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NFC playoff picture: Atlanta’s still in the mix despite their ugly loss

Thanks to the messiness of the NFC, the Falcons are alive, but not necessarily well.

Atlanta Falcons v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons had a prime chance to stay right in the thick of the playoff race in the NFC with a win, but as you know, they dropped one to Cleveland. That loss didn’t doom them, as you’ll see shortly, but it set them back and puts them right back with the raft of NFC teams that are just around .500 and vying for a shot. While it’s clear that the conference remains a jumble, it’s also true that the Falcons can’t keep shooting themselves in the foot if they want to stay in it.

Here’s the current playoff picture in the NFC.

NFC playoff picture

  1. Rams (9-1)
  2. Saints (8-1)
  3. Bears (6-3)
  4. Redskins (6-3)
  5. Panthers (6-3)
  6. Vikings (5-3-1)
  7. Packers (4-4-1)
  8. Falcons (4-5)
  9. Seahawks (4-5)
  10. Cowboys (4-5)
  11. Eagles (4-5)
  12. Buccaneers (3-6)
  13. Lions (3-6)

Only the Lions, Cardinals and Giants are legitimately dead in the water at this point. The Vikings have been up and down all year long and the Panthers just were embarrassed by the Steelers, so only the division leaders are really safe at this point in the conference. Even in that case, the Bears could cede ground to the Vikings or Packers and it wouldn’t stun me, and I’m not even sure Washington’s good enough to hang on if the Cowboys or Eagles have a surge in them. This conference is a mess.

That’s what is keeping the Falcons in it. Their trash performances against the AFC have accounted for three of their five losses, giving them a halfway decent divisional and conference record that’s keeping them afloat at the moment. Dispatching the Cowboys and especially the Saints would do wonders for them as they try to stay alive, but they’re still at the point where more than one loss probably drops them out of contention.

The question is whether they can play well enough to get there. The Falcons lulled us into believing they could with that three game win streak, but that loss to Cleveland did and should have shaken your confidence in their ability to keep up the pace going forward. Lean back, let those expectations go anew, and let’s see how the NFC shakes out.