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Rams bring the NFL playoffs back to L.A., while Chargers are left at home

A year ago, this was only a pipe dream.
The NFL’s first season back in Los Angeles, after 22 years in exile, had been a disaster. The Rams scraped together just four wins. Their coach was fired, their stadium was half-empty. A home playoff game in Los Angeles seemed as distant as it had the previous two decades, when L.A. had no team at all.
But on Sunday, as a meaningless game was played at the Coliseum, a celebration no one in their right mind would’ve predicted raged on, nonetheless. A banner hung near the entrance of Lot 2, where the most diehard of Rams fans tailgated since last season. Fans danced in front of it, toasting Bud Lites as Snoop Dogg played on the boombox. “NFC West Division Champions,” the banner read.
If you hadn’t watched the Rams’ stunning turnaround from its start, you might not have believed what you saw. But indeed, it had been true for more than a week by then, a seemingly impossible dream realized.
The Los Angeles Rams are bound for the NFL playoffs.
On Saturday, they’ll host the Falcons in a home playoff game at the Coliseum, where an NFL playoff game hasn’t been played in 24 years. Atlanta, the reigning NFC champion, have won six of its last eight with their only two losses coming against fellow NFC playoff teams.
“The game of our life is next week,” said Rams guard Rodger Saffold, who, like a generation of Angelenos, will see the playoffs for the first time on Saturday.
Across town, the city’s newest NFL franchise had just finished one of their best games of season. The Chargers absolutely dominated the Raiders, who were so dismayed after that they fired Jack Del Rio, their coach, before the postgame news conference. The victory was the last case the Chargers could make for a playoff spot, and it was a convincing one.
In a stadium filled with Raider fans, days after the Raiders took out full-page ads in every L.A. newspaper to announce their presence, it was the Chargers who made a bold statement on Sunday. But it wasn’t enough. They needed the Titans to lose. They needed the Ravens to win. Neither came to fruition.
The Chargers may very well be the third-best team in the AFC, but this year, there will be no chance to prove it in the postseason. They finished the season with nine wins over their last 12 games, but it was the winless first month in their first year in Los Angeles that ultimately sunk them. Only one NFL team had ever climbed out of such a deep hole.
“Close,” safety Tre Boston said, “but not close enough.”
“It hurts, because you win one of those (close games), and you need no help today,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We’re a pretty hot team that’s going home.”
There had been no such desperation for the Rams, who blazed their way through the NFC, playing all season like a franchise transformed. Under first-year, 31-year-old coach Sean McVay, no NFL team this year scored more than the Rams — a fact that’s all the more amazing when you consider that, a year ago, no NFL team scored fewer points than the very same Rams.
Sunday marked the final stroke in the Rams season-long transformation, and now, a playoff run could be on the horizon. The Falcons have the potential for offensive fireworks, but they’ve been inconsistent for much of the season. The Rams, meanwhile, have shown the capability to beat anyone, if their offense is clicking.
A victory against the Falcons would mean a trip back to Minnesota, where the Rams suffered their worst loss of the season six weeks ago. From there, a Super Bowl bid would be just one win away.
Perhaps that still sounds a bit insane, given where the Rams stood a year ago.
But as the Rams take the field against the Falcons next Saturday night, the bright lights of the NFL playoffs will finally return to Los Angeles. And with their wunderkind coach and their transformed offense, the Rams are determined to shine.
Source: Oc Register

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