It was incredibly ugly, but when the clock struck 0:00 the Falcons came away with their first win at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, this past weekend. It was a victory that had to be pulled out of the mud against a 2-win Detroit Lions team missing its starting quarterback, but a win nonetheless.
The Falcons are technically still playing competitive football even into January at this point, with the season winding to a close. It’s a situation where each of the final two games are must wins, and that’s not the best of news when now faced with an imposing Buffalo Bills team that’s much better than their 9-6 record indicates, in what will likely be a cold and snowy environment in Upstate New York.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
Their playoff odds, independent of other results, will rise from 2% to 15%, according to 538. The Falcons are clearly in a position where they need to win out and get some help, in the form of either the Eagles or the 49ers losing out along with the Vikings splitting one of their final two games, in order to sneak into the playoffs.
A postseason berth is completely unlikely, and there’s even a scenario where they win this weekend and get eliminated, if the 49ers beat the Texans and the Eagles beat the Football Team, but just discussing any playoff scenarios in January feels like an accomplishment given how early this team was eliminated the past three seasons. Evan Birchfield ran that down in more detail this morning.
Atlanta would also stand to lose a lot of ground in the draft standings. They are currently tied with four other 7-8 teams, but are ahead of all of them in draft order due to their easy strength of schedule. The Falcons could fall to as low as 13th, if the Broncos, Vikings and Saints all lose this weekend.
This will be the second team currently above .500 whom the Birds have beaten this season (the other being the Dolphins) and it would be by far the most impressive win of Arthur Smith’s rookie season as head coach.
If the Falcons lose
They will be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Their season would essentially be buried in the Buffalo snow.
A top 10 draft selection will be preserved, but due to last week’s victory Atlanta can only climb as high as the ninth overall pick this week, and that’s if Washington beats Philadelphia (whether or not you’re aiming for the playoffs or for a draft pick, you should be rooting for Washington this weekend).
The Falcons can climb to as high as sixth overall as their maximum potential in this year’s draft, if they lose out while Seattle, Carolina and Chicago all win out. While it’s an incredibly unlikely scenario for all of that to play out, Atlanta should at least be able to position themselves to potentially move up from 10 (or nine) next weekend, with the Seahawks facing the Lions and the Bears facing the Giants this weekend.
The Falcons will guarantee that they will not be above .500 at any point in four full seasons. The last time their record had more wins than losses was in 2017.