Early Bird Report 1/2: Falcons can be just as dangerous this year; Rams will be rested

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – A prime-time matchup against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night awaits the Falcons in the first round of the playoffs. The Rams are a tough opponent with a balanced offensive attack led by star running back Todd Gurley and an imposing defense featuring Aaron Donald at defensive tackle.

Today's Early Bird Report includes why the Falcons are just as dangerous this year as they were in last year's playoffs as well as the Rams' hope that rest is the key to a first-round win.

Enjoy!

FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY

Associated Press: Quinn knows the Falcons almost never take the easy way

In contrast to last season, the Falcons have had most of their games – and their season – go down to the wire in 2017. Now in the playoffs, that experience in close games could prove useful against a higher caliber of opponent. Atlanta has proven its capable of fighting when it's back is against the wall, and it's that mentality that the Falcons will need in order to make a run in the postseason.

"Easy has never really been our way," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said on a conference call Monday. "We're more of a back-against-the-wall kind of group. We like those moments to prove it."

Sporting News: Falcons just as dangerous in these NFC playoffs as last

Although the Falcons punched their ticket to the playoffs in Week 17 by grabbing the last wild-card spot, the Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer believes they are every bit as dangerous as they were last year. They no longer have the comfort of doing so at home in the postseason, but Iyer thinks the Falcons can string together some wins and make a return trip to a conference championship game.

"Quinn has made sure his team has become physically and mentally tougher to respond to adversity," Iyer writes. "The Falcons were overlooked between the Cowboys, Seahawks and Packers in last year's NFC playoffs, but it didn't matter to them one bit. In that sense, they already are prepared to thrive as big underdogs.

"The Falcons will have their hands full with the Rams first, but they match up with them well offensively and defensively. They're not going anywhere else if they don't win there, but you can bet it will be played at the level of the NFC championship already being at stake."

Here are some more stories on the Falcons:

NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Los Angeles Rams

*The Press-Enterprise: *Rams are rested, but will face more-experience Falcons team

As the only NFC team in the playoff field who made the postseason last year, the Falcons will have the benefit of experience. What the Rams should have though, as Rich Hammond of *The Press-Enterprise *notes, is a bit more energy. Having rested several of their star player in Week 17 against the 49ers, the Rams are hoping that fresh legs and a healthier roster will be enough to help them advance past wild-card weekend. Now that they've had the opportunity to rest a few guys, the Rams are back to business.

"We're playing a football game against an excellent team this week," Rams head coach Sean McVay said at his Monday press conference, according to Hammond. "We know the stakes are a little higher, because if you win, you continue playing and if not, your season is over, but as far as how we get ready to go play a football game, we'll remain the same."

Here is some other news on the Rams:

BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH

*The New Orleans Advocate: *Saints say first two wins over Panthers don't mean much now

The Saints already own two victories over the Panthers this season, but past performance doesn't guarantee future success. That's the mentality the Saints are taking as they prepare to face the Panthers for the third time. Only this time, the loser's season will come to an abrupt end.

"Everyone is starting from scratch," Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday, according to Joel Erickson of The New Orleans Advocate. "The only thing that you pay attention to is, obviously, a division opponent, the personnel and the things that you didn't do well in the early two games, maybe the things you did well."

*The Charlotte Observer: *Greg Olsen on Neal hit: 'Everyone … understood why I was upset'

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was not happy with a hit he took from Falcons safety Keanu Neal while going across the middle on the first play of the second quarter. The play resulted in an incomplete pass, but the hit did not result in a penalty flag, which Olsen had a problem with.

"We talk all year about looking for guys. If anyone saw the replay, you take a full-on helmet square to the face," Olsen told Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer. "You'd at least like to get the penalty. I think everyone who watches understood why I was upset about that."

Here is more news from around the division:

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