The Falcons delivered arguably their most impressive performance of the season on Sunday, dethroning the top-seeded 49ers (11-3) on the road in Week 15. While it wasn’t a dominant showing by Atlanta—it was a close, tense game throughout—it was a strong win considering the competition. San Francisco is widely viewed as a Super Bowl contender, and finding a way to beat them in their house is an achievement.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, the victory was relatively meaningless as the Falcons have long since been eliminated from playoff contention. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy it—the ending was spectacular and was easily one of the most fun game finishes in Falcons history—but we should keep the win in context.
The win brought the Falcons’ 2019 record up to 5-9. Since the bye, Atlanta is an impressive 4-2, with two of those wins coming against NFC contenders. However, the victories have had an unfortunate consequence: the Falcons have fallen out of contention for a top-5 pick, and may have even pushed themselves out of the top-10.
After the conclusion of Week 15, the Falcons are currently sitting at the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. That’s a hefty drop from their previous spot at 8th overall in Week 14. The reason for that precipitous drop is twofold.
First, the Falcons have a ridiculously hard strength of schedule (SOS) of .560, which is second in the entire NFL. That SOS will cause them to lose tiebreakers to just about every team, putting them at the bottom of whatever record group they finish in. Second, there are currently an incredible six teams sitting at 5-9.
While that number is unlikely to hold—some teams are going to win, after all—the Falcons are in a very precarious position. They’ve got two winnable games coming up against the Jaguars (5-9) and Buccaneers (7-7), and could further hurt their pick by winning one or both.
This season is shaping up to be a bit of an anomaly in terms of record: we could be looking at as many as 4 teams finishing with 3 or fewer wins, and even the potential of a 5-11 team being knocked out of the top-10. For reference, I went back as far as 2009 and could not find an instance of that happening. 2019 is an extremely top and bottom-heavy year. Just look at the NFC playoff teams: outside of the NFC East winner, every single NFC playoff team could finish 12-4 or better.
This is going to be a weird year in terms of draft positioning, and the Falcons are likely to be punished by it. Still, if Atlanta manages to wind up with a pick in this range, there are still plenty of good prospects to choose from. Let’s just hope they don’t do something silly and win out, or the Falcons could find themselves picking as low as 18.