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Who would be the most appealing first round playoff matchup for Atlanta?

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Thinking ahead, just in case.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

If the Atlanta Falcons win Sunday against the Panthers, they will find themselves in the postseason for the second straight season, and just the second time in the last five seasons. This entire frustrating season will be in the rearview, with a fresh hope for the postseason singing in our hearts.

Of course, to make any noise in the playoffs, the Falcons are going to have to go through some very good football teams. Which one would we prefer they draw, all things considered?

There are three realistic possibilities for matchups here, since I’m assuming the Vikings will be the #2 seed unless something zany happens. They also are the matchup I fear most, given the way they shut down Atlanta’s offense in Atlanta the last time around. That would leave the Saints, Rams, and Panthers as potential matchups.

Not one of those is ideal, but let’s look at all three of these possibilities to determine which one is best for Atlanta.

Los Angeles Rams

Total Offense: 7th

Total Defense: 16th

Turnover Differential: +6

The Rams do not have the dominant defense of yesteryear this season, but they have impact defenders dotting the field, and Aaron Donald does the work of 11 men himself at times. Their offense has been the major surprise, as they’ve been one of the league’s most devastating units under Sean McVay. Amazing what being freed from the shackles of Jeff Fisher will do for you.

The Rams are in many ways the most straightforward matchup. Jared Goff is a solid young quarterback running an offense tailored to keep him upright and spread the ball around, and Los Angeles is loaded with talented former Bills receivers. The real threat here, though, is Todd Gurley, who runs with speed and physicality and is an extremely capable receiver. The Falcons have been destroyed by lesser backs, even though their run defense has looked improved in recent weeks.

This Rams team, with its young QB, first-time head coach, and question marks in the secondary, might be the best possible matchup for Atlanta. The problem is that if the defense isn’t on its game in a major way, Gurley will eat this team alive. As both the most likely opponent and the one that doesn’t have a massive homefield advantage baked in as a recent LA transplant, they’re the one I’d want to draw.

New Orleans Saints

Total Offense: 2nd

Total Defense: 15th

Turnover Differential: +5

We just saw what the Saints can do to the Falcons at home. Yes, the Falcons were on the wrong end of some bad calls, and they flubbed the execution on a couple of plays that would have made it close, if not a win. But they also got shut down on offense, by and large, and gouged for a handful of big plays by a potent Saints offense. They’re not an ideal draw this year, and as much as I love the idea of the Falcons beating them in their own house in the playoffs, I’d rather not see them in the first round if we get to choose.

Carolina Panthers

Total Offense: 17th

Total Defense: 7th

Turnover Differential: +2

Carolina, though? That’s a matchup I think is a little more workable. Their defense is a legitimate problem for Atlanta, especially when the Falcons are on the road, but their offense is much more manageable for this defense than either Los Angeles or New Orleans, assuming Cam Newton isn’t allowed to run free the way he was earlier this year. Their passing attack is filled with decent but uninspiring options, their run game is a shell of what it once was, and you can still attack the secondary if you can get by a formidable front seven. The Falcons were unable to earlier in the year, but they’re certainly capable of better.

Ultimately, the best draws for Atlanta would seem to be Los Angeles, Carolina, and then New Orleans, in that order. The way this Falcons team has been playing of late, they aren’t a lock to beat any of those teams, but I’ll take the most straightforward matchup I can in the Wild Card round, and the Rams fit the bill out of these three options.

Now let’s just hope they can get there.