The state of the NFC South is so abysmal that any of the four teams in the division could win it with enough wins over the final three weeks of the 2022 season. It’s also true that two of the teams in the race could actually be knocked out in one fell swoop by the end of the day Saturday.
Mark Schofield at SB Nation wrote up the elimination scenarios for the Falcons in a look at the larger playoff picture, and they are varied. The only way to stave off the team’s final, emphatic departure from the postseason race is to beat the Ravens on Saturday, which we all know is a tall order.
Similar to the Saints, the only way for the Atlanta Falcons to make it to the playoffs is if they win the division. But with a loss to the Ravens on Saturday, they would be on the brink of elimination. A loss to the Ravens, plus a Tampa Bay win, eliminates the Falcons. In addition, a loss to the Ravens, coupled with a Buccaneers tie, and a Carolina Panthers win over the Detroit Lions, and the Falcons are out. A Falcons loss, coupled with a Buccaneers tie, a Panthers tie, and a Saints win, eliminates Atlanta. Finally, a Falcons loss, along with wins from the Panthers and Saints, eliminates Atlanta.
Essentially, a Falcons loss opens Atlanta up to elimination in four separate scenarios, the likeliest being a Tampa Bay win over the scuffling Cardinals. We all know that the Falcons are evaluating their 2023 options—Desmond Ridder is in as a starter and so is Troy Andersen, which is a pretty strong clue—but there has been the lingering possibility of a playoff berth because the Buccaneers have refused to salt away the division.
The only way to keep that going and set up a potential division-winning showdown in Week 18 against Tampa Bay is beating the Ravens, a team that might be getting Lamar Jackson back, is one of the more talented squads in football despite some uneven play, and a team that plays outdoors in what’s expected to be an extremely frigid environment on Saturday. An upset isn’t out of the question, but I’m not exactly going to plunk down a mortgage payment on that outcome.
The Saints, too, can be eliminated if they lose to the Browns and the Buccaneers win, making this a potential two team race between Carolina and Tampa Bay in the final two weeks. If the Saints were eliminated before the Falcons, that would be a fun little treat.
Obviously, zooming out here, the Falcons have bigger fish to fry than a win on Sunday, though I’d love to see them surprise Baltimore and have Ridder have a great second game. This is a team with a huge 2023 opportunity in front of them that needs to figure out who is going to be a major contributor for next year, and while the playoffs are always fun and worth chasing, even the folks inside the building are aware how slim their odds are. Let’s hope for an upset and a chance to keep things going, nonetheless.