The Atlanta Falcons are in an interesting position to where discussing their draft spot or playoff possibilities is acceptable. Week 15 is upon us as the 6-7 Falcons find themselves in second place in the NFC South and 10th place overall for the NFC. With an expanded playoff for the second-straight year, the Falcons have a realistic chance of securing a playoff berth for the first time since the 2017 season.
Today, we’ll be taking a refresher look at scenarios in which the Falcons can make the playoffs, via ESPN’s Playoff Machine. This annual simulation allows users to decide outcomes and see what has to happen for their team to make the playoffs. First up, lets look at the current NFC standings and the individual team’s remaining opponents for what will probably be the last time if Atlanta doesn’t beat San Francisco.
- Green Bay Packers (10-3) — @BAL, CLE, MIN, @DET
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3) — NO, @CAR, @NYJ, CAR
- Arizona Cardinals (10-3) — @DET, IND, @DAL, SEA
- Dallas Cowboys (9-4) — @NYG, WAS, AZ, @PHI
- Los Angeles Rams (9-4) — SEA, @MIN, @BAL, SF
- San Francisco 49ers (7-6) — ATL, @TEN, HOU, @LAR
- Washington Football Team (6-7) — @PHI, @DAL, PHI, @NYG
- Minnesota Vikings (6-7) — @CHI, LAR, @GB, CHI
- Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) — WAS, NYG, @WAS, DAL
- Atlanta Falcons (6-7) — @SF, DET, @BUF, NO
- New Orleans Saints (6-7) — @TB, MIA, CAR, @ATL
The teams in bold are currently in the playoffs, while the other teams remain in the hunt. Doing a rough prediction based on the team with the best record winning, and if the two teams share the same record giving the home team the nod, the Falcons are projected to finish with a 8-9 record, going 2-2 over the next four weeks. This unfortunately would not be enough for the Falcons to make the playoffs under this scenario, as they’d be tied with Washington, New Orleans and Minnesota with Washington being the 7th seed team.
But this is the NFL, and things rarely go to plan. Under the scenario above, the Falcons would make the playoffs if they went 3-1 in the final four games. With a win against the Bills, the Falcons would be in as the 7th seed. If the Falcons lose to Buffalo, but defeat the 49ers, they’d be in as the 6th seed. Additionally, if the Falcons went 4-0 over their last four games, they’d still be the 6th seed, which seems to be their ceiling minus some complete meltdowns by higher seeded teams.
As of this article being written, the Falcons have a 12% chance of making the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight. That seems about right, as the Falcons have a small window to make it if they don’t go 3-1 or 4-0 over their final two games. One path for the Falcons to make the playoffs if they go 2-2 is to have Washington finish 1-3, Minnesota finish 1-3 and New Orleans finish no better than 2-2. That’s a lot to ask for, considering who the listed teams have to face, but not impossible.
If the Falcons had defeated Washington earlier in the season, they would have a slightly easier path, but they unfortunately do not hold the tiebreaker because of it. Winning against the 49ers this week increases the Falcons odds to 41% chance of making the playoffs. Carrying that over, if they win against Detroit and then Buffalo, it goes up to a 78% chance. Pretty obvious, but their best path to the playoffs is to win out.
We’ll see what ultimately happens over the next few weeks, but to be honest, it’s just nice to have a shot at the playoffs again. If the Falcons do finish 8-9 and miss the playoffs, this season is still a success to me. We’re under a new regime who is in their first season following a cash-strapped offseason and the roster has some talent deficiencies at specific positions, not to mention they’ve been without Calvin Ridley. I’m choosing to be optimistic about the direction the team is headed in.