This past weekend, the Falcons played not only their biggest game of the season, against the San Francisco 49ers, but I could argue that it was their most important game since the 2017 Divisional Round matchup against the Eagles. In true Falcons fashion—at least since we’ve become accustomed to since 2018—they absolutely laid an egg.
The offense managed to muster just 13 points, while Dean Pees’ zone defense was completely sliced and diced by San Fran’s playmakers all afternoon. The result was the Niners going on a 21-3 run, after the score was initially tied at 10-10, to emphatically put to bed any semblance of competitiveness for the rest of Atlanta’s season.
Next, the Falcons face the Detroit Lions, who currently sit at 2-11-1, but are coming off of a dominant win against the now 10-4 Arizona Cardinals. Detroit looks to be rounding into form a little bit under first year head coach Dan Campbell.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Detroit Lions in Week 16, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
They’ll technically still remain alive in the NFC playoff picture. Atlanta’s chances at the post season currently sit at 2% following the critical defeat to the 49ers; those odds will increase to a whopping 3%, independent of other results, according to 538. Even if the Falcons win out, 538’s model only gives them a 22% chance of securing one of the Wildcard spots. I’m absolutely mentioning this as an obligation, just because mathematically it’s still feasible.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk what we should actually be looking at — draft scenarios. The Birds currently sit with the ninth overall pick in the draft. Their current .464 strength of schedule is the weakest in the NFL, and will give them the head to head tiebreaker, as far as draft order is concerned, over any other team that finishes with the same record.
A win would move the Falcons to 7-8 and at worst would put them in a tie with at most four other teams with the same record. There are currently six teams which have 7-7 records, picking between 11 and 16 in the draft right now. Four of them play head to head this weekend. The good news is that the Falcons can only move down to the 10th pick no matter what with a victory, thanks to their low strength of schedule, but victory would put them in position to potentially anchor down the board by a number of spots in the coming weeks.
The Falcons will have finally won a game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Matt Ryan’s career record against the Lions will move to 5-2. Atlanta would be 14-25 all time against the Lions.
If the Falcons lose
Their chances of making the post season would fall to below 0.1%, independent of other results, according to 538’s model. Once again, I’m just giving you the numbers here.
The Birds will be able to move up to as high as seventh in the draft order, if the Seahawks and Panthers both win this weekend. Seattle faces the 4-10 Bears and will likely be favored, which bodes well for the Falcons either way, while the Panthers have a much tougher test against the division leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At worst, the Falcons will consolidate the ninth pick in the draft order for the time being, with a brutal matchup against the Buffalo Bills coming up and with at least three teams in striking distance whom they could potentially pass in the draft standings in the coming weeks (the Bears would have to beat the Seahawks to make it an “at worst” scenario this week, and would thus be just one game ahead of Atlanta in this scenario).
Atlanta will continue to be winless at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and would have one final chance to win in their home stadium against the Saints in the season finale.