A loss would officially eliminate the L.A. Rams (4-8) from playoff contention. It would also give them their tenth consecutive losing season, and sixth under head coach Jeff Fisher.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons (7-5) are battling for their division and a playoff spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5).
Hence, both teams need to win this NFL matchup. Here is what to expect from the Week 14 contest.
1. The Rams get a breakout game from Gurley
Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman has had two rushing touchdowns in his last two outings. He could also do the same this weekend.
Still, Freeman shares the load with running back Tevin Coleman. This hurts both players’ rushing totals for the season.
Either way, Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley will steal the show. His team may lose, but Gurley will perform in the state where the former Georgia Bulldog played his college ball.
Gurley has not broken 100 yards in 15 consecutive contests, but that will finally change this week. The Falcons allow 27.6 points per game, fourth-worst in the NFL, and 381.7 yards per game, the league’s sixth-worst average.
Gurley should get lots of touches, as the Rams try to keep Falcon QB Matt Ryan off the field. This should help Los Angeles get Gurley more than 85 rushing yards, which he has not done this year.
The Falcons will shred Los Angeles with their passing game, regardless of the Rams’ running game.
2. Falcons’ passing attack dominates
The Rams stopping Atlanta’s passing attack depends on their defensive line.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has six sacks this season. Los Angeles needs a big game from Donald to stop the Falcons’ passing attack. Donald faces Atlanta guard Andy Levitre, who is having a good season.
Meanwhile, Rams pass rusher Robert Quinn and Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews are both questionable. Therefore, the Falcons will need to count on protection from their interior line to neutralize Donald.
Nonetheless, Falcons receiver Julio Jones has 72 catches for 1,253 yards and five touchdowns. Receiver Mohamed Sanu is out with a groin injury. He ranks second on the team with 49 receptions for 521 yards and three touchdowns. Therefore, the Falcons will lean on Jones more versus the Rams.
Otherwise, it will be up to Rams corner Trumaine Johnson to stop Jones. Jones is also listed as questionable thanks to a turf toe injury. If he plays, the Falcons should target Johnson. The starting corner has been a mixed bag this season.
In the end, the Rams passing offense proves to be too much for the Rams. They should exploit the Rams if Johnson and Donald struggle, especially if Quinn does not play.
3. Atlanta scores more than 30
The Rams rank No. 8 in third down defense thanks to a 37.6 percent conversion rate, per the Atlanta Falcons’ website.
Los Angeles also ranks No. 10 in fewest yards per game and No. 14 in opponents’ points.
Hence, the Rams will try to control this game with their defense. They must control field position and clock management. Rams punter Johnny Hekker has an NFL-high 40 punts inside the 20-yard line. He will be key to pinning the Falcons into bad field position.
However, Atlanta’s offense will be too much. They will find ways to score on long drives from deep in their own territory. The Falcons rely on a balanced offensive attack behind solid rushing and passing options.
Plus, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 284 of 414 passes for 3,813 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That puts him at second in the NFL for passing yards and third for touchdowns. He is also a candidate for MVP as he leads the league with a 9.2 yards-per-attempt-mark. Further, the Falcons are No. 1 in points-per-game with 32.2 points.
Atlanta has scored more than 30 points in six of their seven wins this year. That trend continues versus the Rams.
4. The Rams’ offense will make mistakes
When this game gets out of hand, the Rams will force their rookie quarterback into mistakes. L.A. rookie quarterback Jared Goff sat out a week of practice due to illness, according to the OC Register. He should be rusty. Not to mention, the No. 1 overall draft pick has been sacked eight times in three games. The Falcons will sack him a few times too
Robinson sat versus the Saints two weeks ago, despite being healthy. The Rams must account for Beasley on every pass play, as he is the only Rams player with double-digit sacks.
Added, the Rams are minus-six in turnovers while the Falcons are plus-three. Los Angeles has only four turnovers in their last eight games. Expect L.A. to lose the turnover battle again. Goff could also get sacked a few times.
5. Falcons win big
Atlanta has lost four games by a touchdown or less, and they won three games by a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Rams have won four games by one touchdown or less. They have also lost three games by less than one touchdown.
However, this one will probably not be close. Los Angeles has allowed 78 points in their last two outings. Saints quarterback Drew Brees shredded the Rams two weeks ago, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did it last week. Matt Ryan and the Falcons should do the same.
Atlanta is the better team, and they have more to play for this season than L.A. The Falcons should prove that with a double-digit victory.
Kickoff for the L.A. Rams versus Atlanta Falcons happens Dec. 11 at 4:25 p.m. EST. The Rams lead the series, 27-27-2 as these teams were division rivals from 1967 to 2001, according to CBS Los Angeles.
[Featured Image by Chuck Burton/AP Images]