The Falcons are in the playoff hunt and also on track for a top ten pick. It’s unusual that they find themselves in that position so late in the season, but we’re going to embrace the chaos by talking about both tracks right here.
The long and short of it is that the Falcons are still playoff long shots minus a win over the 49ers this week, an outcome that would give them a fighting chance of sneaking in as the 7th seed and would bring them to .500 this late in the year for the first time since 2017. A loss, meanwhile, takes their current top ten draft position and enhances it, and almost certainly puts them on track to finish among the top 16 picks.
I’m not going to ask you what you’re rooting for or judge you for it, but here’s where the team’s playoff odds and draft position currently stand.
Playoff odds: low
Current seeding: 10th
538: 12% chance
New York Times: 10% chance
The Athletic: 1.4% chance
Football Outsiders: 1.9% chance
The Falcons need a lot of breaks. Evan Birchfield will be writing about some scenarios and Allen Strk will write about the nitty-gritty of the work this roster and coaching staff need to do to have a shot at the postseason, but suffice to say they’re going to have to play very well and get some breaks to actually sneak in as the 7th seed. It’s not impossible, but it is unlikely.
Beating San Francisco would even these two teams’ records and give Atlanta some ammo in a potential tiebreaker down the line, as they’ll have a better divisional record and a the head-to-head advantage. It’s also quite possible Atlanta will outright leapfrog Washington, who is facing a difficult divisional test against the Eagles this coming Sunday. For a moment, at least, the Falcons would find themselves seeded for the playoffs.
To make it, though, they’ll likely need to go at least 3-1 the rest of the way, and it would help if all three of those games were wins against the NFC, where they’re currently 3-6. Most models look at that and see a slim chance of it happening, while those that weigh performance (like Football Outsiders) see virtually no chance at all. The Falcons are going to have to do something they’ve done their fair share of in 2021 and defy the odds, but to a degree and on a scale it’s fair to doubt they’re capable of.
Still fun to think about, though, right?
2022 NFL Draft order: 9th
The Falcons are having their cake and eating it too for the moment, hanging around in the playoff hunt and remaining intriguing while also lining up for a top ten pick. Their win over Carolina bumped them down one spot in the draft order, but they’re still on track to select in the top ten for the second straight season.
Who might the team go after if they remain in the top ten? There are some deeply intriguing pass rushers at the top of the class who could help transform this defense, including Purdue’s George Karlaftis and Georgia’s Travor Walker. There are offensive linemen who could help shore up this team’s problem areas on that front, including Mississippi State’s Charles Cross and NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu. There are gifted receivers like Ohio State’s Chris Olave, intriguing safety prospects like Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, and yes, quarterbacks like Ole Miss product Matt Corral and Pittsburgh’s rising Kenny Pickett. There are, in short, plenty of options, and this team’s needs are so wide-ranging that adding a potentially elite talent almost anywhere would be beyond welcome.
If the Falcons do fall short of the playoffs—and that’s what the odds suggest will happen—we’ll likely be able to console ourselves with this shot at some very good players. I’m not going to say the Falcons are in a win-win situation here because that’s a little too sunny, but they’re either an astonishing playoff team or one well-positioned to make the most of its early draft picks.