The Falcons have a path to the playoffs, but it involves a lucky and frankly unlikely number of losses from other contenders, plus five straight wins for Atlanta. I’m not dismissing that possibility out of hand until I have to, but I’m also resigned to this being a postseason-free season. It’s only logical to be.
A win still keeps them in the conversation, however loosely, while a loss pretty much submarines this thing for food and sets the Falcons on the path to a sweet, sweet top ten draft pick, which I know many are salivating over.
Here’s what you can expect—and what matters—if Atlanta wins or loses Sunday.
What if they win?
The Falcons would stand at 5-7 with a win over the Ravens. Depending on what happens across the rest of the NFC landscape, there could be anywhere from 8-10 teams still in front of them in the playoff race at that point, most of them by multiple games. It would be the first step in an unlikely journey to the playoffs, if Atlanta could indeed rattle off five wins in their final five games, but even then they would need help.
The implication for the Falcons themselves would be a positive one, of course. They would have taken on a quality AFC contender on a multi-game winning streak and emerged victorious. I’m sure Atlanta would very much like to feel like it’s not a totally lost cause for 2018, and a strong performance by Zane Beadles filling in at right guard would give the Falcons something more to think about heading into 2019.
What if they lose?
In a season as emotionally exhausting as this one, it would provide closure. An 8-8 team is not making the playoffs in 2018, and it would force the Falcons to admit that was the case. That would mean the last four games could be given over to chasing records and getting young players increased reps and figuring out what they’re going to do next year, which is not a particularly terrible thing in the grand scheme, given that they’ll have Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Devonta Freeman and Brandon Fusco back next season.
It’ll also improve Atlanta’s draft stock even further, in all likelihood. This is shaping up to be a solid draft class along the defensive line in particular, giving the team a chance to land an elite talent with a top ten pick who could push this unit from unexpectedly disappointing to actually good. Couple that with the return of some of the most useful players in the secondary and this defense might actually be something next year, at last.