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Falcons playoff picture: Atlanta moves up to #3, and has a clear path to the postseason

The Falcons can make it to the big dance pretty easily, so long as they keep their winning ways going.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Atlanta’s big win coupled with losses from the Lions and Buccaneers put the Falcons in excellent position for the playoffs with just two weeks to go, as you’ll see below.

How can the Falcons clinch, you ask? I haven’t sketched out every possibility yet, but there are three very simple outcomes that assure it. The one scenario they absolutely cannot afford is losing out, because there’s a pretty good chance their playoff hopes (and certainly the NFC South) would go with it, assuming Tampa Bay isn’t about to collapse entirely. While there are more complex scenarios, simply taking care of business while Tampa Bay does not will mean the difference, and they don't even need to sweat Tampa Bay to make it.

If the Falcons win next week and the Buccaneers lose, the Falcons get the division.

If the Falcons win Saturday and Washington loses tonight, the Falcons are in the playoffs.

If the Falcons win the next two weeks, they’re in.

Just take care of business, Falcons, and let’s make some noise in the postseason. And by “let’s,” I mean “you.”

NFC Playoff Picture

  1. Dallas Cowboys, 12-2
  2. Seattle Seahawks, 9-4-1
  3. Atlanta Falcons, 9-5
  4. Detroit Lions, 9-5
  5. New York Giants, 10-4
  6. Washington Redskins, 7-5-1

Dallas looked a little shaky to start the game against Tampa Bay, but they took over relatively early and are now virtually assured to be the top seed in the NFC if they can simply avoid crapping the bed in games against the Lions and

Seattle rebounded nicely from an ugly loss to Green Bay, beating the Rams soundly to hold on to the second seed in the NFC. Things are very, very tight right now in the NFC playoff race, but Seattle remains the favorite to get the second seed because of the quality of their defense and remaining slate.

Atlanta just pummeled two of the weaker teams in the NFL, and while we have to keep the quality of opponents in mind, it’s good to see this team get confidence-building wins and continue to operate at a high level on offense. The Panthers and Saints hardly offer more challenging defensive experiences, so I’m hopeful Atlanta can keep this up and snatch away a bye from Seattle.

Detroit lost and is now just a game ahead of the Packers in the NFC North, which bears monitoring given how scary Green Bay has looked of late. Detroit has a brutal finishing stretch with a primetime game against Dallas and a Week 17 matchup against the Packers, so they’ll need to earn this playoff berth, and there’s a very good chance they won’t sniff the 3rd seed even if they hang on.

New York is scary. They’ve got ten wins, a passing game with the ability to put up points, and a strong defense, and the fact that they keep winning despite some ugly, sloppy play tells you how dangerous they can be in the postseason. I don’t want the Falcons to face them if they can help it, but I’d put the odds of the Giants coming away with the 5th seed at 90% or better, so Atlanta really needs to avoid the 4th seed.

Washington is either going to stay in the #6 seed at the moment with a win against the Panthers, or drop below the Packers and Buccaneers with a loss. They’re a team that is difficult to get a bead on, considering they are loaded with talent but lose a lot of winnable games, and we’ll see if the Panthers can further clarify whether they’re any good or not.

In The Hunt

Green Bay Packers (8-6)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6)

Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

Green Bay has caught fire, winning four in a row and looking like the playoff teams of yore. That’s concerning given what a tough out they can be in the postseason, and I’m very wary of the possibility that they’ll wind up sneaking in and making a ruckus with Aaron Rodgers and a strong defensive front. I’d much rather see Tampa Bay or Washington, for what that’s worth.

Tampa Bay had been on a tremendous hot streak, but it was worth wondering what would happen if their defense looked a little less crisp and the offense looked as mediocre as it has for a while. We got our answer against an admittedly terrific Dallas team, and now the Buccaneers are fighting to stay in the playoff hunt without winning the NFC South, as they’re currently behind both Washington and Green Bay.

Minnesota is hanging on by a thread, and would need the teams in front of them to lose out to have a legitimate shot. I’m pretty ready to stick a fork in them, but you never know in the NFL.