Updated 6:25 p.m. PT
LOS ANGELES — For most of Sunday afternoon, it looked as if the Rams would finish the season as the NFC's No. 4 seed and take on the Panthers at No. 5 next weekend.
Los Angeles fell 34-13 to San Francisco on Sunday, meaning the club finished the 2017 season 11-5. The Saints were leading the Buccaneers for most of the day, which would have put them at 12-4 — good for the No. 3 seed, which would have automatically put Carolina at No. 5.
But then Tampa quarterback James Winston led the Buccaneers to a furious fourth-quarter comeback, driving 95 yards in 11 plays inside two minutes with no timeouts. Winston capped the drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Chris Goodwin with only nine seconds left on the clock. Instead of 12-4, New Orleans was 11-5.
At the same time, the Falcons were completing their 22-10 victory over the Panthers — intercepting quarterback Cam Newton to ice the game with only eight ticks remaining. Carolina, too, finished the season 11-5.
Both games were still ongoing when the final whistle blew at the L.A. Coliseum. But by the time head coach Sean McVay walked to the podium for his postgame press conference he knew the day's results and their consequences.
The Rams rested their starters and are still the NFC's No. 3 seed. The Saints are No. 4. The Panthers are No. 5. And, with their win, the Falcons are No. 6.
That means L.A. will host Atlanta next Saturday at the Coliseum for Wild Card Weekend. Kickoff is slated for 5:15 p.m. PT.
"Our team is excited about the opportunity to have the Falcons come here next week. And we know it's a great challenge against the reigning NFC Champs from last year," McVay said. "Coach [Dan] Quinn is an excellent head coach — great leader. And you look at, really, a complete football team and it's going to be a great challenge for us. But one that we're really extremely excited for. And can't wait to get to work on the preparation for that one."
The Falcons famously lost the Super Bowl last year in gut-wrenching fashion, but have bounced back well in 2017 to still make the playoffs. Last year's AP Most Valuable Players, quarterback Matt Ryan, threw for 317 yards and a touchdown on Sunday to finish the season with 20 TDs and 4,095 yards passing — the seventh consecutive season he's had at least 4,000 yards passing.
McVay called Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman two of the best all-purpose backs in the league — and with good reason. Freeman racked up 865 yards rushing in 2017, adding 317 yards receiving — including 85 in Sunday's victory over Carolina. And Coleman finished with 927 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns this season.
And then there's Julio Jones — arguably the league's best wide receiver. Jones recorded 1,449 yards receiving in his seventh pro season out of Alabama, his fourth in a row with at least 1,400 yards.
"Julio Jones is one of the best players in this league, and he can kind of do a little bit of everything," McVay said.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson is likely to matchup against Jones the most next week and was excited about the potential matchup in the locker room.
"You've got to love it, man," Johnson said. "Julio's one of the best receivers out there right now. You've got to love it. But at the same time, I'm one of the best corners, too. So it's going to be fun."
Defensively, McVay said the Falcons present many of the same looks the Rams have seen from Seattle, San Francisco, and Jacksonville with their Cover 3 base defense. But there are added wrinkles from with each team. Atlanta, for instance, has last year's sack leader in Vic Beasley, who recorded a sack on Sunday against Carolina.
Quarterback Jared Goff — who was active, but didn't play a snap on Sunday — said he feels like L.A. matches up well with the Falcons.
"I think any of those teams we would've ended up playing, all of them present challenges," Goff said. "And no different with Atlanta. And it'll be a fun game — we're excited to get to it next week and it'll be fun."
As one of the players who did rest, Goff said he feels like the strategy will aid the Rams headed into next week.
"Today we did get some guys a little healthier, get guys a little bit more fresh — some of those veteran guys that need it and then some of those guys like Todd that have been banged up all year," Goff said. "And it feels good — ready to go."
Plus, the Rams were able to get that rest and still keep their position as the No. 3 seed in the NFC.
"It kind of worked in our favor," said wideout Robert Woods, who was also active but didn't play a snap. "We ended up getting a lot of guys healthy, a lot of guys able to rest. Our biggest thing is just speed and how we play on Sundays, how we feel. I think today will help a lot of the guys to be able to prepare this week and just get really ready for this [Saturday] to be full speed, full go. And it's the start of our run."
"I think any time you go into a football game, you're certainly going to try to win the game," McVay said. "But I do think when you look at the way we approached it, we feel good about being able to allow some of our players to get some rest, a little bit of recovery time that I think is much needed for some of those guys. And then you keep a couple guys out of harm's way."
The rest takes on even more importance with L.A. having one fewer day to get ready to play. The No. 3 Rams and No. 6 Falcons will kick off at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday Jan. 6 at 5:15 PT.
For info on tickets, visit: therams.com/playoffs