The Falcons may have had a turning point in their season, on national television to open the Week 10 slate of games, against the Carolina Panthers. I mean that in the worst possible way. A defeat against a 2-7 Panthers team coming into the game is the type of loss that re-calibrates any playoff expectations, especially from a team that’s now on the back foot of any such talk.
The Falcons hope to use the extra three days of rest afforded by the Thursday night game, as well as homefield advantage (assuming the Benz isn’t half empty), to get back on track against a Chicago Bears team that has suddenly figured it out on offense in recent weeks, putting up at least 29 points in each of their previous four games. Despite the fact, their defense has continued to struggle en route to three consecutive losses.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Bears in Week 11, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
They will wipe most of the bad taste from the Panthers game from their mouth and get back to a manageable 5-6 record, which keeps them in some type of contention.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on a bye week, so Atlanta will move to within 0.5 games of first in the division, but the damage may have been done already regarding tiebreakers (if the Bucs beat the Saints and Panthers in weeks 13 and 17, they will own the tiebreaker even if they lose in Atlanta in the regular season finale).
Their alternative playoff avenue is to chase down the San Francisco 49ers for the final Wildcard spot. While they won the tiebreaker in that battle, the Niners currently have a better record than the Bucs at 5-4 and have arguably a better team. A Falcon win and Niners loss to Arizona on Monday Night Football would at least put some pressure on, and bring the Falcons to within a half game of them as well. Although they could stand to be a full game back of the Commanders for that final spot if Washington beats Houston, though the Falcons can then immediately chase down the Commanders by beating them next week.
According to 538’s projections, Atlanta currently owns a 14% at making the playoffs and 9% chance of winning the division. Victory would increase those odds to 21% and 14%, respectively. Basically, it will be a long shot either way, but slightly less of one.
If the Falcons lose
We might as well pack it in and start focusing on the draft. For the Falcons to really have a chance at making a playoff push, they will likely have to win all three of their games before the bye week. With those opponents being the Bears, Commanders and Steelers (a combined 11-18 record between them), that’s a manageable feat, but there isn’t much room for error left.
According to 538, even if the Falcons beat the Commanders and Steelers but lose to the Bears, their playoff odds would sit at 20%. This is, of course, independent of other scores. Those odds would rise to 34% if the Bucs lose to the Browns and Saints out of their bye week, but again, even a one in three shot does not look too favorable.
I won’t start exclusively looking at the draft standings quite yet in this article series, but it will become a possibility with a defeat against Washington next week as well. For posterity, the Falcons would currently sit at pick 13 if the season ended today. They could stand to climb as high as fifth just this weekend if every single thing breaks their way. There are currently 13 teams that have records between 3-7 and 4-6, who would currently be picking between 3 and 14 in the draft.