, with the Rams winning last year in Seattle. The Seahawks won their first meeting this year, 16-10, Oct. 8.

The Rams should have wide receiver Robert Woods and linebacker Connor Barwin healthy for the game. The former USC star, Woods has become quarterback Jared Goff’s favorite receiver and the Rams have missed him in recent weeks. He gives Goff one more weapon against a banged-up Seattle defense.

The Rams lead the Seahawks by a game and can clinch a tie for the NFC West title by defeating them Sunday. But Goff lost 24-3 last season in his first game at CenturyLink Field, which is one of the loudest stadiums in the league.

He has a better team surrounding him this year as was demonstrated Dec. 10 when the Rams gave the Philadelphia Eagles a tougher game than most people expected before losing 43-35.

The Rams need to get a win this week and coast into the playoffs.

HEISMAN CONTENDER: He didn’t get invited to attend the trophy presentation in New York Dec. 9, but former Norwalk High School running back Rashaad Penny finished fifth overall in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy, higher than USC quarterback Sam Darnold and UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who were both on the list of Heisman contenders at the start of the year.

San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, a graduate of Norwalk High School, finished fifth in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy this year. Penny led the NCAA Football Bowl Championship Division with 2,027 yards this season.
(Courtesy photo)

Penny plays for San Diego State, where he led the nation’s running backs in yards rushing this year with 2,027 yards in 12 games after gaining 1,018 last year as a junior.

Penny sat on the bench most of his freshman year, playing behind D.J. Pumphrey, who was a year ahead of him. As a sophomore, Penny distinguished himself as a kick returner, returning three kickoffs for touchdowns and making the all-conference team.

Last year, as a junior, Penny and Pumphrey became the first teammates to rush for 2,000 and 1,000 yards in the same season.

The Penny family is highly regarded at Norwalk High, Older brother Elijhaa Penny starred there before playing college ball at Idaho. He now plays for the Arizona Cardinals.

Younger brother Brionne Perry was the starting quarterback for Norwalk this season, leading the team to a 7-4 record.

STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS: Narbonne and Crenshaw will represent the L.A. City Section Dec. 16 in the state championship football games.

Narbonne, the L.A. City open division champion, will play Pittsburg from the North Coast Section after defeating Paraclete, 56-14 in the Division 1A southern regional finals Dec. 9.

The Gauchos are 11-3 on the year and have rolled up 636 points this season. Pittsburg is 9-2 on the year.

The game will be played at Sacramento State University at 4 p.m.

Crenshaw will host the Division 4AA state championship gave against Placer, after defeating Oceanside El Camino, 13-10 Dec. 9. Crenshaw is 11-3 on the season and Placer is 13-1

The open division championship game will be played at 8 p.m. Dec. 16 at Sacramento State. It features two perennial powers, Concord De La Salle from the north and Mater Dei from the south.

The Huntington Park Spartans were defeated in the southern regional finals by Calexico Vincent Memorial, 40-18 Dec. 9, a week after winning their first City Section football title since 1959.