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NFC South report: The Falcons move all their belongings into the cellar

Atlanta’s dead last in the division at the moment.

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The division has been up for grabs all years, but there’s finally one little bit of resolution in a sloppy, tightly knotted NFC South race. Unfortunately, it’s the news that the Falcons are out of the picture entirely.

With their loss Saturday and the Panthers and Saints winning, Atlanta can’t make the postseason, because the Panthers and Saints play in Week 18 and one of them has to win that game (or they both have to tie), and they hold tiebreakers with the Falcons. That also leaves the Falcons in last place at the moment, with the other three teams still battling it out for the right to win arguably the worst division in the NFL.

NFC South Standings, Week 17

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-8

Carolina Panthers: 6-9

New Orleans Saints: 6-9

Atlanta Falcons: 5-10

The Buccaneers spend every week looking like absolute garbage, and then either pulling off an improbable last minute victory or threatening to do so before losing the game regardless. This past week, it was a big last minute drive to win against the Cardinals and Trace McSorley, exactly the example of a game Tampa Bay shouldn’t be in a position to lose under any circumstances given the talent disparity between the two teams. You can never fully count out a Tom Brady-led team, especially one with this much talent, but the Bucs are in the driver’s seat in the NFC South again and look like they’ll be stomped into oblivion in the first round of the playoffs.

I don’t know how often teams seriously consider handing the interim coach a full-time job—I know it didn’t feel like the Falcons did with Raheem Morris—but Steve Wilks needs to legitimately be in the running. The team fired Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start, and Wilks has coaxed them to a 5-5 record over their ten games since then, and had they not improbably missed a kick against Atlanta that would have been 6-4. This is a team with real long-term concerns from quarterback to kicker and one that likely needs more than one quality offseason of work, but they surprisingly knocked off the surging Lions on Saturday and have a legitimate shot to win the NFC South.

So, unfortunately, do the New Orleans Saints. The most loathsome and vile team in the division simply outplayed the Browns, overcoming an early deficit chiefly through smothering defense and their ground game, and they held on to win their second game in a row after a long stretch of awful play. Because they don’t have their first round pick it doesn’t really matter where they finish in the division, but I want the worst for them as a pure-hearted hater and I hope that was their last victory of the season.

Atlanta’s season started off with some real promise, and if nothing else, they’ve been competitive and scrappy in virtually every game this season. That just hasn’t added up to all that many wins in a year where this team was piling its plate high with dead money and figuring out a plan in real-time at many positions on the roster, which is frustrating in the moment but okay over the long haul if it ends up paving the way for a far better 2023. Either way, Atlanta’s not getting out of the basement without winning at least one (and likely both) of their final two games, and it’s time to start daydreaming in earnest about what this team might be next year.