KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, David Diehl, Kristina Pink.
SERIES HISTORY: 77th regular-season meeting. The Rams lead the series, 47-27-2. The Falcons won the last meeting with the St. Louis Rams, 31-24, on Sept. 15, 2013. The Falcons won their last game against the Rams in Los Angeles, 8-5, on Oct. 2, 1994.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Falcons must hold off the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers in order to claim the NFC South title and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. The Falcons and the Bucs are tied at 7-5, but the Falcons hold the tiebreaker advantage if both teams win out and finish 11-5.
While much of the hype in SoCal is about rookie QB Jared Goff, the Falcons will need their run defense to play well in order to beat the Rams.
The Rams finished strong last season at 7-9 and were projected to lean heavily on second-year running back Todd Gurley while developing Goff. But the Rams have not been able to spring Gurley and their respectable defense has spent too much time on the field.
Gurley was named the NFL's offensive rookie of the year after rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He has gone 15 consecutive games without rushing for more than 100 yards and had a season-low 11 carries against the Patriots on Sunday. Gurley has rushed for a paltry 679 yards on 211 carries.
The Falcons need QB Matt Ryan to get the ball to WR Julio Jones. The Falcons have targeted Jones only six times in the red zone.
Overall, Ryan has completed 284 of 414 passes for 3,813 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a passer rating of 112.3. Jones has 72 catches for 1,253 yards and five touchdowns. He did not practice on Wednesday with his turf toe injury.
The Rams have faced two straight Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. A defense that was playing at an elite level for most of 2016 responded by surrendering 78 points in two blowout losses.
The Rams' challenge will be forcing Ryan to look elsewhere with the ball by limiting his looks to Jones.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Rams LT Greg Robinson vs. Falcons DE Vic Beasley. Robinson returned to the starting lineup Sunday after getting benched the week before over season-long poor play and mental lapses. He fared reasonably well against the Patriots. But he is in for a tall task vs. Beasley, who leads the Falcons with 10.5 sacks and will be a handful with his quickness, burst and physicality.
--Falcons LG Andy Levitre vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald. Levitre is having a strong second season with the Falcons, but he will have to anchor and anticipate Donald's quickness. Donald, a two-time Pro Bowler, is a disruptive force and has six sacks on the season. He was ejected from a game earlier in the season after making contact with a referee.
SUNDAY INJURY REPORT:
--Questionable: T Jake Matthews (knee), S Robenson Therezie (ankle)
LOS ANGELES RAMS
--Doubtful: RB Benny Cunningham (neck)
Rams CB Michael Jordan. With E.J. Gaines coming up lame with a quad injury Sunday against the Patriots, Jordan will likely get the starting nod. An undrafted rookie free agent from Western Missouri, Jordan has spent most of the season on the practice squad. Gaines did not practice Wednesday.
Falcons WR Julio Jones had seven catches for 113 yards last week vs. Kansas City and now has an NFL-high 1,253 yards. In his only previous game against the Rams (2013), Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown.
Falcons RB Devonta Freeman had two rushing touchdowns last week vs. Kansas City, after having two rushing touchdowns the week before against Arizona.
Top overall 2016 draft pick Jared Goff has lost his first three NFL starts. Goff has thrown four touchdown passes against three interceptions and has a 70 passer rating. The last quarterback selected No. 1 overall to lose his first three starts was Alex Smith with San Francisco in 2005 (lost five).
Rams WR/PR Tavon Austin had two TD catches in the last meeting. Since 2013, he is the only NFL player with five TDs rushing (7), 10 receiving (12) and punt return TDs (3).
Rams DT Aaron Donald leads NFL DTs with 26 sacks.
The Rams' defensive front can be a challenge for any team, but Falcons QB Matt Ryan has not been flustered easily this year.
OUR PICK: Falcons, 35-21.