Before this longest and most frustrating of NFL seasons began, very few people thought of the Los Angeles Rams as a legitimate playoff contender instead of a punch line.
The Rams were coming off an abysmal 4-12 record that got head coach Jeff Fisher fired, the first round pick and future franchise quarterback Jared Goff was looking like a bust and the team had no first rounder in 2017 due to a trade.
Not only that, but the team had hired an inexperienced head coach in Sean McVay, the youngest top man in the NFL.
But that’s why they play the games.
The Rams were the most improved team in the league this season and Goff went from the butt of jokes to a gun-slinging stud who threw 28 touchdown passes to only 7 picks and led a potent offense that could score at will.
The turnaround was also greatly aided by running back Todd Gurley who shrugged off a disappointing 2016 to rush for 1,305 yards and 13 scores along with catching 64 passes for another 788 along with six touchdowns.
The defense was also nails as former Broncos coordinator Wade Phillips brought his magic to town and terrorized opposing quarterbacks with 48 sacks.
The Rams finished 11-5 and won the NFC West, they will host at least one playoff game and that will take place on Saturday night against the Atlanta Falcons.
Speaking of punch lines. The Falcons are quite familiar with them after managing to gag away last year’s Super Bowl in historic fashion. With a nearly insurmountable 25-point third quarter lead and only needing one or two first downs to seal the deal with the Patriots on the ropes, the dirty birds choked.
Quarterback Matt Ryan aka Matty Ice melted down, gifting the Patriots at least one touchdown and costing his team at least a field goal by taking an ill-advised sack. It was a ghastly performance by a guy who had been the league MVP but consistent with Ryan’s history of not being able to close the deal.
A big assist in the epic choke goes to former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan who instead of running the ball to take time off the clock, looked to make a statement against a still dangerous Tom Brady team. It all went to hell quickly for Atlanta and many wondered whether there would be a lingering psychological effect.
Despite a poor start, the Falcons bounced back to win six of their last eight games but lost out on the division title when they failed to beat the New Orleans Saints in a key divisional showdown.
The Falcons are still dangerous and capable of going deep into the playoffs but they will first have to get by the Rams.
Weather will not be a factor tonight at the L.A. Coliseum and the game could be a shootout.
If I were a betting man I’d give the Falcons a slight edge based solely on playoff experience.
The game will start at 8:15 pm ET.