This was an extraordinarily good week for the Atlanta Falcons.
The Saints kept them at bay by winning over the hapless Vikings, but the rest of the NFC shook out favorably. In case you missed the action, here's what happened:
- The Falcons won, running their record to 9-5.
- The Giants lost, bringing them to 7-7. The Cowboys have a clear track to the division now at 8-6, but the loser of the divisional derby in the NFC East might not even make the wildcard at this rate.
- The Bears continued to stink without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. They dropped to 7-7 and are now two games behind the Falcons in the wildcard. The Packers lost, which was fun, but they can't be caught at this point in the season.
- The Lions beat the Raiders, but they still desperately need the Falcons to lose some games in order to snatch the #5 spot in the playoffs.
Add it all up and you've got a Falcons team that's a clear frontrunner in the wildcard race at this point in the season. They have a two game lead on the Giants and Bears, have the edge over the Lions thanks to a win against them earlier this season and the Seahawks probably aren't going to make a lot of noise.
After the jump, the breakdown.
To get the divisional title, the Falcons are going to have to beat the Saints and pray.
The Saints will clinch the NFC South just by winning their last two games, one of which is against the Falcons at home. Even if the Falcons manage to punch them in the mouth—and yes, it's entirely possible—the Saints get a home game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 17 that they don't seem particularly likely to lose.
If the Falcons can beat the Saints and Bucs and New Orleans drops their last two games, the Falcons win the south. It's just not particularly likely.
Likely Final Record: 12-4, NFC South Champions
The Giants are in big trouble.
Their division rivals the Cowboys are now a game up on them. They have to take on the Jets next week and beat the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the division, and the Cowboys have a game at home against the erratic Eagles before the Giants.
The loser of this particularly derby won't have better than a 9-7 record, meaning they're not huge threats to a Falcons' playoff hopes unless the Falcons absolutely collapse. This division is going to need some very lucky breaks to produce a wildcard.
Giants LFR: 8-8
Cowboys LFR: 9-7, NFC East Champions
The Bears are in a similar boat. The Lions have opened up a two game lead on them in the wildcard race and the Bears have to play a pissed-off Packers team next Sunday night, which seems likely to drop their record to 8-8. Without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, the offense is completely feckless.
Their only hope is that they can pull off a miracle upset against the Packers and beat the Vikings in Week 17. They still won't be in control of their own destiny, so barring something amazing happening, they effectively played their way out of the race.
Bears LFR: 8-8
This is the likeliest team to join the Falcons in the post-season. After beating Oakland on Sunday, they now have the same 9-5 record as the Falcons. With the Bears having one game against the Packers left and the Lions with a two game lead over them and the Giants, chances are they'll make the dance.
The good news for the Falcons? The Lions still have to take on the Packers in Week 17, and the Packers are the kind of team that will try to win no matter what. They also get the San Diego Chargers next week, and that's never an easy team to beat. If the Falcons go 2-0, they've got the #5 spot in the playoffs. Even if they go 1-1, they very well may.
Lions LFR: 10-6, Wild Card
The Seahawks are in much the same boat as our other teams.
While they've played well as of late—they did beat the Bears!—they're still a seven loss team with one difficult matchup left on the schedule. The 49ers are no cakewalk with that defense, and they'll be pushing hard to get a first round bye in Week 16. The Seahawks also have an unpredictable Cardinals team in Week 17, one that plays well or horribly depending on the week.
It's tough to see them pulling it off this season, but they're a team to look out for in the future.
Seahawks LFR: 8-8
How do you think the race will shake out?