Five teams in the Falcons’ path to Super Bowl LIII

Rams, Eagles, Vikings, Packers and Saints are contenders
Rams QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley (30) were major drivers of the team's success in 2017.

Rams QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley (30) were major drivers of the team's success in 2017.

The Falcons, who were the only team to return to the NFC playoffs last season, are a fashionable pick to win Super Bowl LIII.

A writer from Sport Illustrated has picked the Falcons to become the first team win the Super Bowl in their home stadium.  The Falcons odds to win the NFL title opened at 18 to 1 in Las Vegas last February.

“We obviously hope to be the first team ever to host and play in the Super Bowl (in the same season),” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said recently at a groundbreaking ceremony for a park renovation on Atlanta’s Westside. “I don’t talk about that much. We have a very competitive team. Our team is better this year than last year. We’re going to go out and compete on Sundays and see what happens, but obviously that would be a very special honor for us.”

In the Super Bowl's 52-year history, no team has ever played in the game in its home stadium. But in Sports Illustrated's Aug. 27 issue, NFL analyst Andy Benoit predicts the Falcons will defeat the Steelers 27-24.

If Benoit’s correct, the Falcons  are set to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Oct. 7 in a Super Bowl preview.

» Follow: AJC's continuing coverage of Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta

Decades ago, two teams did reach Super Bowls that were played in their home markets, but not in their home stadiums. The 1979 Los Angeles Rams played in Super Bowl XIV at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif., and the 1984 San Francisco 49ers played in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif.

The Vikings came within one win of playing in last season’s Super Bowl in their home venue, U.S. Bank Stadium, but lost at the Eagles in the NFC Championship game.

The Rams, after a major offseason re-tooling, are the favorite to win the NFC, according to Bovada, moving past the Eagles, who’ll likely open the season without starting quarterback Carson Wentz.

The NFC is expected to be much tougher than the AFC this season. In addition to the Rams and Eagles, the Packers, Eagles and Vikings are contenders to reach Super Bowl LIII.

Also, the Panthers, who made the playoffs last season, are strong.

Teams on the rise in the NFC include the 49ers, Giants and Cowboys.

Here’s a look at the five teams who most stand in the Falcons way from attaining the first Super Bowl title in franchise history:

Los Angeles Rams: The Rams made key pickups in wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.

The Rams are negotiating a new deal with star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who’s a vital part to their defense.

The Rams are expected to open the season at full strength.

“We are anticipating everybody that we’re projecting as a starter will be a go,” Rams coach Sean McVay told the Los Angeles media recently. “We’re in a good place right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the meantime.”

The Rams, who are led offensively by running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff, went 11-5 and won the NFC West last season. They were defeated by the Falcons in the wild card round of the playoffs.

“I thought the defense was excellent,” McVay said recently. “I thought the player’s energy, the way they were communicating, they are doing some really excellent stuff, making it really difficult on the offense. It’s exciting.”

Philadelphia Eagles: Wentz, who has not been cleared for contact, is battling back from two-ligament (LCL and ACL) knee surgery.

Nick Foles who replaced him and guided the Eagles to Super Bowl LII victory over the Patriots is set to open the season as the starter against the Falcons on Thursday.

Foles did not play well during the exhibition season, but the Eagles defense is the strength of their team.

After talking to the Falcons, the Eagles signed former Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett to play alongside the dominant Fletcher Cox.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers, who have dynamic quarterback Aaron Rodgers, went 7-9 last season and did not make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

The Packers added tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson over the offseason and are expecting to rebound in 2018.

The Packers added cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the first  and second round of the draft. Cornerback Kevin King was selected in the 2017 draft and played well in the exhibition season.

The main questions for the Packers is if the receiving corps comes along and if the Packers can put together enough of a rushing attack to blend with the passing of Rodgers.

The Falcons play the Packers in historic Lambeau Field on Dec. 9.

New Orleans Saints: The defending NFC South champs will open the season without running back Mark Ingram, who was suspended four games for using performance enhancing drugs.

The Saints defense, under coordinator Dennis Allen, made major progress last season. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is an emerging star in the league.

The Saints were hoping to improve their pass rush when they traded next year’s first-round pick to move up and select Texas-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport.

Minnesota Vikings: After going 13-3 and reaching the NFC title game, the Vikings have hitched their Nordic vessel to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was signed to a three-year fully guaranteed $84 million deal.

Some thought the Vikings overpaid for Cousins, who has a 26-30-1 career record as a starter and has never been to the playoffs.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who was the Falcons defensive coordinator during the 2007 season, is excited about the return of running back Dalvin Cook.

Led by safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings had the No. 1 defense in the league last season in scoring (15.8 points a game) and total yards (275.8 yards per game).

AJC staff writer Tim Tucker contributed to this story.