NFL Vegas Picks: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams 2018 Wild Card
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Rams In Playoffs For First Time Since 2004
How much of last February’s Super Bowl meltdown is still hanging over the Atlanta Falcons? We will find out in the next week or two.
The reigning NFC champs landed in the playoffs on the last weekend of the regular season with a victory over a division rival. Now the Falcons (10-6) travel to the West Coast for a wild card game on Saturday against a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2004.
The Los Angeles Rams, just 4-12 a year ago, won the NFC West title behind an improving second-year quarterback in Jared Goff, a superstar running back in Todd Gurley and the youngest coach in the NFL in Sean McVay. But none of them have ever been to the postseason. This is all new to this squad. And they are six-point favorites in this matchup against the Falcons (odds provided by bovada.lv).
Why Atlanta will win:
- Played third-toughest schedule in the National Football League.
- Enter Playoffs as defending conference champions.
- Falcons 9-3 against NFC opponents.
Why Los Angeles will win:
- Running back Todd Gurley proved he can do it all.
- Remarkable turnaround from last year’s 4-12 record.
- First time in the playoffs since 2004.
The Rams (11-5) finished first in scoring with 478 points after finishing last in 2016, becoming just the second team to complete that turnaround, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. L.A. averaged almost 30 points a game.
The Rams won three of their first four games to start the season. They grabbed the division lead by winning four of their next five and never relinquished it from there.
L.A. never lost two games in a row the entire season, and it finished among the league leaders at 9-7 against the spread. The Rams also went 2-2 against division champions — including wins over Jacksonville and New Orleans.
After a dismal rookie season, Goff showed the league why he was worth the first overall pick in the NFL draft in 2016. The 23-year-old threw for 3,804 yards this season (1,089 in 2016), 28 touchdowns (five in 2016) and the same number of interceptions at seven. His QB rating improved from 63.6 to 100.5. Can you say franchise quarterback?
Gurley put on MVP numbers this season. He led the league in scoring with 19 touchdowns and rushing with 1,305 yards. He also led the Rams with 64 receptions for 788 yards. It’s rare for a quarterback not to win the MVP award, but Gurley has to be in the conversation this year.
The Falcons got off to a fast start in 2017, winning three in a row. But they lost four of their next five and sat third in the NFC South. They finished the last half of the season 6-2 but that was only good enough for the sixth seed in the playoffs.
Matt Ryan’s stats dropped dramatically from his MVP season last year. The veteran quarterback threw for 4,095 yards (4,944 in 2016), 20 touchdowns (38), 12 interceptions (seven) and a 91.4 QB rating (117.1).
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,493 yards rushing and 616 yards in the passing game. Both players scored eight times. Julio Jones had another All-Pro season with 88 catches and 1,444 receiving yards.
The Falcons, who had the third toughest schedule this season, crushed the Rams the last time these two teams met. Atlanta beat L.A. 42-14 in December 2016 at the Memorial Coliseum.
While the Rams don’t have the greatest record at home this season (4-4), they are hungry for a playoff victory. The Falcons were favored in 14 of 16 games this year, but they lost both matchups as the underdog.
VGB’s pick — Los Angeles Rams (-6), Over (48.5)
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