The No. 6-seed Atlanta Falcons face the Los Angeles Rams Saturday night on NBC and 11Alive, as the team seeks to repeat its Super Bowl run from last season.
The Rams, in their second year back in Los Angeles, finished a surprising 11-5 and won the NFC West title under first-year coach Sean McVay. The Falcons, meanwhile, secured the final wild-card slot last weekend with a victory over the Carolina Panthers.
The New Orleans Saints won the NFC South, while the Falcons finished with a 10-6 record.
From USA Today:
With its attack regressing to the middle of the pack, Atlanta leaned on a defense that finished in the top 10 in scoring and total yards for the first time since 1998 to clinch the final spot in the NFC field. Yet the challenge facing the Falcons on Saturday is one larger than a matter of identity or balance.
The Los Angeles Rams are the NFL's top-scoring outfit at 29.9 points per game. Avoiding a shootout and beating them in the first night-game at the Coliseum since their return to the city last season could hinge on accomplishing something few others have done this season: slowing Todd Gurley.
The Rams are 6-0 this season when the third-year running back has more than 100 yards rushing. But he also has raised his game in an MVP-caliber season by proving himself as a dynamic receiving threat, leading the team in receptions (64) and finishing first in the league with 2,093 yards from scrimmage despite sitting the final game.
Though it will take a swarming performance to slow Gurley, Atlanta has at least some reason for optimism. The defense firmed up against the run in the second half of the year, allowing just 93.6 yards per game on the ground in the last eight contests. Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett will be counted on to create a push up front and disrupt Gurley before he builds steam.
What Falcons coach Dan Quinn expressed concern about this week, however, was Gurley's ability to make people miss in space. To prevent the kind of explosive runs that could break the game open, linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal will have to be sound both in coverage and their tackling ability, as the two could be the best individual assets Atlanta has against the former Georgia star.