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Matt Kalil after Saints beat Panthers

Matt Kalil

Matt Kalil

When the NFC playoff field was finalized last week, the Falcons were far from the most intimidating team in the bunch. Atlanta snuck into the postseason at 10-6 on the heels of a 22-10 win over Carolina in Week 17, and as the no. 6 seed in a loaded conference, its road back to the Super Bowl figured to be daunting. Yet after knocking off the Rams 26-13 on Saturday in the wild-card round, the Falcons look like real contenders to return to the NFC championship game and maybe go even further. Part of that comes down to what they showed in Los Angeles; part of it is a product of the favorable way their path is unfolding.

Let’s start with Atlanta’s upside, which was most evident this weekend in its defense. L.A. finished the regular season as the NFL’s highest-scoring team (29.9 points per game) and the sixth-ranked unit in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA. By any measure, head coach Sean McVay’s crew boasted one of the most efficient attacks in football, and much of its consistency came from the MVP-caliber production of Todd Gurley. The league’s second-leading rusher did some damage on the ground against Atlanta, tallying 101 yards on 14 carries, but he was nearly blanked as a receiver. Gurley hauled in just four of 10 targets for a paltry 10 yards.

Jordan, the son of former Vikings standout tight end Steve Jordan, finished with a sack, an assist on another sack, two quarterback hurries and two deflected passes. On Monday, Jordan referred to Kalil as “Speedbump McGee.”

Kalil just completed his first season with Carolina after signing a five-year, $55.5 million contract that included $25 million in guarantees. After seeing Kalil struggle far too often in his first five NFL seasons, the Vikings replaced the fourth-overall pick in the 2012 draft with Riley Reiff.

Reiff is sure to have his hands full on Sunday against Jordan, but odds are likely he won’t end up having as rough of day as old “Speedbump McGee.”

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