It’s been nearly 25 years since the City of Los Angeles last hosted a playoff football game. But that will change on Saturday night, as the Rams (11-5) welcome the reigning NFC Champion Falcons (10-6) to the Coliseum for a Wild Card matchup.
The No. 6 seed Falcons will be looking to rebound from a loss in last year’s Super Bowl and make another title run, while the No. 3 seed Rams will be eager to keep things rolling after a remarkable year-to-year turnaround.
“This team is special,” wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “I’m pretty sure the whole world is surprised, but this team and these coaches, we’re not surprised by how well we’ve been doing.”
Atlanta comes to the Coliseum with a lot of playoff experience under its belt. Los Angeles, however, has just six players on the active roster who have been to the postseason before and the franchise is 12 years removed from its last playoff appearance.
But that lack of experience did not seem to bother those inside the Rams locker room.
“We can’t really focus on that,” right guard Jamon Brown said. “If you look throughout the season, we’ve played in a lot of big games and a lot of big game environments.”
“I don’t think it’s a concern,” head coach Sean McVay echoed. “It’s still football, [and] I think our guys are confident from what they’ve done this year and they’re looking forward to the chance to be able to play in an atmosphere like that.”
Check out photos of the Rams playoff moments throughout the years.
And the fact that the Falcons took home a dominant 42-14 victory last year at the Coliseum? Not on the Rams’ minds.
“You can’t really look at them, just look at us,” Brown said. “If you look at us, we’re a lot different in a lot of ways. We have a lot of new pieces, and we have a lot of different results from this season. You can’t compare what happened in the past.”
Still, the club will face many of the same players as they did last season — particularly on the Falcons’ offense.
Atlanta features last year’s MVP in quarterback Matt Ryan and arguably the league’s best wide receiver in Julio Jones. Together, the duo has led one of the most dynamic and consistent offenses in the NFL for the past seven years.
This season, Ryan finished with a 64.7 completion percentage, 4,095 yards passing, and 20 touchdowns. While his accuracy is impressive in and of its own right, it’s his intelligence that sticks out to the Rams.
“When it comes to him, I feel like his resume really speaks for itself,” cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. “He’s a quick decision maker, he knows exactly where to throw the ball, and he trusts his receivers.”
“He’s been doing it for a long time and he’s only gotten better,” middle linebacker Alec Ogletree added. “He has control of their offense and they go through him. He’s able to read all types of coverages and get the ball to his playmakers.”
Jones has been equally as impressive, becoming one of just six players in NFL history to record four seasons with at least 80 receptions and 1,400 yards — finishing the 2017 regular season with 88 receptions, 1,444 yards, and three touchdowns.
“Just being on the same field as a guy like that — he’s a freak,” safety John Johnson III said. “He does impossible things.”
But it’s not just Jones and Ryan that make this Falcons’ offense so difficult to defend. The unit also boasts an impressive lineup of playmakers in wideout Mohamed Sanu and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Together they have combined for 2,822 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns.
“I think they’re playing well. They’ve kind of hit their stride at the end of the year as far as their offense is concerned,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “It’s obviously a big game and it’s going to be a tough offense to play against.”
The Falcons’ defense will present an equally significant challenge for the Rams. While McVay rested many of Los Angeles’ starters in Week 17 — including running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff — the aggressive Falcons’ defense featuring defensive end Grady Jarrett and Pro Bowl linebacker Vic Beasley will still be a tough matchup.
“Really good upfront. Really, really good pass rush and adding defensive end Takkarist McKinley only heightens that as well,” Goff said. “At the linebacker spot, I think they’re very athletic, can cover, can tackle well and in the back half they’re really good as well – all four of them.”
Since allowing a season-high 201 rushing yards in Week 9, the Falcons have given up just 93.6 yards per game on the ground. And in the air, Atlanta has given up just 214.3 yards per game, which is the 12th fewest in the
league. But the Rams seemed primed for the challenge.
“It’s playoff football so that’s what we’re expecting,” wide receiver Robert Woods said. “We’re going to go out there and work for everything, every inch. No mistakes and no slips. We just have to take this opportunity, put up points and hopefully take their defense away.”
If the NFL’s highest scoring offense is able to do just that, the Rams will have a good shot at improving to the divisional round against the Vikings. But either way, Saturday’s matchup should be an exciting showdown between two of the league’s best.
Kickoff for the Wild Card game is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. PT. You can find out more on how to watch, by clicking here.