NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
So how do you like your football? Most fans love offense, and I'm probably in that camp.
For example, the college football national semifinal games were wildly different on New Year's Day. The Georgia-Oklahoma Rose Bowl was an offensive extravaganza with 102 points, two overtimes and more than 1,000 yards of offense. That was one of the best NCAA games I've watched in a long time. The Sugar Bowl nightcap, to me, was a defensive bore with just 30 points scored and less than 450 yards of offense - although I'm sure Alabama fans are plenty satisfied with how it played out against Clemson.
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What does this have to do with the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs? I believe the first game Saturday, Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs, will be a defensive slog like Clemson-Alabama was. But that the nightcap between the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams has a good chance to be a shootout (although certainly not 54-48). So I'll be previewing the latter here.
The Rams are hosting their first playoff game in Los Angeles since the divisional round following the 1985 season, a 20-0 win over Dallas. Eric Dickerson was a monster that day with 248 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. Made up for QB Dieter Brock going just 6-for-22 for 50 yards with a pick. That storied 1985 Bears defense would then totally shut down the Rams the following week in the NFC title game. The last playoff game the Rams franchise had played was the St. Louis Rams visiting Atlanta in the divisional round following the 2004 season. Michael Vick's Falcons romped in the old Georgia Dome, 47-17. That's the only postseason meeting between the two franchises.
Atlanta is trying to become the first team to reach the Super Bowl a year after losing it since those Buffalo Bills squads lost four Super Bowls in a row in he early 1990s. Should the sixth-seeded Falcons pull the upset here, they will travel to Philadelphia next weekend - and that doesn't look all that tough all of a sudden with Nick Foles' struggles. A third-seeded Rams win sends them to the site of Super Bowl LII, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, to face the No. 2 Vikings.
Falcons at Rams Betting Story Lines
These teams' 2017 seasons were really decided in the coaching market last offseason. The Rams were mocked by many for hiring then-30-year-old Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay as their head coach, making him the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. Now that looks like an absolute grand slam as the Rams became the first team in the Super Bowl era to finish last in scoring one season (14.0 ppg in 2016) and first the next (29.9 ppg).
Quarterback Jared Goff looked totally lost under the 2016 coaching staff and played at a Pro Bowl level in 2017. Todd Gurley had just 885 yards rushing and six total touchdowns last year; in 2017, he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and in total touchdowns with 19. Gurley probably finishes second to Tom Brady for NFL MVP and lost out on the rushing title because he and most starters sat out Week 17, while Kansas City rookie Kareem Hunt had one 35-yard TD carry in his meaningless game vs. the Broncos, but that was enough to pass Gurley. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald held out at the start of this season, and he's about to get paid as Donald finished with a career-high 11 sacks and led the league in QB pressures. As a tackle, not an end! He's a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. I'm actually not sure now how Jeff Fisher didn't get more from this group because there's a lot of talent. The only thing the Rams don't have much of is playoff experience.
The Falcons had to play all-out in Week 17 unlike the Rams, and Atlanta beat visiting Carolina 22-10 to earn the NFC's final playoff spot - it turns out the Falcons would have gotten in regardless considering the Seahawks were stunned at home by Arizona. The Falcons were the Rams of 2016 in leading the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game, but that number is down to 22.1 in 2017 after losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan the day after the Super Bowl to the 49ers as their coach. The Falcons are 10-0 this season when scoring at least 20 points and winless when they don't. Frankly, the defense has been the better unit, ranking Top 10 in yards allowed and points. Atlanta is 7-1 when it holds opponents under 100 yards rushing and hasn't allowed a team to reach 100 rushing yards in the last four games. The Rams are 6-0 when Gurley rushes for 100 or more yards.
Falcons at Rams Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Los Angeles is a 6.5-point favorite (-110) with a total of 48.5. On the moneyline, the Rams are -300 and Falcons +250. On the alternate lines, L.A. is -6 (-118) and -7 (+110). The Falcons were 7-9 against the spread this season (2-6 on road) and 5-11 "over/under" (3-5 on road). The Rams are 9-7 ATS (4-4 at home) and 11-5 O/U (4-4 at home).
The Falcons are 2-5 ATS in their past seven after a win. They are 0-4 ATS in their previous four playoff road games. The Rams are 4-1 ATS in their past five after a loss. They are 6-13-1 ATS in their past 20 vs. the NFC. The over is 5-0 in Atlanta's past five playoff games. The under is 5-2 in its past seven after a win. The over is 5-0 in the Rams' past five and 5-2 in their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The Falcons are 5-2 ATS in their past seven meetings.
Falcons at Rams Betting Prediction
"We know that we'll see solid Atlanta money from the public given the star power on the team, but this isn't your older brother's Rams bunch," BookMaker.eu spokesman Scott Cooley said. "We do expect this to be bet down at some point, but at the end of the day L.A. is multiple pegs higher in the power ratings. We should get solid two-way action from the sharps and squares at this number." The Falcons were as low as +4.5 at that site as of this writing.
Atlanta won its fourth straight in this series in Week 14 last year in L.A., 42-14. Ryan threw for three scores, one to Tevin Coleman, who also rushed for a TD. Neither of Ryan's top receivers, Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu, played. The Rams had five turnovers and 11 penalties. That was Fisher's final game as coach.
Of the four road teams playing this weekend, Atlanta winning would surprise me the least of them. But I'm going to give the 6-point alternate line here. The Rams are healthier and well-rested. They win by a touchdown, something like 34-27, so go over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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