ATLANTA FALCONS (10-6) AT LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-5)
SERIES HISTORY: 79th all-time meeting. Rams lead series, 47-29-2. The Falcons beat the Rams 47-17 in the only meeting in the playoffs, on Jan. 15, 2005. The Run DVD offense, which featured Warrick Dunn, Michael Vick and T.J. Duckett, rushed 40 times for 327 yards against the Rams in the only playoff of the former NFC West division foes. The Falcons moved to the NFC South in 2002.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons, who average 115.4 rushing yards per game (13th in the league), must run the ball in order to slow down the Rams' pass rush. The Rams give up 122.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks 28th in the league.
The Rams need to get pressure on Matt Ryan and put him in difficult throwing situations, something they are fully capable of given their dominant pass rush. Their excellent front is led by four-time Pro Bowl tackle Aaron Donald, who had 11 sacks this season. The Rams had 48 sacks, which was fourth in the league. Robert Quinn had eight, Connor Barwin five and Michael Brockers 4.5.
The Falcons will be without guard Andy Levitre, who aggravated his triceps injury against the Panthers and was placed on injured reserve.
The Rams need to take care of the football. When they do that, they win, overwhelmingly. That aside, it's imperative Todd Gurley gets going early and often, be it in the running or passing game. Establishing Gurley as a weapon allows Jared Goff to pick apart defenses in play-action and opens the field for receivers Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Rams CB Trumaine Johnson. The Rams' best cover corner will draw a big-time assignment vs. Jones, one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL who brings 88 catches, 1,444 yards and three touchdowns to the table.
--Falcons LT Jake Matthews vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald. Donald is the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the NFL. He registered 41 tackles and 11 sacks and can put pressure on quarterbacks unlike any other D-lineman in the league. He will be a handful vs. Matthews, a skilled run and pass blocker who provides top-level protection for QB Matt Ryan.
--Falcons RB Devonta Freeman vs. Rams LB Alec Ogletree. Freeman suffered a knee injury against the Panthers and missed some time at practice. The Falcons average 115.4 yards rushing per game, which ranked 13th in the league. Ogletree is the Rams' leading tackler. The Rams give up 122.4 yards rushing per game, which ranks 28th in the league.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
No Players Listed.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
--Doubtful: WR Mike Thomas (ankle)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Rams WR Robert Woods. He totaled 56 catches for 781 yards and is expected to be a significant factor. The fifth-year veteran has emerged as one of Jared Goff's go-to receivers.
FAST FACTS: The Falcons were one of two NFC teams with two 100-tackle players; LB Deion Jones had 138 and S Keanu Neal had 113. ... QB Matt Ryan has 41,796 career passing yards -- most by a player in his first 10 seasons in NFL history. He threw for 4,095 yards, his franchise-record seventh consecutive season with 4,000. ... RB Devonta Freeman had 1,182 scrimmage yards, his third consecutive season with 1,000. ... WR Julio Jones led the NFC with 1,444 receiving yards. In his past four postseason games, he has 30 receptions for 516 yards and five TDs. ... The Rams won the NFC West, their first division title since 2003. ... The Rams are the second team in NFL history to lead the league in points (29.9 per game) after scoring the fewest (14 ppg) in the previous season. The 1964 San Francisco 49ers also did it. ... Sean McVay, 31, is the youngest coach in NFL history to lead his team to the playoffs. ... QB Jared Goff ranked third in the NFC in passer rating (100.5) and tied for fifth in TD passes (28). ... RB Todd Gurley led the NFL with 2,093 scrimmage yards and 19 TDs. He is the third player in NFL history to have 2,000 scrimmage yards (2,093), at least 10 rushing TDs (13) and more than five TD catches (6). O.J. Simpson (1975) and Marshall Faulk (2000 and 2001) were the others.
PREDICTION: Gurley and the Rams' offense are more dynamic than Matt Ryan's Falcons. As long as the Rams can turn it back on after resting in the finale, they should handle Atlanta.
OUR PICK: Rams, 26-21.