Atlanta may just have some life left following their late triumph against the Chicago Bears last week. As the calendar shifts from Thanksgiving, the Birds are still alive in both the division and Wildcard hunt, but another tough task awaits.
The Washington Commanders are red hot coming into this matchup, having won five of their last six games to propel themselves into post season contention, including a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles which represents the only L in their loss column. The Falcons currently sit one game back of Washington in the playoff race.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Commanders in Week 12, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
They will get another massive win against a direct competitor for a potential playoff spot, and will own yet another tiebreaker in the Wildcard race. Looking at the playoff odds and data, this is the biggest game of the season at this point. FiveThirtyEight’s projection currently gives the Falcons a 20% chance of making that playoffs; a win this weekend more than doubles that calculation to 41% (independent of other scores). For comparison, winning against Chicago only increased their odds from 14% to 20%.
The Birds currently sit 1.5 games back of the Seahawks, whom they own the tiebreaker against, for the final Wildcard spot, but they are also a full game back of Washington as well. Victory would see them leapfrog the Commanders with the potential of pulling within a half game of that final spot with a Raiders win against Seattle.
As for the division race, FiveThirtyEight currently gives the Falcons a 13% chance of topping the NFC South, where they currently sit 0.5 games back of Tampa. Victory coupled with a Bucs defeat in Cleveland would see that number shoot up to 36% (and the playoff odds would increase to 47% as well). Those odds stand to tank to 5% with a defeat coupled with a Bucs win, however.
If the Falcons lose
They would lose the momentum from their good victory last weekend, and would more importantly find themselves in a real uphill climb in the Wildcard race. A Seattle victory would see them fall to 2.5 games back of the final spot, and either way they would be at the very least 2.0 full games back of Washington having also lost the tiebreaker (which is a defacto 2.5-game hole). While victory would double their playoff odds according to FiveThirtyEight, defeat would nearly half them to 11%.
As for the division, Tampa Bay would be given an opportunity to finally create some actual separation by going 1.5 games up on Atlanta. They will also own the tiebreaker as long as they take care of their business against the Saints and Panthers.
I won’t go in depth on draft positioning this week, just because of how much closer Atlanta is to the playoffs than most teams, but their pick would likely be stationed in the low teens. It would be 15th if the season ended today.
Washington would get their second consecutive win against the Falcons, in as many seasons. It would be a nice bounce back for them after losing the previous six meetings in the row before 2021.