Five Factors: Falcons vs. Rams
Public bettors remain split on which team will cover tonight between the Falcons and Rams. Here are five factors that will decide this Wild Card round matchup.
First, the odds: According to oddsmakers from online sports book Bovada.lv, the Rams are 5.5-point home favorites to beat the Falcons, who opened as 4.5-point road underdogs earlier in the week. The total, meanwhile, sits at 49.5 points after hitting the board at 48. As of Saturday morning, 51% of betting tickets are on the Falcons.
Factor 1: Can the Falcons contain Gurley?
Todd Gurley led the NFL with 2,093 scrimmage yards this season and was second among running backs with 788 receiving yards in 2017. The Falcons allowed the most receptions to running backs this season (110) and will have their hands full against Gurley. Believe it or not, Atlanta has actually been decent against the run this season. The Falcons rank 9th in run defense, allowing 104.1 yards per game on the ground. Atlanta fared well against Carolina (3.6 yards per carry) and New Orleans' (2.8 yards per carry) rushing attacks the past two weeks. They're capable of containing Gurley, although he remains a big play waiting to happen. If Atlanta can stop the run, create pressure with just four down lineman, and make Jared Goff throw into tight windows, they have a shot.
Factor 2: Can the Falcons slow down Donald?
The Falcons will have starting center Alex Mack (calf, probable) in uniform tonight but the loss of guard Andy Levitre could be significant. That's because the Rams boast one of the best interior defensive lineman in the game in Aaron Donald. Only the Steelers, Jaguars and Panthers have sacked opposing quarterbacks at a higher rate than the Rams this season and Donald is a big reason for that accomplishment. Levitre's backup, Ben Garland, has struggled while filling in for Levitre, who was placed on I.R. last week.
Factor 3: How will Zuerlein's absence will impact the Rams?
Greg Zuerlein is out for the season with a back injury and his replacement has been shaky. Sam Ficken missed his first field goal and point-after tries this season and hasn't made a kick beyond 33 yards this season. Zuerlein led the NFL in scoring this season with 158 points and made 95% of his total field goal attempts (38-of-40), which was third-best in the NFL. Furthermore, he made 95% of his field goal attempts this season, which was second-best in the NFL. If Ficken has to line up for a game-winning field goal attempt, that could be an issue.
Factor 4: Which Falcons offense will show up?
A regression with this Atlanta offense was coming. The team lost play-caller Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers this offseason and Steve Sarkisian had never called plays before in the NFL. But even after a full offseason, preseason and regular season, this Falcons offense never got into gear. The Falcons had the biggest decrease in scoring from last season at -11.7 points per game. Matt Ryan has 14 completions and three touchdowns of at least 30 yards this season, which is a stark contrast to the 29 completions and 11 touchdowns of at least 30 yards last year. He hasn't been helped by his receivers, who have dropped 4.7% of their targets this year after Ryan had the second-lowest drop rate in the league last year. The Falcons had to settle for five Matt Bryant field goals in their win over the Panthers in Week 17 last week. That won't be good enough against a Rams offense that led the league in scoring this year.
Factor 5: Can Falcons take advantage of Rams' run defense?
If they can't, the Rams could win this game going away. They have home field advantage, they own the league's best offense, and a nasty pass rush. The Falcons could win a track meet a year ago but that's not the case this season. They need to run the ball effectively if they're going to win tonight. The Rams rank 30th in yards per carry allowed (4.7), which means Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman could have a big night. If the Rams handle Atlanta's rushing attack, then they can punch their tickets to the Divsional round.