As it will be for every AFC West matchup this season, the Rams have an edge with their defense.
As you likely know, coordinator Wade Phillips and cornerback Aqib Talib won Super Bowl 50 together with the Broncos, sharing the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Cornerback Marcus Peters and linebacker Ramik Wilson spent the last three years with the Chiefs, going against that same competition.
But this matchup in particular is where the familiarity runs deep. Phillips, for instance, was the Chargers' defensive coordinator when the club drafted quarterback Philip Rivers back in 2004.
"Well, first we had Eli Manning for a couple hours," Phillips recalled with a laugh this week. "Well, what stands out is our staff had the Senior Bowl that year because we had the worst record in football, so we coached the Senior Bowl. We had the No. 1 draft pick. Philip Rivers, we had him in the Senior Bowl. He played four years in college. He started four years, he played in four bowl games, he was an MVP in all four bowl games. Then, when he played in the Senior Bowl with us, he was the MVP of the Senior Bowl that year. So, we knew about him and he was the guy, obviously, we wanted.
"Philip, like I said, he's a winner," Phillips continued. "He has always been that way. He's just improved as he has gone along, improved with age."
Remarkably, Rivers has started 194 consecutive games since taking over as the Chargers' QB-1 in 2006. Phillips was still the defensive coordinator that year, as the Chargers went 14-2. Over the course of his career, Rivers has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 51,028 yards with 348 touchdowns and 167 interceptions. He's made five playoff appearances, compelling a 4-5 record.
This year, Rivers has already thrown for 680 yards and six touchdowns in just two games.
According to Phillips, Rivers is so good because he understands the weak points in a defense. That's come with his extensive playing experience.
"You can't fool him. He's going to know what you're in," Phillips said. "That's where he excels over most quarterbacks and makes him an elite quarterback is when the ball is snapped, he may take some time and change some things and he'll change protections – all those things, like the great ones do. Any kind of blitz you run, he'll audible to the right protection – all those things."
All that being true, it doesn't mean the Rams can't have success against the seven-time Pro Bowler. Both Peters and Talib have picked off Rivers before — Talib once, and Peters four times. In fact, Peters had two interceptions the last time he faced the Chargers in 2017.
"Well, that's why we have Marcus — is because he's an elite player, too," Phillips said. "Any time you have a great player like that, they're going to make plays against anybody."
What's led to the success?
"I've been playing against Philip since I was a rookie, so I kind of know exactly how he's going to hit us where we not," Peters said.
Safety John Johnson said Talib and Peters have aided in the film study of the Chargers' offense leading up to Sunday.
"They see them twice a year, just like how we play Seattle or Arizona," Johnson said. "So it's a big help, a big jump — they know the receivers as well, not only the quarterback — so it's a big help."
Because of the nature of the Chargers' explosive offense, the Rams figure Rivers will take shots downfield more than the Rams' previous two opponents. That's part of what Talib and Peters like best about facing Rivers — that he will challenge you.
"He's a great competitor, future Hall of Famer," Talib said. "So I'm looking forward to playing against him. It's always fun playing against him."
Check out photos of the Rams playing the Chargers throughout the years. Photos by AP.
"I [expletive] love Philip Rivers, though," Peters said. "I love what he brings to the game, I love that he's a competitor — he loves to compete — and he's going to go out there and make you pull your best out because he's going to come at you. I love playing against him."
Peters knows that sometimes he can come off as if he's joking, especially since 20 percent of his league-leading 20 picks since 2015 have come at Rivers' expense. So he clarified that he definitely wasn't when answering a question about Rivers' penchant for trash talking on the field.
"I love what he does. I'm not trying to be sarcastic because of my play against him, that's just me saying that I love how he approaches the game and I love the competitor he is," Peters said. "Him talking mess is just a competitive part of the game."
We'll see if Peters and the Rams' defense get in the last word on Sunday.