Ryan leads Falcons’ 26-13 playoff win over upstart LA Rams

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons showed the upstart Los Angeles Rams what playoff poise is all about.

Ryan passed for 218 yards and hit Julio Jones for an 8-yard touchdown with 5:48 to play, and the defending NFC champion Falcons advanced from the wild-card round with a methodical 26-13 victory over the Rams on Saturday night.

Devonta Freeman rushed for an early score and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Falcons (11-6), who spoiled the Rams’ first playoff game in 13 years while showing off the postseason poise they earned from last season’s journey to the Super Bowl.

“This game’s kind of the way our season’s been, tough,” Ryan said. “We had to grind it out. Defense played really well. Offensively, we’re going against a great defense tonight. We ran the football, our guys played up front so hard, and then in the second half we started to get it going a little bit. So, I’m just proud of it.”

Atlanta never trailed at the Coliseum while winning playoff games in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.

The Falcons advanced to face the top-seeded Eagles on Jan. 13 in Philadelphia.

“Doesn’t matter where we’re going, we’re going,” Ryan said. “And that’s the most exciting part.”

Jones caught nine passes for 94 yards as Atlanta’s offense chewed up the clock and field position. The Falcons jumped to an early 13-0 lead while capitalizing on two early mistakes by Pharoh Cooper, the Rams’ Pro Bowl kick returner.

The Falcons’ defense did more than enough to slow down the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, harassing Jared Goff into a 24-for-45 performance in his playoff debut.

“We knew it was going to take all four quarters,” Falcons linebacker Deion Jones said. “All my guys were ready to fight `til the end, and it was great.”

Robert Woods caught nine passes for 142 yards for the NFC West champion Rams (11-6), but rookie Cooper Kupp scored the Rams’ only touchdown late in the first half.

Atlanta held MVP candidate Todd Gurley to 101 yards rushing – just 43 in the first three quarters – and four receptions for a mere 10 yards.

The Falcons ruined a celebratory night for the Rams, who rebounded from a rough homecoming season in 2016 with an outstanding debut year under 31-year-old Sean McVay, the youngest head coach to reach the playoffs in NFL history.

A raucous crowd of 74,300 packed the Coliseum on a crisp evening for the first NFL playoff game in the nation’s second-largest city since early 1994. Los Angeles went 21 years without pro football before the Rams returned last season, and the franchise emphatically ended a 13-year streak of non-winning seasons this fall with an inspiring run to the Rams’ first division title since 2003.

But the Falcons have been here before, and they showed it.

Although the Falcons’ offense took a step back in production this season, Atlanta chipped away at the Rams’ defense throughout the Coliseum return of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who coached USC here until 2015.

Ryan was methodical under relentless pressure from All-Pro lineman Aaron Donald, repeatedly avoiding trouble and making big throws. Freeman rushed for 66 yards, and Mohamed Sanu had a key 52-yard gain on a fourth-quarter screen pass while finishing with four catches for 75 yards.

Cooper is headed to the Pro Bowl after his outstanding regular season as a kick returner, but the second-year pro’s misadventures in his playoff debut cost the Rams dearly.

He muffed a punt that bounced off teammate Blake Countess in the first quarter, and Bryant subsequently hit the Falcons’ first field goal. After Bryant’s second field goal later in the quarter, Cooper got stripped by Damontae Kazee during a kickoff return at the Rams 32, and the Falcons drove for Freeman’s short TD run.

The Rams’ offense struggled to get moving, but finally figured it out late in the first half. Goff made several sharp throws on a 79-yard drive ending in Kupp’s TD catch.

Los Angeles then got the ball back and mounted another quick drive, but settled for Sam Ficken‘s first field goal and a 13-10 halftime deficit.

The Falcons’ offense got back to its methodical work in the second half, mounting two clock-chewing drives ending in field goals by Bryant. The Rams’ defense simply couldn’t get off the field, whether due to missed tackles or clever playcalling by the Falcons.

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to 19-13 with 10:49 to play, but the Falcons made another drive highlighted by that beautiful screen pass from a blitz-avoiding Bryant to Sanu.

Jones then caught the sixth playoff TD pass of his career. Goff drove the Rams deep into Falcons territory, but L.A. turned it over on down at the Atlanta 5 with 2:05 to play. The Falcons stopped the Rams again on downs at midfield with 1:08 left.

UP NEXT

After the Falcons’ defensive performance against Goff, they look like a potential problem for the powerful Eagles without quarterback Carson Wentz in the early Saturday divisional playoff game.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Giants among odds favorites for final week of NFL preseason action

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Just like in those Super Bowls a few years back, the New York Giants have got the better of the New England Patriots in their preseason matchups.

The Giants are 2.5-point favorites on the NFL preseason odds against the Patriots with a 38.5-point total for their meeting on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

It’s the 14th consecutive year they have concluded the preseason against each other and the Giants are 8-2 straight-up and 6-2-2 against the spread in their last 10 preseason meetings against the Patriots, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, with the total finishing UNDER in seven of those matchups.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning hasn’t played in the preseason finale since 2014, which could leave the duties to Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta. For New England, it’s a near-certainty Tom Brady will be an onlooker, leaving the options to either career backup Brian Hoyer or third-stringer Danny Etling.

Elsewhere, the New York Jets are 1-point road favorites against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 34-point total. The Jets are 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS in their last seven preseason road games. The Eagles are 3-0 SU and ATS in their last three preseason games against the Jets.

The Baltimore Ravens are 6.5-point favorites against the Washington Redskins with a 35-point total. The total has gone UNDER in seven of their last 10 preseason meetings, with the Ravens owning a record of 7-3 SU and 6-4 ATS.

The Cleveland Browns are 2.5-point road favorites against the Detroit Lions with a 35.5-point total. The total has gone UNDER in six of the Browns’ last seven preseason road games. The Lions are 5-1 ATS in their last six games as preseason home underdogs.

The New Orleans Saints are 5.5-point favorites against the Los Angeles Rams with a 34.5-point total. The Saints are 1-6 SU and ATS in their last seven preseason games as a favorite of 3.0 or more points, with the total finishing UNDER all seven times.

The Tennessee Titans are 1-point favorites against the Minnesota Vikings with a 36-point total. The Vikings are 4-2 ATS in their last six preseason road games. The total has gone OVER in six of the Titans’ last seven preseason home games.

The Houston Texans are 4-point betting favorites against the Dallas Cowboys with a 34.5-point total. The Cowboys are 0-9 SU and 3-6 ATS in their last nine preseason games as a road underdog. The Texans are 8-0 SU and 7-0-1 ATS in their last eight preseason games as a home favorite of at least 3.0 points.

The San Francisco 49ers are 3.5-point favorites against the Los Angeles Chargers with a 35.5-point total. The Chargers are 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS in their last seven preseason games as a road underdog of 3.0 or more points. The 49ers are 8-0 SU and 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight preseason games against the Chargers.

And the Seattle Seahawks are 3-point favorites against the Oakland Raiders with a 34.5-point total. The Raiders are 1-11 SU and 2-10 ATS in their last 12 preseason games as a road underdog. The Seahawks are 10-2 SU and 11-1 ATS in their last 12 preseason games against the Raiders.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

NFL preseason odds: Cardinals road favorites at Cowboys for Sunday

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Indications that neither Dak Prescott nor Ezekiel Elliott will be exposed to injury while working behind a banged-up offensive line have made the Dallas Cowboys an underdog at home – and that’s proven to be a telling indicator in the preseason over the years.

The Arizona Cardinals are 1-point road favorites on the NFL preseason odds against the Cowboys with a 40.5-point total in a matchup on Sunday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. It’s only the fifth time the Cardinals have been road favorites in the preseason in the last 25 seasons.

The Cowboys are 3-8 straight-up and 3-7-1 against the spread in their last 11 games as  home underdogs in the preseason, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, with the total going UNDER on seven of those last 11 occasions.

With center Travis Frederick (auto-immune disorder) and guard Zack Martin (knee) each out of the lineup, the Cowboys may follow suit with their quarterback and leading rusher. Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen (swollen thumb) might also be a game-time decision for Arizona, which is 7-3-2 ATS on the road in the preseason since 2013.

The Cleveland Browns are 3-point betting favorites against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 41-point total in a Thursday matchup. The Eagles are 3-8 SU and 4-7 ATS in their last 11 games as an underdog of 2.5 or more points in the preseason. The Browns are 2-5 both SU and ATS in their last seven preseason games as a home favorite, with the total finishing UNDER all seven times.

The New York Jets are 2.5-point favorites against the New York Giants with a 41.5-point total in a Friday matchup. The designated road team is 5-0 ATS in their last five games in this annual preseason matchup, with the total finishing OVER in four of those five games.

The Carolina Panthers are 1-point favorites against the New England Patriots with a 45.5-point total. The total has finished UNDER in five of the Patriots’ last eight preseason road games. The total has finished UNDER in four of the Panthers’ last six preseason home games.

The Minnesota Vikings are 3.5-point betting favorites against the Seattle Seahawks with a 40-point total. The Seahawks are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 preseason road games as the underdog.

The Chicago Bears are 2-point favorites against the Kansas City Chiefs with a 47-point total in a Saturday matchup. Since 2010, the Chiefs are 2-9 SU and 3-7-1 ATS in 11 preseason matchups as a road underdog, with the total going OVER eight times.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-point favorites against the Tennessee Titans with a 45-point total. The Titans are 3-5 SU and ATS in their last eight preseason road games as the underdog. The Steelers are 0-6 ATS in their last six games as a home favorite of 3.0 or more points.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are 3-point favorites against the Atlanta Falcons with a 40-point total. The Falcons are 2-10 SU and 5-7 ATS in their last 12 preseason games as a road underdog. The total has gone OVER in six of the Jaguars’ last nine preseason games when they were favored at home.

And the Buffalo Bills are 1.5-point betting favorites against the Cincinnati Bengals with a 41.5-point total in a Sunday matchup. The total has gone UNDER in six of the Bengals’ last eight preseason games as a road underdog. The Bills are 3-7 SU and ATS in their last 10 preseason home games

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.