After the Falcons put us through a roller coaster of emotions in a crazy fourth quarter and overtime period against the Carolina Panthers, they emerged victorious and in sole possession of first place in the NFC South for the first time since Week 4 of the 2017 season.
The Falcons were more so lucky than good against Carolina, with Eddy Pineiro’s missed kicks giving them a chance to win, following a defensive lapse which led to the game tying D.J. Moore hail mary touchdown. This team has had so many unlucky breaks over the years that it’s nice to see some fortune shift in their favor for once. Now begins their journey to maintain first place.
Atlanta meets the Los Angeles Chargers this weekend. This is a team originally expected to make a lot of noise in the AFC, but which has had a really rough string of injuries the past few weeks. They will be without star pass rusher Joey Bosa, star left tackle Rashawn Slater, and starting wide receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen (Allen has a chance to play, but is unlikely to do so), among others.
They also boast the worst run defense in the NFL on a yards per carry basis (giving up 5.7 ypc), which plays into Atlanta’s strengths. A game which at the beginning of the season was marked as a likely defeat is looking all the more like a toss up these days, despite the fact that the Chargers are coming off of their bye and are still led by star quarterback Justin Herbert.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Chargers in Week 9, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
They will consolidate their grasp of first place in the division, at least for another week, no matter what else happens across the league. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to the Los Angele Rams and the New Orleans Saints lose to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, Atlanta will open a two game lead in the NFC South.
The Falcons will also have games coming up against the Panthers on Thursday Night Football, as well as the Bears, Commanders, and Steelers in that order right after this matchup before going into their Week 14 bye week. None of their next five opponents on the schedule have records above .500, and the only team on the schedule for the rest of the season which currently has more wins than losses is the Ravens. Beating the Chargers now can catapult Atlanta into the kind of run which can win them the division crown.
The Falcons will move their all-time record against the Chargers to an impressive 9-3 and halt a two game losing streak they currently have against the west coast franchise. They currently have a higher winning percentage against the Chargers than against any other NFL franchise in their history.
Atlanta will move to above .500 for the first time since 2017, and what a time it will be to do so. That’s one demon they have not been able to exorcise for years.
If the Falcons lose
It’s obviously not ideal, but I view this game much in the same way that I viewed the Bengals game — a loss would not be catastrophic. Atlanta will still have that light schedule on the docket, as the Chargers are on paper one of the most difficult games remaining for them. If they are to lose, you would rather that defeat be against an AFC opponent, as it would not mess up the team’s conference record when it comes to tiebreaker implications for a potential Wildcard spot.
They will stand to fall as low as third in the division with victories by the Saints and Buccaneers, on account of their 1-2 division record and having lost to each of those teams, which creates tiebreaker implications.
If Tampa or New Orleans wins and they do fall out of first in the NFC South, Atlanta will also fall out of the playoff picture entirely for this week. There are currently eight teams with records of 3-5 or better all within range of the NFC’s final Wildcard spot. The current occupant of that spot is the San Francisco 49ers, who boast the same 4-4 record as the Birds, but they are on a bye week meaning they will remain at .500.
Atlanta will once again fail to move to above .500. I will keep mentioning this until it happens, as I have been for years. Their next chance to do so would be in Week 11 against the Bears, if they beat the Panthers on Thursday Night Football next week.