LOS ANGELES -- It has been nearly 25 years since this city has experienced an NFL playoff game, but the Los Angeles Rams -- the same Los Angeles Rams who bottomed out in 2016 -- are about to provide one.
Under the 31-year-old Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, the Rams finished 2017 with an 11-5 record and the No. 3 seed in their conference. Now they'll host the Atlanta Falcons, the reigning NFC champs, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, with kickoff set for 5:15 p.m. PT on NBC.
Reason to be excited: As the season wore on, the Rams progressed from a cute underdog to a legitimate powerhouse. They finished third in the NFL in point differential, and they could've finished first if they didn't sit most of their starters in the regular-season finale. They have the potential league MVP (Todd Gurley) and the potential NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Aaron Donald), with loads of talent around each of them. McVay is an offensive mastermind, and his defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, is among the best at what he does. The best part: This is sustainable. The Rams began the season with the NFL's second-youngest roster. Their quarterback, Jared Goff, is 23 years old and should only improve.
Reason to be concerned: That last part, for one. On their active roster, the Rams have only six players who have combined for 21 career playoff games, by far the lowest among the 12 teams that have moved on. But the biggest questions lie at kicker. Greg Zuerlein, the NFL's most productive kicker by a wide margin, was placed on injured reserve after Week 15 because of a back injury, sending the Rams scrambling to replace him. They went with Sam Ficken, an undrafted free agent in 2015 who had never kicked in a regular-season game. And Ficken missed his first two attempts. He hasn't missed since, but he has yet to try any beyond 36 yards.
What's next: The Rams face a Falcons team that still has the potential to be dynamic on offense, even though they might have taken a step back since Kyle Shanahan left to become the San Francisco 49ers' head coach. Julio Jones is arguably the game's best receiver, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman provide a deadly one-two punch in the backfield, and Matt Ryan is a Hall of Famer in waiting. Defensively, the Falcons held opponents to 17 points per game over the past five weeks, seventh-fewest in the NFL. These two teams last met on Dec. 11, 2016. The Falcons annihilated the Rams at the Coliseum by a 42-14 score. It was Jeff Fisher's final game as the Rams' head coach. A lot has changed since then.