The Falcons could have been close to cruise control in this division with a victory last weekend, but instead find themselves in a three-team dogfight after more or less handing the game away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers behind a series of missed opportunities and mistakes.
Now, sitting at 6-7 and in a tie with both the Bucs and Saints, the margin for error shrinks noticeably, especially with another divisional game on tap.
The opponent this weekend is a Carolina team who is not having the season they envisioned. Sitting at 1-12, they sport the worst record in the NFL and will not even bear any fruit from that putridness as their first round selection (likely #1 overall) belongs to the Bears. They have already fired their head coach, less than one full year on the job, and are in complete disarray.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Panthers in Week 15, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
They will move their divisional record to 4-1 and will bring their overall record back to .500, as the push for the playoffs and a division crown will be ongoing into the final three weeks of the season. Four division victories in the same season would be the most the Falcons will have achieved since the 2019 season, and the three they have now is already the most in the Arthur Smith era, having gone 2-4 against the NFC South in both 2021 and 2022.
If the Buccaneers suffer defeat against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, Atlanta would once again sit atop the NFC South, and if the Saints also lose to the Giants, the Falcons will be alone in first place.
It will be the status quo within the division if both the Bucs and Saints also win, but a record of 7-7 will put the Falcons firmly in the Wildcard hunt. If the Seahawks lose to the Eagles and the Rams suffer defeat against the Commanders, Atlanta will actually occupy the final playoff spot in the NFC.
Playoffodds.com currently gives the Birds a 35% chance of making the playoffs. That number will rise to 44%, independent of other scores, and can reach as high as 52% in a best case scenario.
If the Falcons lose
Although they would still mathematically be alive and in the hunt for a playoff spot and even the division title, there won’t really be much more to expect from a team that can’t even triumph against a 1-win squad in a borderline must win scenario. This is the type of defeat that completely takes the wind out of the sails of a season and leaves everyone on board stranded in the middle of the ocean, left to slowly fade away.
The Bucs and Saints both could go a game ahead of Atlanta, and Tampa Bay would take a big step closer to clinching the tiebreaker over Atlanta if they do so, as their division record would be better overall and their conference record would be two games stronger. The Falcons’ poor conference record of 4-7 would make it very difficult in the Wildcard race as well, as there are likely to be many ties down the stretch.
Playoffodds.com also wouldn’t look at this defeat very favorably, as Atlanta’s playoff chances would plummet to just 16%, independent of other results.
We will turn more of our attention to the draft, where a high pick is certainly still in play. While the Falcons would currently be picking 11th with a 6-7 record, teams 6-9 are all within range with records of 5-8, with the Raiders currently picking 10th at 6-8.