Los Angeles Rams fans are rightfully ecstatic for being in the playoffs. So excited, in fact, that most are forgetting that the Atlanta Falcons were the NFC representative in the Super Bowl last season.
While they aren’t quite the team they were last year, they earned their return trip to the playoffs. These players in particular could spoil the Rams return to the postseason.
You don’t win a NFL MVP without being a very, very good football player. Last season’s MVP will be coming to the Coliseum this evening ready to prove that last year’s Super Bowl disaster doesn’t define him.
He still has Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, an underrated TE in Austin Hooper, and Jake Matthews protecting his blind side. It remains to be seen whether losing Matt LaFleur is the cause of his slide this season, but Rams fans should feel blessed that they aren’t playing the 2016 version of Ryan.
Look for Wade Phillips to be more aggressive than usual today. The Falcons OL is beat up and if they can make Ryan uncomfortable, it will be more difficult for Julio and Sanu to take advantage of what is a favorable matchup for the Falcons.
Freeman has been less than 100% for most of the season, but he wasn’t listed on the Falcons final injury report. Similar to Ryan, he took a step back in 2017 after having consecutive 1,000 yard / 11 TD seasons in 2015 and 2016.
Tevin Coleman has been splitting snaps with Freeman often this season and has been thoroughly unimpressive in that role. I expect Freeman to carry the burden in the backfield today - even if he isn’t quite 100%.
Mack is a double edged sword for the Rams. On one hand, he’s dealing with a calf sprain suffered a few weeks ago and could be a liability for the Falcons OL. On the other hand, he’s one of the toughest and smartest centers in the NFL and is savvy enough to adjust protection to account for that if he plays.
Michael Brockers will have his hands full trying to get past Mack. It’d be fun to see whether the Rams dial up some exotic stunts to test Mack’s agility on the interior.
Neal has been a dynamo for the Falcons since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the 6th highest safety in the NFL in 2017.
The Rams are used to dealing with Earl Thomas so they know how to game plan around a good safety. McVay is likely going to lean on that knowledge and experience today.
Who says the NFL is a young man’s league? Bryant is 42 and still going strong for the Falcons. Owner of a career 85% completion percentage (96.8% in the playoffs), he’s reliable and still has enough gumption to make it from 50+.
In what is likely going to be a close game, every point will matter. Bryant is the exact opposite of Rams kicker Sam Ficken. Bryant has been here before and knows the pressures he will face.
Keep that in mind when the 4th quarter rolls around tonight.