The Spread and Total
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (-6, O/U 48.5), courtesy of Bovada.
The high/low Wild Card matchup in the NFC. If the Falcons win, they’ll travel to Philly to play the Eagles; if the Rams win, they’ll be in Minnesota for the Vikings.
Atlanta Falcons: 10-6 SU (7-9 ATS), 3rd NFC South
LA Rams: 11-5 SU (9-7 ATS), 1st NFC West
Andy Levitre (triceps), out; Jack Crawford (biceps), out; Devin Fuller (knee), out; Taylor Gabriel (hamstring), probable
Greg Zuerlein (back), out; Matt Longacre (back), out; Kayvon Webster (achilles), out; Cooper Kupp (knee), probable.
Dec 11, 2016 (Coliseum, Los Angeles): Atlanta 42, LA Rams 14
Sep 15, 2013 (Georgia Dome, Atlanta): Atlanta 31, St Louis Rams 24
Significant Betting Trends
The total has gone under in each of the Falcons’ last five games.
The total has gone over in each of the Rams’ last five games.
The Falcons have covered in just one of their last six road games.
The Rams are 3-0 this season when favored by six or more.
The Falcons are 0-2 as an underdog this season.
It’s youth versus experience this Sunday when the Atlanta Falcons head to the City of Angels to face the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum. Last year’s Super Bowl bridesmaids, the Falcons have undoubtedly felt the absence of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan this season. Shanahan was able to wrest a historically great season out of Matt Ryan in 2016 (), while his replacement, Steve Sarkisian, has struggled to find the paint, even though the team is still capable of moving the ball at a decent clip. Atlanta fell from a league-leading 33.8 PPG to just 22.1. The proven strategy of chuck it to Julio Jones was eschewed in the red zone, and the beastly receiver recorded just three TD catches, his lowest single-season total apart from an injury-shortened 2013.
The narrative for the Rams’ offense completely flips the script. After finishing deadlast in points last year (14.0 PPG), the youthful Rams blossomed under rookie head coach Sean McVay, turning into the highest-scoring team in the league (29.9 PPG). It’s the greatest offensive turnaround in NFL history. Third-year running back Todd Gurley was turned loose behind an improved offensive line, and McVay consistently found ways to get his back the ball in space in the passing game. Gurley wound up leading the league in yards from scrimmage, despite sitting out Week 17.
Out wide, sophomore QB Jared Goff was able to rely on a trio of solid receivers: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Sammy Watkins, preventing defenses from stacking the box against the run. Goff went from a dismal five-touchdown, seven-interception rookie season (which had many writing him off as a bust) to a stellar 4-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio and a passer rating north of 100.
The LA defense, the unit that was expected to keep the team competitive, stumbled out of the gate, but got stronger and stronger as the year went on thanks to a Defensive Player of the Year-type season from Aaron Donald and a solid performances in the secondary. Wade Phillips’ boys finished the year sixth in Defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders, though they were a concerning 22nd against the run.
Atlanta’s defense, meanwhile, was below average against both the run and pass, despite many pundits predicting significant progress from Deion Jones and company. While the much-hyped middle linebacker lived up to his billing, ranking fifth among all linebackers according to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t get much help from the guys on either side of him, particularly Kemal Ishmael. Nor was the secondary able to pick up the slack, recording just eight interceptions on the year, tied for third-worst in the league. Against a now-stingy Jared Goff, that’s unlikely to change come Sunday.
The Rams are better than the Falcons in basically all facets of the game, and significantly better on defense. In a game that’s unlikely to feature many turnovers, I’ll side with the team that has consistently been able to both sustain drives and find the end zone. Six points is a lot to lay, especially against a team with as much playoff experience as the Falcons, but this Rams team is an unstoppable force when it gets going, and you saw them respond to pressure in the most impressive of ways when they traveled to Seattle in Week 15, routing the Seahawks 42-7 in what was basically an NFC West title game. The bright lights of the playoffs won’t be too much for Goff, and even if he struggles, McVay still has Todd Gurley and one of the league’s best defenses to rely on.
When it comes to the game total, roll with the under. Dan Quinn knows that Atlanta’s best chance to win is to pick on LA’s rush defense and keep the ball out of Goff’s hands. They won’t find a ton of success doing so, but it’s a strategy that will shorten the game and keep the score down.
Pick: Rams (-6) and UNDER (48.5)