All things considered, the Falcons did their job over the past three games, and throughout the season overall at this point, even though they suffered a blowout defeat against the Bengals in Week 7. They split the first month of the season at 2-2 and won at least one of the games during their most difficult three week stretch after that. To make things even better, the rest of the division has struggled to the point where a 3-4 record has the Birds currently in first place in the NFC South.
Now is where the Falcons can start making or breaking their season. I’ve talked for weeks at this point about the light schedule coming up, and it’s finally here. Six of Atlanta’s next seven games are against teams that currently have a record below .500. The table has been set through the first seven games, and now is their chance to feast.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Carolina in Week 8, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
They will move back into a dead even .500 record and will consolidate first place in the NFC South following Tampa Bay’s defeat against the Ravens on Thursday Night Football. This is the latest point in the season in which they sit alone atop the division since 2016, which coincidentally was the last time they won it. It is also the first time the Falcons sit alone in first place since Week 5 of the 2017 season.
Atlanta will get their first victory in division play this season, after losses to the Saints and Bucs. If they do end up tied for the division crown at the end of the year, the in-division record will be the primary tiebreaker used if they manage to split the series with the team they tie with.
The Falcons will move their record against the Panthers to an impressive 11-3 since getting blown out 38-0 in 2015. That run started two weeks afterward with a victory which ended Carolina’s bid for an undefeated regular season. Atlanta will also set themselves up to sweep the Panthers for the 11th time in franchise history, which would be a pretty impressive feat considering the fact that the Panthers were formed in 1995.
If the Falcons lose
They will remain tied for first in the division, in what will at the very least be a three-way tie along with the Bucs and Panthers, and what could turn into a four-way tie of 3-5 teams if the Saints beat the Raiders. Atlanta will find themselves last in any tie on account of their 0-3 division record, which would be inferior when compared to all other teams in the South, all of whom they will have lost to. Carolina will be first in the NFC South on account of tiebreakers.
The Falcons will guarantee that they will not finish with a winning record within division play for the third straight season. Carolina will move to 3-2 against the Birds since 2020 as well.
More than anything, we will likely be forced to recalibrate our expectations of this team for the rest of the campaign. Losing a road game against a more talented team in the Bengals, where division and conference record is not affected, is not the same as suffering a home defeat against a Panthers team which just fired their head coach and traded their best offensive player in Christian McCaffrey. If the Falcons really want to make noise this season, these are the games they have to win.