Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at L.A. Rams (11-5)
Saturday, January 6th, 8:15 pm EST.
The defending NFC Champion Falcons simply haven’t looked like the dominant unit that came within seconds of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy last year. Gone is offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and with him went a lot of the swagger that defined that unit. QB Matt Ryan is having a back to earth year, after last season’s career highs in yardage, completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdowns. Last year was also the lowest interception tally of his ten-year career. This season, he’s thrown barely more than half the touchdowns and almost twice the interceptions. It’s hard to consider these Falcons a favorite with that sort of decline at the quarterback position. Julio Jones is also having a “meh” season by his lofty standards. While his three touchdowns this season are lower than usual, he’s caught for over fourteen-hundred yards for the fourth consecutive season. For the Falcons to fly, Jones and Ryan will need to rekindle some of the end zone magic that made them the most dangerous duo in the league last year. On defense, this year’s Falcons are a steady, if unexciting unit. The Falcons rank in the top ten in total defense (318.4 YPG) and points allowed (19.7 PPG) and second-year middle linebacker Deion Jones ranks in the top five in total tackles with 138 on the season. He has also hauled in three interceptions to get his unit off of the field early.
While the Falcons seemed to have taken a step back this year, the Rams are a young team on the rise. Second-year quarterback Jared Goff has been a revelation under new coach Sean McVay, ranking in the top ten league-wide in both TD’s and yardage. The engine that moves this offense, however, is the dynamic between Goff’s air attack and the improvement of third-year running back Todd Gurley. Gurley finished second in rushing yards this season, just behind Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt, but Gurley has been a more versatile back, adding almost 800 yards as a receiver and totaling nineteen touchdowns. The balanced attack has proven extremely effective, and the Rams are scoring more than any team in the league. Defensively, the Rams have allowed just over twenty points per game and have the league’s third-best point differential. Aaron Donald has performed admirably after his holdout, recording five forced fumbles and eleven sacks in fourteen games, while constantly making opposing quarterbacks feel the pressure from his side.
In the end, it seems to me that the Rams are just a little younger, faster and hungrier than the Dirty Birds. Assuming that Goff handles his first playoff game the way he’s handled the season thus far, the Rams seem likely to advance.
Image source: twitter.com/RamsNFL
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine, and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.